“How can you shape the future if you don’t even know how it will look like? Even more so if the present situation is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous?” – These were two questions that were addressed during a workshop I facilitated with my business partner Dawna Jones on January 17, 2017. The by invitation only workshop took place in a beautiful chalet in Klosters, far away from the noise and distraction of a bigger city. The six of us came from different backgrounds: the medical profession, business consulting, digital marketing, cultural training, leadership training, and yoga.
The key to shaping the future of work is ORIENTATION
As different the backgrounds and viewpoints were we agreed on one thing: That in order to make sense of what is emerging in the world of work, it is essential that you have an orientation about where you are coming from, where you are now and what you would like to do. Admitted, this is a simple insight. But then it is an insight lots of companies and organizations don’t even have. Fact is most companies and organizations either don’t have time or don’t take the time to reflect their purposes and visions because they too busy handling present challenges. They are so busy that they may not even realize the many ongoing changes around them. This goes well until they are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, e.g., an increasing turn-over rate in their workforce, new competitors entering the market, disruptive innovation destroying existing business models, etc. Trying to cope with these challenges with established tools of the past may work but are is likely to be doomed given that these tools and processes have prevented to embrace change in the first place.
The market place and world of work are changing at a rapid and increasingly faster pace. Technology does one part and yet it is only one out of many factors. Especially millenials are less likely to stay at a company for their whole working life. They want more than just a job. They demand jobs that have meaning and they can identify with, where they can make a difference, and a job giving them enough space and time for other activities. Change is a natural, it is a given and they may even got accustomed to this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. At the same time millenials as well as everyone who is aware of the VUCA world needs orientation. And this is the chance for companies and organizations to shape the future: providing orientation for its people.
Business fundamentals will not change
However, established working and business models do not offer the answers to these challenges anymore. With growing uncertainty and volatility in the market it is increasingly difficult to plan the future. On the other side, there are at least three fundamentals in business practices that are unlikely to change. These are that a company or organization
- has to to serve its customers and clients,
- needs people that help achieve business goals, and
- has to generate some form of profit or benefit.
Business has to re-adjust its focus on PEOPLE
Business fundamentals don’t change. Unfortunately, most companies and organizations seem to have forgotten them. For the fundamentals reveal something deeper. Let’s have a look at this.
Customers are better informed, have a greater variety of products and services to choose from and consequently have greater influence than ever before. Companies and organizations that want to generate and keep their customers and clients need to delight them. For this to happen, they have to understand their needs and desires, whether they are apparent or still developing. The market is no longer exclusively business-driven but becomes increasingly customer-driven, too.
As mentioned above people are less likely to stay at one company or organization for their whole working career. But it is also a fact that people are more likely to stay and perform at a very high level, if they are happy at their job, if they identify with the purpose, vision and goals of the company or organization, if they can contribute to success and their contributions are seen and acknowledged. In other words, people don’t want to be treated as resources but as people, as human beings. This requires human-centric leadership.
Profits have always been, are and will be important in business. This will not change. However, it is crucial to understand that profits are a result of good business practices, are the means to do business. What matters more than short-term profits is overall business value. Short-, mid- and long-term goals and profits have to be balanced. Corollary, an incentive system for managers with only short-term profit goals is myopic and may harm business in the long run. Focusing on the outcome of good business practices as reflected by profits only while neglecting the prerequisites for business success, i.e., delighting customers and the people workforce, undermines the foundation of a solid business. Unfortunately, this concept seems to be as foreign to lots of managers of companies, especially publicly traded corporations, as is snow in the deepest jungle.
Business fundamentals can shape the future of work
I am not worried about the future of work because we already have the ways and means to shape it by revisiting, understanding and living good business fundamentals: delighting customers, treating people in the workforce as people and building an environment where they can unfold their potentials and, last but not least, ensure and sustain business value.
Living these fundamentals not only gives an orientation for the present and future, it can also be a driver for the future and grasping the many opportunities that lay ahead of us.
Policy makers should learn from business fundamentals
The outlined business fundamentals are not limited to the world of business. They are applicable to the public sector, too. Indeed, I believe that policy makers have to understand these fundamentals and live them.
People demand orientation for the present and future. But, they are sick and tired of the old rules of the establishment where there seems to be no place for them. Populists such as the right-wing party AfD in Germany, politicians such as LePen in France or Trump in the US know way too well how to fill this vacuum. They cry out simplistic slogans, promise a better world, a break with the establishment – and all they really want is power and control. Their visions are based on the past. They would like to hold back time and maybe even go back to the times when the world was more secure and easier to grasp. And it is true that the past was less volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. But the past is gone. Hence, using the past as an orientation for the future is misleading and dangerous because it does not help solve any problems but instead raise fear and distrust.
What we need is an orientation for today and the future. Policy makers need to understand the needs of our people. And they have to work with them building a vision of a future which is worth living for and which gives hope and orientation for today and tomorrow. However, any attempt of policy makers to offer the same old same old, established programs and empty promises will lead to nowhere and will be exploited by populists which withhold people from unfolding their potential. What we need is orientation which focuses on us.