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Ian Howse, senior partner at Deloitte in Wales, looks at how successful businesses adapt to stay ahead of the game.
In business, there is no such thing as a period of no change. No business is static as to survive, businesses need to grow, progress and respond to changes in the market. In fact, it’s often how well and how quickly leaders adapt that proves to be a game changer for their business, and whether or not they retain their competitive edge.
But do businesses recognise triggers for change? And how do you implement change successfully? Questions that many business leaders ask themselves, and ones I was recently asked to share my perspective on during an online forum hosted last month by the editor of Wales Business Insider magazine when discussing business transformation.
There are always indicators that management can look out for that show that their business or their operations need to adapt. There are many, some involve monitoring changes in margin, technological advances or disruption, investor behaviour, customer satisfactions scores, staff feedback or attrition rates, competitor activity as well as changes in the market. These are just a few and the variety and magnitude will vary, depending on your sector, structure, client base as well as other factors.
But how and when you respond to these triggers and implement change is what is important. Once you are ready to adapt, business leaders that implement change successfully are very clear about the aims of any change programme and communicate these before embarking on it. For example, being clear in your concept, communicating with your workforce, articulating clearly what you aim to achieve and how you will go about it. This step is critical in any change programme if you want to engage and motivate your people on it. Your employees will not only be accompanying you on this change journey, but are integral to its success, hence the need to make sure they understand your vision, aims and the anticipated outcomes.
What does success look like? Some business leaders don’t spend enough time focusing on the benefits that will be derived from the change programme and overlook measuring the impact it has made. Tracking these is important, and making sure you deliver them is as equally significant as communicating them to your people. No one can expect a workforce to continually adapt and embark on a change journey with you if you have not ably demonstrated the success and advantages brought about by the previous change programme. As people say, success breeds success.
No one expects business leaders to have a crystal ball and keeping an eye on your competitors is commonplace but spotting long term market sentiment changes, as well as more business and social related issues, can help businesses keep ahead of the game. Brexit uncertainty prompted many businesses into scenario planning, which can help in many situations and I’m sure was used heavily by some organisations in formulating their COVID-19 response.
COVID-19 and the pandemic has clearly had an impact on businesses, government and citizens. Whilst a time of uncertainty for many, some businesses were strategizing, monitoring what was going on in other countries where the COVID epidemic had taken hold and infection rates were increasing, and could look to their counterparts, observe the situations they were facing, actions being taken and plan ahead for an array of outcomes.
Whilst no one could have predicted a global pandemic, climate change and global warming have been social issues talked about since the 1980s when the depletion of the ozone layer first came to the forefront. Business leaders who are highly perceptive of investor behaviour and adept at discerning trends early on tend to adapt their organisation continuously. For example, they investigate the latest ethical business practices in matters relating to sustainability and their operations, whether it be their supply chain, renewable or green energy consumption, recycling programmes, carbon footprint and nowadays climate reporting, ESG and their path to net zero.
The pandemic has taught us many lessons and has re-shaped business today, and the impact will be felt for many years. For instance, many business leaders are now looking to combine the benefits of office working - from collaboration to innovation - with the flexibility of remote working. Technology transformations like artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the cloud will play a big part in supporting this hybrid working model.
The last sixteen months have proved that the business world as well as individuals are capable of phenomenal innovation, and can do so at pace. The pandemic unlocked that innovation, that spark of creativity and flexibility. We should not be afraid to grasp change, explore the unknown, fail fast and learn from it, whilst managing the risk to reap the rewards.
It is now a time to focus on the positive. Innovation and a flexible workforce will drive a better environment for everyone and a resilience to succeed, and also a desire to change and learn for a sustainable future.
Ian is the senior partner in our Cardiff office and leads our national Public Sector audit team. He has 25 years’ experience of delivering audit and assurance services. Ian leads teams delivering internal and external audit services and assurance services to a wide range of clients. His assurance skills include improving financial management and financial control, cost reduction, control improvement, governance and the management of risk.