Business As Usual is a strange phrase. On the one hand it implies stability and steadiness in the face of challenges, but it also whiffs of the routine, the ordinary, the status quo and the unremarkable. I don’t think anyone would like their business, or their contribution, to be described like that. But I know several people who want things to be like they used to be, trying to navigate their future by looking in the rear-view mirror.
At its worst, seeking to return to Business As Usual assumes nothing around you is changing, so you can continue doing what you’ve always done. Yet we know we’ve had major events that have changed the business landscape in the last five years. Not only the pandemic and Brexit; I can reel off a list of things that have affected our clients which have directly affected my own work, and you can add your own:
- Disruptions to global shipping & supply, like Suez being blocked, semiconductor shortages
- Skill shortages: “54% of companies globally report talent shortages” (source: Forbes, Sep 22, 2021)
- New trade wars
- Mistrust in public health
- Growing business failures
- A seemingly sudden and unexpected energy crisis
- The fragile state of economic recovery around the world…
I’ve also read about some surprising effects of climate change including lost productivity, civil unrest and even cognitive decline (source: Forbes, Sep 15, 2019).
In my view I don’t think there really is such a thing as Business as Usual. In fact, I’ll go further and say that Disruption is and always has been a part of the future. I’m no futurologist, but I think it’s a 100% certainty that the next big, unexpected and disruptive event will be (a) big (b) unexpected & (c) disruptive.
The only thing that is constant is “Change” and change needs to be built into every business model. Of course, not all of us can predict every change, which is why we need to plan for different scenarios.
What can businesses do to prepare for a disruptive future? Here are a few ideas. None of them are easy, and some will require courage and foresight to implement. But I would argue that these types of changes are needed for long-term flexibility:
- Lubricate your supply chain. Help those businesses that rely on you to prosper. Why would a large company want to see a supplier go out of business? This reduces competition leading to higher prices. You’ll also leave yourself with fewer options, and lack of competition stunts innovation and reduces quality.
- Widen your supply chain. There’s been a trend to have a smaller set of suppliers to simplify supplier management. But for the sake of simpler administration, you’re losing direct contact with the people who are not only driven to innovate, but are most strongly motivated to increase productivity and quality.
- Re-shore work. Many companies have found out that exporting key processes overseas to take advantage of lower labour costs can have unintended consequences, such as lowering customer services and making the transportation network more complex. I’m pretty sure with some businesses that when I go onto a customer service centre or webchat, the agent is not giving me their full attention.
- Create flexible processes. Organise your business to be agile and ready to adapt to changing requirements, whether that’s volume, specification or even an entirely new product or service.
- Create a flexible workforce. Equip and train your team to be ready to work in different parts of the business. You want to be able to put your most treasured resources, people, into the areas where the greatest demand is, and to do so quickly. This has the added advantages of providing interesting work and challenges, and the cross-fertilisation of skills and ideas will provide a rich source of new ideas and improvements
- Create an interactive, customer-centric business. You don’t have to trade online to be an interactive business, and it’s not just your business processes or assembly line that is moving. Every time you engage with a customer, a supplier, a potential customer, your employees, your community or even the state, you create an enormous amount of data. Stop discarding it; instead start using it to create information, for example to see when your market has started shifting and understanding your customer journey.
- Create an insightful business. Being insightful means exercising discernment, but you don’t have to have X-Ray vision or some other superpower to create a picture of what the future might hold. You can use the information you already have in your business to create meaningful forecasts and predictions. Depending on your operations, you could look-ahead hours, days, months or even years in advance, see-what the future holds, see-why that outcome is projected, see-how you can change to leverage that knowledge and see-when you should start to change to maximise your ROI.