Steps You Must Take to Future Proof Your Company in the Coming Year

As a business owner, it is important to be prepared for the future. In the coming year, you might face a completely different landscape than what your company and workforce are used to. In order to successfully navigate this change, there are some steps that you must take in order to ensure that your company does not fall behind. By being proactive now, you can avoid any issues down the road later. The first thing that companies need to do is learn from their mistakes and realize where they went wrong. This will help them avoid making the same mistake again by knowing how it happened and how it can be prevented.

The big question becomes: Is your company future-proof?

The full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is yet to be fully understood, but we can draw two important lessons. One, even in the most disruptive environments accompanied by severe economic downturns, some companies were able to maintain or even gain a competitive edge. Second, and in addition to a range of temporary adjustments, crises can also bring about some long-term changes and opportunities to grow.

The World of ‘Remote Everything’ Is Here To Stay

During the first few weeks of the pandemic, businesses kept face-to-face interactions to a minimum and the strategy was simple: What can be moved to the cloud should start moving to the cloud.

Almost overnight, management teams removed the need for employees to complete tasks at the office. Technologies that usually took time for people to adopt became standard operating procedures in a matter of days. For companies with existing digital infrastructure, remote work was easy. Those entities caught napping scrambled to enhance their network capabilities and subscribed to many cloud-based services. The demand for hardware became so great that schools competed with companies to get laptops.

With the lack of physical interaction, the issue of money and payments also became a big concern once the highly infectious nature of COVID-19 became deadly apparent. Money, whether paper or coins, changes hands continually, significantly increasing the risk of infection. This prompted a massive shift to eCommerce. And with governments restricting the movement of people and preventing crowds from gathering, there was an urgent need for safe working spaces.

This new work arrangement was heavily dependent on cloud computing – giving employees the ability to connect to the office network wherever they are via the cloud. The transition to remote connections was so extensive that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that many organizations had to cram years of adjustments into months.

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. From remote teamwork and learning to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security—we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in a world of remote everything.”

Some business leaders have been hesitant to provide flexible working options to their employees because they think they might not be able to do their jobs without supervision. The pandemic has, however, put that notion to the test for many organizations. And guess what? The house is still standing. In fact, many companies have discovered that their employees are more productive when they work remotely. In addition, companies saved a ton on expensive office rentals, electricity and office supplies. For workers, the demise of the dreaded commute became a highly-coveted benefit.  With the deadly pandemic reverberating across the globe, people had to ditch old habits and adopt new ones.

Companies seeking to emerge from the crisis in a stronger position need to develop a systematic understanding of changing habits. For many firms, that will require a new process for detecting shifts and trends before they become apparent to others. And the first step, according to the Harvard Business Review, “is to map the potential ramifications of behavioral trends to identify specific products or business opportunities that will most likely grow or contract as a result.” Consider how the pandemic has caused people to stay at home more, leading to an increase in home office refurbishment, for example, and driving greater demand for products ranging from paint to printers.

Unless businesses become aware of new habits and their indirect, but cascading effects, they will fail to recognize important signals and miss opportunities to grow. The challenge for many companies today is to prepare themselves for the life after the pandemic. And the answer lies in future-proofing your business.

What is “Future-Proofing”?

Retailers typically provide customers value through the quality of their in-store service. Let’s consider the Chinese cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan. It suffered a 90% collapse of in-store sales after the outbreak, with many locations forced to permanently close while other stores saw foot traffic plummet. The company moved fast, developing a digital engagement strategy to replace the in-store experience, turning the company’s in-store beauty advisers into online influencers. The successful transition prompted additional investment in digital channels. The result? Lin Qingxuan’s increased online sales have more than made up for the fall in-store sales during the crisis, notably in hard-hit Wuhan.

The ongoing pandemic is a good example of how future-proof companies survived. Businesses that have an online presence continued selling to their customers even if everybody stayed home, as the Lin Qingxuan example clearly shows. In contrast, businesses that insisted on customers going to their physical store saw sales nose-dive until they had to close up shop permanently. As businesses rebuild in the aftermath of the global pandemic, those that take the opportunity to remake and future-proof their workplace and their workforce will race ahead of their rivals.

Even before working from home became widespread, digital technology was transforming how and where work gets done and how many people are needed to do it. For example, consumer products companies traditionally employed hundreds of people to keep track of product purchases and inventory ensuring that the right products are delivered at the right time. Predictive analytics—fueled by real-time point-of-sale, manufacturing and logistics data—upended that, reducing the number of employees required for the work. It also changed the skills they need to be successful in their new, technology-enabled roles, and allowing more and more of them to work remotely.

But what does future-proof mean and how do you go about future-proofing a business? By definition, the term “future proof” simply means maintaining a state of adaptability in order to keep up with change. It’s a term that describes a system that will withstand any changes in the current business climate. While nothing is permanent, future-proofing aims to keep a company relevant without the need for emergency changes or pivots as long as possible.

The aftermath of a pandemic presents businesses with huge opportunities to rebuild a workforce that’s more capable of handling an economy in which routine, repetitious and tedious tasks are increasingly automated. Whatever strategies companies will look into adopting, digital technology will play a pivotal role.

Research by Bain and Co—focussing on a select group of companies across continents that are already building technology-enabled workforces—have found that no matter their sector or geography, they all seem to adhere to six best practices in the course of assembling and managing today’s teams to meet tomorrow’s challenges:

Reimagine the business-critical skills of tomorrow – Rethink which skills will be most important in an increasingly tech-enabled future, then develop and recruit a workforce to match that need.  

Redefine greatness – Leverage people analytics and behavioral science in a particular role, then devise talent development and recruitment strategies to fit.

Look closer to home – Many jobs remain challenging to fill and recruiting new talent can be expensive. Investing in and reskilling existing employees can help plug some capability gaps.  

Upgrade – For companies with large and dispersed workforces, technology, including AI and analytics can enhance recruitment, deployment, development and retention while lowering costs.

Bring people and technology together – With more people transacting and working in the virtual world, businesses that manage engagements with tech in a coordinated way will see the best results.

Tune into what tomorrow’s stars want now – Future leaders want to meaningfully connect with their employer’s mission, and be part of a company that values engagement, autonomy, flexibility and inclusion.

Why Your Business Needs Future-Proofing

Surviving the current pandemic is just the beginning of the many challenges ahead. Nobody can accurately predict where the next global crisis will come from. Is it a more deadly virus? Is it climate change-related? Will it be an offshoot of the ongoing billionaire space race? Or will it simply be a basic matter such as resources like oil, gas, or even water running out? Getting ready for each contingency can be a very complicated and expensive undertaking.

Why not future-proof your business right now instead? Here are three ways to get you started.

Future Proof Tip 1: Digitize Your Business

Taking the entire company online used to be the preserve of highly technical firms. The thinking before was, “Why would my small ice cream business in the middle of Nowhereville need an online presence?” Just thinking of online sales as the reason to go digital offers a very narrow and simplistic view. As the pandemic clearly showed, an online presence isn’t just to get customer orders. You’ll need to connect with suppliers, deal with your creditors, monitor storage and market your products.

A digital alter-ego ensures that your business remains open 24/7 even if the physical world temporarily shutters. It ensures you remain connected not just with customers but with your business partners. Thankfully, today’s technology won’t make staying connected a very expensive endeavor. Instead of shelling out to build your own server room, cloud software services can supply you with everything from an online store to accounting services to presentation software.

Future Proof Tip 2: Prepare Contingency and Continuity Plans

Having an online presence won’t insulate your business from setbacks suffered by your partners and suppliers. Despite your best efforts, you won’t be able to sell your homestyle ice cream if your milk supplier can’t commit to their delivery schedules due to supply chain issues.  These issues can range from exorbitant gas prices to a shortage of truck drivers and delayed cargo shipments.

While many businesses can’t entirely avoid supply chain issues, they can minimize the impact by planning accordingly. Drawing up a list of local, alternate suppliers can be a mutually-beneficial arrangement. The higher cost of transportation can make some local milk suppliers search for nearby customers instead. Nearby groceries or supermarkets might find it profitable to carry local products while waiting for their imports to arrive. Offering discounts for pickup instead of delivery can encourage customers to save on delivery charges. In short, planning for foreseeable scenarios can help you develop strategies that speak effectively to potential problems.

Future Proof Tip 3: Provide Customers a Convenient Online Alternative

Shifting to a digital store is necessary when operating under pandemic conditions. It’s common sense to limit operations to prevent the spread of the virus from customers to your staff and vice versa.  More importantly, think of the negative PR that will surely happen if an outbreak gets attributed to your store. If that doesn’t faze you, then think of the potential costs that can arise from potential fines or damages.

Continuity entails providing customers with an online alternative that offers the same (if not better) convenience and none of the present risks associated with a physical visit. Having a working online site complete with dynamic browsing, checkout and payment systems is a minimum requirement. You’ll also need to ensure that the customer experience provides a painless method of completing transactions. Otherwise, your excellent product may not be enough to save your business from frustrated customers who find the experience less than satisfactory. Or worse, head over to your competitors.

Stay Alive By Staying Relevant

These three future-proof building blocks are just the initial steps a business needs in order to stay relevant and competitive in a world that’s fast becoming digital. Since it’s impossible to prepare for every scenario, the next best thing is to put your business in the best position possible to adequately meet and scale any hurdles it may face. Future-proofing your business means getting prepared for tomorrow’s challenges today.

Steps to Future Proof Your Company in 2022

2022 is seen by many experts as the earliest watershed year for the pandemic. This can either be the year the world can declare the planet Covid-free or its mutation into something similar to the common cold. Future-proofing your business entails assuming that the coronavirus will live on and extend the pandemic. In a better case scenario, businesses can also assume that even after the pandemic, the same rules will apply. This includes a continued preference for online services, increased dependence on cloud systems and an increasingly ‘remote everything’ world, as Microsoft’s Nadella says.

Are there are any risks associated with not future-proofing your business? Not anticipating and planning for changes in the business environment in the next few months or years can accelerate a company’s decline rapidly. So think of future-proofing as buying insurance for whatever happens. It won’t cover all contingencies, but it does prepare you for most of the anticipated scenarios and offers some assurance and peace of mind.

#1. Set a Complete Vision For The Coming Year

Everything starts with a clear vision of the company’s objective. Will it be simply surviving the pandemic? Or, would you like to go full blast knowing the pandemic is about to end? Either way, plans, contingencies and continuity measures should be in place.

Setting a clear vision for the company’s direction isn’t as easy as it seems. Sure, we all have a business objective in mind, which often means better profitability.  However, the vision should include anticipating the obstacles that can impact revenue. Establishing a vision also means preparing for the eventuality that things won’t always go the way you intended.

How important is having a great vision? By itself, it will amount to nothing but a personal mantra for the founder/owner. Share it with your team and the effect will be profound. However, employees will need to draw inspiration from your set vision. Research by Forbes showed that employees who didn’t find the company vision meaningful will have average engagement scores of 16%. These are the workers who find meaning in receiving paychecks regularly. However, make the vision resonate with workers and you’ll see engagement climb 18% above average. These are the employees that will go the extra mile to help reach the company’s long-term ambitions.

#2. Develop a Sound Growth Strategy - And Stick To It

A solid, complete vision can set the direction. However, like any great navigator, you’ll need to anchor your vision to something to help you check if you’re going in the right direction. Setting a solid growth strategy with defined, measurable goals can help keep you grounded.

Growth strategies come in many flavors. Before embarking on your business journey, make sure you have a defined growth strategy in place.

Four common strategies include:

Market Penetration

Market penetration is how companies can increase sales of the products in existing markets. This entails refining the strategies designed to make consumers want your product instead of your rivals. Companies use various methods to trigger the switch: lower prices, better value, promotions, or, if that proves ineffective, just buy out your rival.

Market Development

Market development entails exploring previously untapped markets which helps extend a company’s reach for its products. It can also analyze existing markets to determine if it can attract more sales from particular segments. Firms that sell individual products can explore targeting industrial buyers who order in bulk or vice versa. Expanding into a foreign market is also a common expansion strategy that can yield huge dividends.

Product Development

This strategy entails adding more products to existing markets. These new products can extend a company’s reach into a certain target audience by providing better coverage on existing needs or by filling a previously unfulfilled need. Product development entails tons of painstaking research, not just in developing a new product, but also factoring in the needs of the consumers. Some companies can circumvent the often-lengthy development process by acquiring a smaller company and securing its intellectual property rights. In some cases, joint development partnerships happen instead.

Diversification

Diversification is a combination of market penetration, market development and product development. It aims to introduce new products or services to new, unexplored markets. While this strategy carries the biggest risk, it also has the biggest potential rewards. Diversification occurs in four scenarios:  

Horizontal: New products for existing captive consumer groups.  

Vertical: Competing with suppliers for the products they used to supply your company.

Concentric: Developing new products similar to existing product lines  

Conglomerate: Moving into entirely new markets with new products purely for potentially high returns on the new industry.

Regardless of the growth strategy you decide to implement, it’s critically important to share clear details of your company strategy with your entire team. And remember, once you commit to a growth strategy, you need to stick to it and see it through to the end. Once your co-workers buy into your strategy, you can’t buy it back!

#3. Monitor and Review Progress

Any business process will require thorough monitoring and evaluation during every stage. This ensures that you can clearly see if you’re moving in the right direction and if you are on schedule. A future-proofed business means staying on top of any potential hazards that can derail operations.

A great way to stay on top of the program is to institutionalize reporting systems. Project leaders or managers should prepare progress reports that include updates on how things are going against their benchmarks. The chosen metrics for monitoring and reporting purposes should accurately reflect the company’s current performance.

  • Activities monitored and measured should remain within the parameters of agreed benchmarks.
  • Metrics and activities should remain consistent with the company’s vision, mission, and values.

In addition, do not adopt a ‘cast-in-stone’ mentality. Be open to any changes in strategy triggered by any external developments. Just make sure these changes will be documented and realigned with the company’s growth strategy and vision.

#4. Leverage the Use of AI

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in gathering insights is becoming mainstream. Compared to the previous practice of deploying hundreds or thousands of workers to assess customers’ reactions to a product or service, AI provides a more efficient and instant way to gather information needed by management to determine the next steps.

For example, letting AI systems gather sales and marketing data can help the sales team focus on driving sales without worrying about after-sales reporting. Many customer relationship management solutions can do the job of getting buyer feedback quickly and accurately. AI can also create more complex prediction models that can anticipate future trends and identify those about to fall off the radar.

AI is also rapidly progressing towards reducing the complexity of other mundane tasks like note-taking and transcribing. The possibilities for AI are endless. But for now, there are a number of applications currently benefiting businesses across industries. How you apply AI to your business can determine how successful your future-proofing systems will proceed.

Record Sales Performance And Engagement

With AI, sales performance can now be gathered easily. By analyzing the time it takes to prospect a client until you close the sale, AI can sift through the details and present an accurate picture of how efficient and productive your salespeople are. This doesn’t automatically mean AI is now acting as a nanny cam. Data gathered and insights generated can help individual salespersons learn more about their strengths and weaknesses.

Establish Close Rates and Forecast Revenue

AI can patiently gather insights from previous sales data to determine benchmarks when closing a sale. With enough data, AI programs can determine sales patterns and establish how long a pitch should last and how much time a salesperson needs before a client’s interest wanes. At the same time, AI can gather information from sales and marketing digital devices to establish forecasts and projections.

Consolidate Creative Ideas

A human cannot consider all the data available for them to develop creative ideas to engage prospects and customers effectively. With AI, users can receive recommendations that are often overlooked, leading to innovative ways to create memorable customer experiences.

Automate Inquiries and Follow-Up Operations

With AI, salespeople can program automated lead prioritization tasks as well as some basic follow-ups to clients. This not only frees up a salesperson’s time from inefficient prospecting and follow-ups but also ensures they happen exactly at the optimum date and time to do so.

The difficulty that many companies find when implementing AI lies in the fact that many see it as an IT process. Instead, try to look at it as a business solution.  With AI, collecting and consolidating data in order to gather insights is the faster and smarter way to do so.

#5. Head Towards The Cloud

The cloud environment is probably the biggest game-changer that enabled remote work during the pandemic.  Without it, many businesses would have given up on trying to get their remote workers to establish a connection with the office network. Instead, employees can simply log in to the company’s official apps and open work files from wherever they are. Whether it’s traditional office tools such as word processing, spreadsheet or presentation software, there’s a counterpart cloud-based app that’s far more convenient to use.

What makes cloud software an important future-proof tool is that it allows the entire office to access critical files and documents in a collaborative setting. Depending on their assigned access levels, users can help edit or add more ideas to a document or simply just read or copy the text. In addition, many cloud-based solutions are free. This makes some companies wonder if they will ever need to buy new software again.

#6. Future-Proof Your Employees

Future-proofing your company without doing the same to employees is a recipe for disaster. We already discussed how a well-crafted vision can increase employee engagement substantially. Not recognizing how employees want to grow within the organization can be a fatal mistake that causes employees to burn out and fade away.

The old ladder system of career growth is both outdated and out-of-touch with today’s workers. And while many companies insist that they offer career growth potential and/or development, it’s often the old, wrong kind of working your way to the top.

There’s an important distinction between what most companies offer in terms of career growth versus what modern workers want. Old school companies still cling to role-based career growth. Growth remains tied to the role. While this concept seemed to work before, millennials aren’t buying and voting with their feet.

Instead, many crave dynamic career growth. Not just that, they want their individual strengths and interests to meet emerging market trends. By adapting their career development systems to fit with what workers want, a company will have better chances of retaining key employees.  More importantly, it will be better positioned to become future-proof in the current ‘war over talent’ environment.

How To Modernize Your Company’s Career Development Program

There are many approaches to modernizing career development programs in an organization. Some of the ideas that might help push your HR in the right direction include:

  • Focus on the individual, not the role. This entails accepting that many career choices do not fit a linear progression system.
  • Let employees clarify their career goals first before offering any help. In addition, management personnel should welcome any discussions with employees over their career plans.
  • Open positions for new business offerings to workers who are willing to contribute to future growth opportunities for the company.
  • Provide reskilling opportunities to employees to adapt to the company’s new directions. This can involve allowing workers to try out for other positions in other departments.

Future-proofing employees means making them ready for any changes to the organization as well. This is why it’s critical for companies to break away from the notion that hiring involves filling currently open roles. Instead, advertise and recruit from individuals that profess an honest desire to grow with the company.

#7. Maintain an Open Ear for Feedback

Future-proofing businesses for the unknown requires a high level of tolerance for continued changes. Preparing for the unknown means discovering some of these unknowns along the way. (Remember Donald Rumsfeld and his “known unknowns”). As a result of these discoveries, companies can choose to implement changes immediately. If your company prides itself on maintaining special friendships with clients, shouldn’t your employees be granted the same privilege?

Any exchange of information from an employee to a superior regarding their disposition or performance at work is considered as employee feedback. When an open communication system is in place, these types of exchanges shouldn’t pose a problem on employee morale or affect camaraderie in any way. Instead, getting positive and negative feedback constructively can lead to improved performances, a reduction of bad habits and even promote further cooperation.

However, employee feedback should be delivered in an effective, actionable manner. The employee’s position in the organization shouldn’t be seen as a qualifier for giving or receiving feedback. It could be a simple congratulations on a recent accomplishment, or it could be constructive criticism that may require further reflection.

In settings where communications systems are notoriously bad, getting or giving honest feedback can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some guidelines to help you get employees to adopt a more open form of interaction.

Immediate Feedback Or No Feedback At All

Late feedback is not feedback at all. Letting a minor issue pass can morph into a major problem before all those concerned can tackle the matter. Once it’s past the point of no return, some parties might start acting defensive and indignant. More importantly, you’re wasting time that should have been spent to rectify the issue immediately. Encourage a policy of supporting the delivery of urgent feedback. This way, employees can appreciate that feedback timing is equally important as the content.

Get To The Point

The sandwich method where criticism gets “sandwiched” between two compliments has outlived its purpose. Softening the blow can dilute the message that you want to hit home. At the same time, however, a confrontational conversation can create hostility, which is a no when trying to improve matters.

When there’s something that needs to be said to employees, say it. Preface the criticism by assuring the person that it's nothing personal. Remember to maintain a calm and respectful approach. It’ll help if you can refer to notes of the incident. Giving specific details such as the date and time of the problem can narrow the discussion and enable you to reach a resolution quicker.

Make It Clear That You’re On The Same Team

Assuring a junior employee of the importance of feedback early on can instill a sense of belonging. You can also emphasize that this session does not change the status of everybody in the room who is part of the organization and working for the same team.

For your part, you can say that your willingness to communicate in person (whether via Zoom or actually at the office) is an indication of your determination to resolve the issue. The key issue is building trust. Once parties establish trust, it becomes much easier to continue with the feedback process.

Your Business is Future-Proof - Now What?

Now that you have the tools and ideas to make your business future-proof, it’s time to recognize what’s on the horizon. If you managed to get your company ready for the future, you should have no trouble adopting these technology trends predicted for 2022.

Everything-As-A-Service/No-Code Processes

XaaS, or Everything-As-A Service, picks up where Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) and Platform-As-A-Service (PaaS) left off.  XaaS provides services and applications that users can access on the Internet on request. This means that tech companies can now supply ready-made software, its development platform and comprehensive computing infrastructure to subscribers via cloud systems. The term “everything” in XaaS makes it all-inclusive, which means unlimited applications.  Cloud solutions, along with the requisite hardware, processing and network requirements, can now be subcontracted for a regular subscription.

At the same time, the increasing popularity of data and technology is now at the point of ubiquity. Now, the tech industry can offer tools and services to companies to create their own software without the need for a background in coding. Instead of assembling a crack team of programmers, companies can lease a digital brain to make their program specifications spring to life. In 2022, expect the further growth of companies deploying AI and IoT infrastructure without typing in a single line of code themselves.

Digitization and Datafication in the Office and the Metaverse

Digitization already got a headstart with the rush to shift to remote work during the pandemic. Many believe that since the work-from-home genie already escaped its bottle, there’s no putting it back. Companies who will insist on bringing their workers back to the office will find themselves losing employees to rivals who have already embraced the inevitable.  Remote work will be a cornerstone of any future-proof efforts by companies from this moment forward.

By now, you’ve heard the news about Facebook changing its parent company’s name to Meta. This represents the company’s next step in its aim to evolve beyond a phone-based app. Facebook plans to create a metaverse, where people can grow their own virtual alter egos, which can perform the same functions we do as humans but are confined in a virtual world. Why? For many people, the real world isn’t enough, so having a life in the metaverse can be a more immersive experience. It’s happening now, and 2022 will likely expand on these developments.

Sustainable Energy

With oil at record highs once again amid increased demand and controlled supply, the use of renewable energies is on the rise. The US alone increased its use of renewable energy by 40% during the first few weeks of the pandemic.

Now, expectations are sky-high that countries, governments, businesses and households will make a concerted push to use more renewable energy sources in an attempt to wean off a reliance on fossil fuels. World leaders descended on Glasgow for two weeks of discussions in late 2021 on the effects of climate change that could lead to major changes to our everyday lives. For example, it could change whether you drive a petrol car, heat your home with a gas boiler or take multiple flights throughout the year. Some other announcements include making a faster switch to electric cars, speeding up the phasing out of coal power and cutting down fewer trees.

Get Ready for the Future with Cloud Software Solutions for Your Business

Getting your business future-proof requires an understanding and acceptance that change is inevitable. Digitization, AI and XaaS are already upon us. Don’t waste your resources in trying to beat them. If you haven’t yet, start embracing the change as part of your future-proof endeavors. Software-as-a-Solution services proved their worthiness at the start of the pandemic. Employees who worked at home had no complaints meeting co-workers over the network and accessing work files over the cloud. Meanwhile, clients and customers were happy to give up face-to-face meetings in favor of Zoom conferences and receiving digital proposals and marketing materials for their perusal.

Among the popular solutions out there is Ingage, a dynamic, interactive cloud presentation software that allows users to share their presentations immediately with co-workers and clients. With its built-in AI-powered analytics, the software helps sales and marketing teams break down the finer points of every sales transaction to identify ways to further improve the presentation.

Learn how Ingage can help you future-proof your business by making your presentations available for peer reviews or for sharing with clients. Register for a free demonstration and discover how Ingage can help you set the tone for 2022.

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