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Preparing for a future that you genuinely can’t predict

Simon Niven

If the current pandemic shows us anything, it’s that there’s always a chance of something coming from leftfield and catching us completely by surprise.

In this case, the global impact of this pandemic demands we think differently about how we interact and work, posing a threat to organisations large and small that need to adapt and adapt fast. Some of the largest companies in the world have had their business continuity plans exposed as the reality that less than a third of their workforces can concurrently work remotely has come to light. This has delayed decisions to invoke wholesale remote working and added to the anxiety and uncertainty of their employees.

So, when you do not know what the future holds, how do you make sure you are ready for the future?

Here at Sysdoc we’ve been giving this some careful thought and whilst it’s clear that a crystal ball isn’t the answer, we do recognise common traits in organisations who seem to do well in turbulent, unpredictable times. These ‘progressive’ organisations seem to be able to adapt whatever happens through a mix of agility, flexibility, resilience, the right culture and behaviours and a willingness to embrace change.

First and foremost, it’s about people and the skills and capabilities they need. For a simple and very practical example ask yourself how many of your team use Office 365 or Google and how many really know how to utilise its full potential? Hands up if you’ve been on a crash course on how best to use Teams in the last two weeks!

Culture is also critical. Does your culture enable people, allow them to perform and trust them to deliver? If this is the case, then working from home is a natural next step in the current circumstances. However, many organisations still appear to be highly cynical and mis-trustful.

Working from home demands thinking differently, especially now. How do you focus on work when self-quarantined with a sick wife, a recovering five-year-old running around and elderly parents living miles away? You work flexibly, take time out to placate the child and support your partner, work different hours. This challenges the cultural norm of presenteeism and rigid working hours, and we have all got to embrace it. This is much easier if you work from a position of trust and high engagement.

We need to be resilient and flexible, able and willing to quickly adapt to changes around us without skipping a beat. Change capability in large organisations has shifted from being externally provided, to now becoming a central function. The next step is to shift it from being a skill set for the few to the mindset of us all. In this process it’s also important to recognise that resilience ebbs and flows and employees will need support from capable line managers, whatever your business model.

In recent years we’ve been on what seems to be a bit of a treadmill of initiatives, fads and trends around Process, Technology and Data all of which, in their way should provide both greater efficiency and resilience - from legacy systems, half/in half out cloud strategies, business process systems, lean, robotic process automation, big data and data lakes. We have all been there, but are we really any better prepared to flex and adapt to changing demands and expectations?

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Process is the operational blueprint for any organisation. When captured consistently, centrally owned and governed, continuously improved and most of all understood and adhered to, an organisation’s ability to operate efficiently and adapt to change is exponentially increased. This is about ‘doing today better’ and should be a given in any organisational DNA.

Technology needs to be reliable, intuitive and accessible. It needs to meet both current, and unknown future needs. Technology is not a project, it should be a capability that runs alongside the business, iteratively delivering enhancements and new capabilities that support the business in the here and now, not a solution that was defined years ago and is delivered late. The days of a 3 year+ technology programme are numbered. Technologists need to learn how to engage coherently with people who are not as technically minded, at the same time, people need to up their game to be able to reciprocate, it’s in all our interests. Imagine a world with fit for purpose solutions that support efficient operations but are flexible enough to respond to changes in business need or unforeseen global crisis. A bit of ‘doing today better’, but also a key step in being open to future opportunities and being ready for them.  

Having the right data allows you to accelerate organisational growth, build capability and raise your ambitions. Lack of it, compromises all three! We need to stop striving for more and more data, and focus on having the right data. We need to democratise data so that anybody can understand and interpret the insights that are being provided and make sensible decisions based upon them. Data needs to be part of the organisation’s DNA. Data needs to be entwined with business strategy, and ethical implications of the new insights and capabilities provided seriously considered.

We cannot look to the future and not consider sustainability. The famously polluted canals of Venice have started to clear in the last two weeks and fish have returned! It would surely be criminal if we didn’t learn from our mistakes and let them return to the previous levels of pollution. Surely it is now in our gift as humans to take note of how quickly mother nature can heal and work out how we do that both personally and professionally. We need to think about what changes we can make that could have a similar, sustainable impact.

Every email we send is stored somewhere, using up energy and chipping away at the planet, much like plastic littering our oceans, this has an impact. How many times do we reply to emails with simply a single word or emoji; multiply that by the World’s population, imagine the size of that server and its environmental impact. If we stopped tomorrow, we would have a hugely positive impact, so let’s stop.

In practical terms, what do organisations need to do to be ready for the future of work? It’s about a shift in corporate and personal mindsets, recognising that the world is constantly changing, we cannot control it and we do not know what is coming next. And for organisations to survive they need to constantly strive to ‘do today better’ and make the time and space to think seriously about what might come next.

Progressive or future enabled organisations do this by being:

  • great at what they do;
  • clear on their vision for the organisation in the short, medium and longer term,
  • clear on what their organisation is, what it does and where its underlying strengths are;
  • watchful of developments in their sectors and markets;
  • open to ideas wherever they come from;
  • ready to react quickly to threats or appropriate opportunities;
  • prepared to innovate, lead and shape situations and opportunities when necessary; and
  • great at building and maintaining the internal and external relationships that enable them to turn ambition into future reality for all their stakeholders.

If you have thoughts on this topic and want to join the debate, then please get in touch (just not with a one-word comment or emoji!).

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