Dr Sinem Bulkan
We are in an era of constant change. For businesses, the environment is evolving at a rapid pace. How can companies not only survive these challenging and volatile conditions but also look for opportunities to thrive?
In the last few years, we have encountered unprecedented challenges – from Brexit to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to new ways of working – and now the war in Ukraine is adding to the ongoing economic crisis. For the business community, this has compounded a growing list of challenges, such as severe disruptions to business operations and staffing, a rise in energy and fuel costs, reduced availability of raw materials and the dilemma of how (or when) to pass increasing costs on to the consumer.
Businesses need to respond swiftly to this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, not just adapting with the intention of surviving. They should be seeking to thrive, remaining successful and staying one step ahead of the competition. Lack of adaptation has already led to some companies disappearing. Your business may manage to survive in the short term, but for how long?
Can your business adapt?
This is at the heart of the question; are business leaders providing the best solutions to cope with the new normal? Many companies have been caught unprepared and are experiencing significant problems due to weaknesses in their management approach to change. Companies that lack an infrastructure able to combat crises and risks will have to race to establish one. Until they do, they will be on the back-foot compared to those that have.
Can your business overcome challenge?
Can organisations survive and thrive in today’s evolving business environment using a more holistic approach? Is survival related to an adaptation process or is it based on a proactive approach and investment? There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Every organisation is unique and will respond to challenges and change in a different way. There are many concepts that can help organisations consider and reflect on their future (for example, looking at systemic thinking or organisational culture), but let’s look at four in particular: strategic thinking, technological upgrade and digitalisation, leadership in change and spotting the opportunities.
1. Strategic thinking (a flexible and proactive approach)
The business should promote strategic thinking within all areas of the organisation. Strategic thinking here extends the definition and encompasses the ability to use critical thinking to solve problems by future planning.
Businesses have a tendency to lose their flexibility over time, which can lead to an inability to react to change – a structural inertia. If an organisation’s structure has become cumbersome, this may result in decreased levels of organisational mobility, making them increasingly static and, ultimately, bringing the life of the organisation to an end.
So, for organisations to survive in a VUCA environment, they need to understand the market and the scope of the organisation by taking an agile, results-oriented approach to enable emergent strategies to meet business objectives in the long term. Organisations should start thinking about the simple everyday activities, as well as the more complex challenges.
Act sooner rather than later!
• Why are we unable to respond to challenges promptly?
• Can we simplify our procedures?
• Are our processes/work orders streamlined in the most efficient way?
• Do we really need to have so many meetings?
• How can we enable sustainable business?
2. Technological upgrade and digitalisation
The pandemic has undoubtedly increased the speed of digital transformation. To survive, organisations have to not only adapt to both technological and environmental conditions but also remain up-to-date and invest in opportunities to advance these. Technologies that we previously approached with fear and reservation are now our most important tools: digital services (such as click-and-collect for shopping), remote working (enabled by video platforms), contactless payment, telehealth, distance learning and more.
On an individual level, this has been a steep learning curve for all of us. It has become apparent that organisations need to align all their business processes with digital transformation and be able to offer a range of technical capabilities.
In addition, knowledge-based outcomes have become crucial. No longer is it enough to merely produce or service something efficiently, it has become essential to acquire the knowledge of how to do this to the highest quality. In this sense, organisations that increase their innovation, entrepreneurship, research and development efforts, and also update their operations into flexible and fast structures, can transform themselves into multifaceted organisations.
3. Leadership in change
Managerial and leadership competences should not be ignored in unpredictable business environments. In light of the lessons the pandemic has taught us, leadership has undergone a radical change and the definition of an open, sincere, transparent and inspiring leader has emerged. Change, adaptive, emergent and transformational leadership styles have particularly gained importance if businesses are to thrive and remain competitive.
A leader should:
• be sincere, consistent, empathetic, able to manage hybrid teams, show humility and be adaptable
• create strategies to survive and thrive and constantly be developing their skills
• focus on an innovative approach to knowledge and technology
• evaluate gaps in the market
• enable a durable and flexible structure, without straying from the customer-oriented strategy
Managers and leaders need to identify the change areas, inspire others (so that the team are on-board with change), spot resistance and most importantly celebrate the outcomes with their teams. They should motivate employees to support the organisation’s vision and encourage agility during periods of growth, disruption or uncertainty. While doing these they should pay attention to their own well-being and mental health, as well as pursuing the same for the employees by offering a healthy work/life balance and creating and maintaining an inclusive work environment.
4. Spot the opportunities
Evolving and volatile environments can pose opportunities as well as threats. Recent events have highlighted that organisations cannot be complacent; they need to adjust to this new heightened sense of flux and be prepared to continually manage transformation. They should embrace change and see it as a chance to develop new approaches, processes and management styles – to flourish and thrive in a turbocharged, fast-moving business environment.
“Creativity comes from anxiety as the day comes from the dark night. In the crisis that is inventiveness, discoveries and great strategies. Those who overcome the crisis, overcome themselves, without being overcome… Without crisis there are no challenges, without challenges life is a routine, a slow agony.” Albert Einstein, 1955