The world of business has always evolved, but in past centuries, evolution has been slow and typically involved protracted battles between those committed to change and those committed to maintaining the status quo. Throughout most of the 20th century, business processes, leadership styles, and the design and structure of companies remained relatively unchanged. Businesses often valued stability over innovation, and they tended to be slow to make decisions that could disrupt models that had proven effective for decades. In the 21st century, however, the old models are frustrating customers and stakeholders alike. Successful businesses will need to adapt to changing conditions if they want to remain successful. Although it is impossible to predict what the company of tomorrow will look like, there are several trends that will probably have a dramatic impact on the business world.
1. Businesses will become increasingly focused on the entire customer experience. They will double their efforts to build lasting relationships with their customers by engaging them in conversations rather than hammering them with marketing messages. They will convey appealing stories that show the company is comprised of humans who care about social issues, the environment, future generations, and justice and equality for all. They will ask customers for input on ways that the company can deliver solutions that fit the customer’s needs or what the company needs to do better.
2. The gig economy will become mainstream, especially in fields with a shortage of talent. Workers with expertise and experience in cybersecurity, IPOs, international copyright and trademark laws, and cultural and religious differences are among some of the high-demand fields. However, instead of hiring full-time specialists, companies will increasingly rely on freelancers whom use virtual mailboxes and move from business to business, city to city, or even state to state, handling a specific task before accepting an assignment with another company.
3. Robots will become more commonplace. The robots of today have severe limitations and can execute only routine tasks. However, within the next decade, you can expect to see their capabilities increase and their prices decline. Robots are already filling prescriptions, mixing cocktails, selecting items from warehouse shelves to fill orders, and delivering food from restaurant kitchens to customers seated at tables. They have been used for years on assembly lines and in the military for various tasks. As robots become more affordable and versatile, businesses will find new uses for them.
4. Companies will find new ways to use artificial intelligence. Machines with the ability to learn will be used to predict customer behavior and ordering patterns, allowing companies to maintain the proper inventory in the geographic locations where items will be needed. Artificial intelligence can be used to build teams having the optimum mix of personalities and expertise or to measure a candidate’s fit within the company. There are already chat sessions powered by artificial intelligence, and some of these are so advanced that users often do not realize that they are not interacting with another human.
5. College degrees will no longer be viewed by employers as the final proof of competency. Employees will need to keep their skills sharp through certification programs, workshops, seminars, and continuing education programs offered by colleges, industry associations, or private firms.
6. The roles of executives in the C-suite will alter. CMOs, CIOs, and CISOs will gain more influence, and CFOs will focus more on the overall orchestration of the business and less on the line items in the income statement. Silos of power will be removed to facilitate interdepartmental cooperation and customer satisfaction.
7. More companies will choose to remain private. Not so long ago, virtually all entrepreneurs dreamed of taking their businesses public, and IPOs created more than one millionaire in an amazingly brief period. However, shareholders tend to demand stability and consistency, and this can hinder efforts to be customer-centric and innovative.
8. Leaders will become more willing to communicate the company’s purpose and values to employees. Instead of brief, high-sounding mission statements, leaders will try to reach employees by delivering meaningful, relevant explanations of why the company exists and how it plans to achieve its goals. More managers and supervisors will adopt open-door policies, discussion forums, and suggestion boxes or online sites that allow employees to submit ideas, complaints or recommendations in complete anonymity.
9. Unexpected partnerships will be formed. Today, one phone call or a single visit to a website can allow a traveler to book a flight, reserve a hotel room, rent a car, and purchase tickets to the theater or a concert. All of these tasks are related, so they are not unexpected. However, suppose an inventor could upload a sketch of his design for a better mousetrap to a company that would design the prototype, apply for a patent, secure venture capital, design a website, manufacture the product, market the mousetrap, and fulfill orders without requiring the inventor to relinquish all of his rights and profits? In other words, the inventor is not selling his invention. Instead, he is partnering with a company that has already developed partnerships with a diverse group of companies have the right expertise.
10. Robots, artificial intelligence, gig workers, technological changes, and shifts in national and international economics can have an unsettling effect on employees, so employers will develop focused strategies to retain the best workers. Leaders will look for ways to engage employees as valuable team members through appreciation programs, two-way communications, and mentoring programs that focus on how employees can advance their careers or strike a better balance between the demands of their jobs and their personal lives. In much earlier times, business owners and supervisors knew the names of every employee as well as his or her spouse’s name, the names and ages of their children, their hobbies, and each employee’s long-term and short-term goals. However, the interactions between employers and employees will not likely be as personal, focusing instead on job- and career-related topics.
11. Risk management will become increasingly important. In the past, however, risk management has often been synonymous with risk avoidance. In the future, wise leaders will accept that avoiding all risks will cause a business to stagnate. Instead of fearing disruption, they will learn to embrace change if the potential rewards can be justified. Therefore, those who know how to evaluate and manage risks will find their expertise in high demand.
12. Digital transformations will accelerate and span all channels. Although more than half of all firms surveyed claim that they are attempting a digital transformation, very few have managed to establish a digital presence at all possible customer touchpoints. Furthermore, many companies are struggling with the planning and execution of an omnichannel digital transformation that incorporates all types of media as well as the physical world. Despite setbacks, however, companies that want to grow will persevere, increasing their budgets and hiring experts to assist them.
Change is inevitable, but no one can predict the full impact of these changes, when they will occur, or even whether they will transpire or be replaced by unforeseen developments in technology. However, all business owners and managers must remain open to new concepts and technologies that can have dramatic impacts on their companies. Ignoring the possibilities that the future can hold can lead to a business that is frozen in the past. The business-as-usual model is an outdated concept that has been replaced by the business-for-the-future concept.
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