Create the Future

Peter Drucker famously wrote ‘the best way of predicting the future, is to create it’. This was the theme of two conferences Skarbek attended last week in London and Vienna. Both brought together impressive groups of global business and thought leaders, and challenged them. They were asked to not only think about what growth, prosperity and business would look like in the future, but to explore what individual companies should be doing now to shape that future and remain relevant. In summary the recipe was to:

– keep ahead of digital and social curves,

– know what you do, and be the best at doing it,

– work more like the most innovative firms, and

– look to your values.

The conferences attended were the GLTE Global Projects Exchange in London, and the Drucker Forum in Vienna. Both set themselves to look at the factors that would drive growth and prosperity in the future, and the transformations of technology, management and mind-set that would be required. To summarise:

– the global financial crisis resulted in a collapse in confidence and trust in the old elites – political, business and social. This had accelerated the shift towards digital and social business models.

– disruptive technology was transforming business models in one sector after another – they were toppling like Skarbek dominoes. Competitive advantage was no longer about squeezing the most out of established products through scale or efficiency, but about innovation, customer focus and employee engagement.

– in the future, digital-driven business might be divided into three distinct categories: process-heavy delivery, customer engagement and innovation. Firms would increasingly specialise in one area. In this climate the big questions for business leaders should be – what business are we in now? What business do we need to be in in the future? How do we change fast enough?

– management practices such as flat structures, agile ways of working and the centrality of motivated and engaged employees were beginning to flood out of the IT world into more traditional sectors. In some established companies this was because of a conscious decision, in others generational change. Increasingly corporate change programmes would need to be organised and delivered ‘socially’ (i.e. using social media and bottom up rather than top down).

– values and ethics were moving up the agenda – to rebuild trust in firms and brands, to attract and motivate the best employees, to help engage with customers. However, it was no good just asserting the right values and ethics; they had to be reflected in the real-world pattern of business processes, P&L models, incentives and rewards.

All of these themes resonated with us at Skarbek. We are working with many clients who are facing similar challenges. The strategy – where the business needs to be in this new world – is clear. Everyone agrees that things need to change fast if the firm is to remain competitive; but the practical reality of transforming a company is hard – how do you turn intentions into action, how do you overcome entrenched interests and institutional inertia, how do you address the human factor? Skarbek’s experience and skills are focussed on tackling such problems, not just on a one-off basis. The insight we shared with both conferences is that change is continuous and accelerating. The companies that can learn how to transform themselves quickly, effectively and repeatedly will prosper. Those that do not will rapidly find themselves irrelevant.