Take This Challenge – See Your Future!

recent HBR article provides the backdrop for a challenge I would like to suggest to anyone who feels the pressure to envision the future of their organization – and if you aren’t feeling this pressure, you should be.

John Boudreau, USC Marshall School of Business professor, Research Director for the school’s Center for Effective Organizations, and well-respected management expert, examines the future of work as it evolves along two axes, neither of which are speculative, as we are seeing transitions on both fronts in nearly every field of business and commerce.

The first measurement index is the degree of “Democratization of Work”, influenced and indicated by the extent to which a workplace sees a reconfiguration of social and organization relationships and foundations, the wide expansion of the talent market as it becomes both easier and more acceptable to employ workers without traditional geographical and even cultural constraints, and the nearly ubiquitous connectability that has come about in the past decade, leading to far more communication and collaboration, teamwork and shared leadership. The second measure is the degree of “Technological Empowerment” which builds on the connectability already mentioned and also includes the logarithmic explosion in technology development – think robots, self-driving (autonomous) vehicles, wearable devices, and the ability to connect almost any device to any other (the IoT). Add in the interface of humans and automated devices that characterizes the gains we see in the world of Artificial Intelligence and you begin to get the picture, and an amazing picture it is (for most of us)!

The quadrant graph that emerges is thus one in which the status quo represents the core block, and, as titled by Boudreau, the work that evolves through increased democratization is “Work Reimagined” and that which emerges from greater development and implementation of technology is “Work, Turbo Charged”

So here’s your challenge. Imagine first that nothing changes technologically, but that you can expand the work you do and the people you reach by accessing new, global platforms, increasing project-based work, connecting and utilizing freelancers, contract workers, part-timers and consultants and even using contest or crowd-sourced methods to define some or all of what you do. What would your new “Reimagined” workplace look like? How could you be more successful than you are today? What changes would these novel approaches bring to your compensation systems, your hiring processes, your bottom line? This will give you an idea of what “Work, Reimagined” might look like at your company.

Now, assume that nothing changes in the structure, composition, and deployment of your workforce, but you have access to supportive technology like never before and can employ cloud-based training, effective remote supervision and monitoring, local devices and smart device based apps to support your workers’ efforts and your overall ability to manage those efforts. You are beginning to get a glimpse of what a “Turbocharged Today” might look like for you.

If you really want to get excited, combine the two approaches. Technological advances, coupled with a new democratization of work structures usually go hand in hand, and have a synergistic effect on one another. Boudreau calls this collective, evolving space the “Uber Empowered” workplace in which both the type of work arrangements and the technologies employed are advancing together. Can you imagine how that would play out in your work-space?

Be assured that some of your competitors are engaging in just such efforts as I have been describing and that some of them are using the vision and insights that result from these exercises to strategically plan what the future of their company (and your industry) will look like. I hope you will too!

Does Your Strategy Consider Geography?

These days, it’s common to read advice about strategy that assumes that somehow advances in technology, communications, and influence – which have admittedly been sweeping in the approximately one-quarter of a century since the dawn of the public internet – have opened up the world to any entrepreneur or established business. Do I need to be worried about the trade laws in China? Should my website be available in a dozen languages? Am I keeping tabs on my competitors halfway around the globe?

In truth, for the vast majority of businesses, things are far more local than global. For these businesses, it is as, if not more important to tend to the local marketplace than to hope that success will come from afar. [See our August, 2014 article Can’t See the Trees for the Forest?] If your business is like this, you need to pay attention to geography, and to demographic information about your local area. Understanding the local scene, including where new residential and commercial building is happening, how income ranges are changing within zip codes you serve, where the light rail is being laid or highways are being built, can be critical to your future success and even your existence.

I’ll use an area I am very familiar with – the mental health counseling field – as an example here, but I believe that most of the observations I am making would apply to a business that is selling tires, delivering entertainment, or providing home repair just as well.

Look at population density for example. For almost any business category you can think of, the number of businesses of a particular nature tends to be tied to the number of potential customers. I remember a Geography class I audited many years ago noting that the number of churches that existed in any given geographical area would rise and fall based on the total number of citizens in almost exactly the same way that the number of liquor stores would change. Although, I do recall that there was about a 10:1 ratio between the number of liquor stores vs. churches (except in certain parts of the country)! Saturation was possible, so if the population was stable and there were already sufficient businesses of a certain type to meet the needs of the citizens, opening yet another was not a good strategy.

This is a particularly important point if you are already in an existing market, and are trying to create your strategy for the next year or two. If you are in a small marketplace, with perhaps only one or two competitors, you might be able to gain market share by differentiating yourself by quality or price. Demonstrating that your employees are more skilled or credentialed than competitors will help you gain customers from the consumer base who is most interested in quality, and likewise showing that your charges or rates are lower than the rest of the local competition will attract people who like a bargain or are on restricted incomes. Suppose though, that you are in a larger metropolitan area with a much bigger client base, and many other businesses that are offering essentially the same services as yours. Your strategy may need to be much different, as there is already stratification in your industry based on costs or quality. If this is the case you might want to consider location changes, bringing your offices or outlets closer to highly travelled thoroughfares or public transportation hubs. You should look at how the local population density has changed over the past few years, as there may be some geographical areas that were rural farmland only a couple of years ago, but today are filled with new housing, retail and office space, and tons of customers who would appreciate a local resource. If you competition has not seen this shift yet, being the first in the local market can gain you a lot of business! Being involved in a larger marketplace favors the development of niche-type products or services as well. Specialized counseling for LGBT youth for example, is a very viable (and useful) project if the local population is 1 million as there are likely many dozen youth who would take advantage of the services. In a county with 40,000 residents, the potential users of your services might only be a handful (and they might not want to get help locally, due to the potential for stigma)!

Geographical accessibility, along with technology considerations, also should be factored in. If your service area is marked by widespread, isolated residents as opposed to large population clusters, providing mobile services (we come to you) as opposed to a central fixed location, is a legitimate business strategy. This is particularly true for areas where the transportation assets, including well maintained roadways or public transit options, are limited or poor. Areas like this which also have good broadband access are ripe for the delivery of online services. Online services are also, perhaps unfortunately, legitimate in larger communities where personal safety is a concern. If I don’t like to venture outside of my house or my immediate neighborhood because of high incidence of crime, but I can access the internet from home or a nearby library or community center, I will be very interested in transacting business online.

Geography, as it relates to the relative locations of branches of your business, is also important, depending on the management style of your business. If yours is a centrally managed operation, where hands on supervision and lots of face time from the management team has contributed to your success, it may be unwise to consider expanding to locations that are more than an hour or two away from your headquarters, as the logistics of managing a far-flung business empire could be difficult or extremely costly. This is another area where technology can come into play, as online tools for project planning, reporting, communication and internal community sustainability can help bridge the miles!

As you plan for the future, don’t turn a blind eye to the possibilities that have been opened up to us all to become participants in the global marketplace. But if your business model is mainly local, think geography!

When Will We Ever Learn?

Hot off the presses at the Centers for Disease Control this week comes the news that people (like me) who have spent most of their working lives in the behavioral health and addiction field have known for a long, long time – heavy use of alcohol kills people! A lot of people, it turns out.

The just-published CDC report (read more here) pins nearly 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults –that would be people between the ages of 20 and 64 on excessive use of alcohol, which includes ANY use of alcohol by pregnant women or people under 21, and approximately 8 drinks per week for women or 15 for men. Hey, they aren’t being sexist. On the contrary, the generally different build and lower body weight of the average woman means that one “standard drink” has a greater impact on the gender. Binge drinking, 4 – 5 or more drinks consumed on a single occasion, is also considered excessive.

Over 88,000 people PER YEAR have died each year between 2006 and 2010, and things do not seem to be getting any better. By contrast, total U.S. Military Casualties in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars between 2001 and the present have been 5,281 and there are 58,256 names listed on the Vietnam Memorial wall. This is by no means to make light of those who have sacrificed their lives in service to their country, but to put in perspective what a devastating effect alcohol use has on the domestic population of the country.

Obvious links between alcohol and death can be made in the case of acute injuries, like vehicle crashes, suicide, alcohol poisoning, child abuse, falls, and homicides. These make up around 2/3 of the death toll. The rest come from more chronic conditions such as strokes, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cardiomyopathy, heart disease, and various cancers.

The sad thing about all of this news is that virtually all of these deaths are preventable, but we are doing a very poor job of prevention. It is as if you and 9 of your friends sat down to dinner and someone announced “One of you is going to die each year, every year in the future – unless you take some relatively easy steps to stop that from happening”. Which of your friends would not be interested in doing what he or she could to stop these deaths – and wouldn’t you as well?

Maybe it’s time we all took it upon ourselves to learn more about excessive drinking, and what we can do to stop it from killing so many of us –it’s never too late to implement good ideas, and there is certainly a wealth of information, easily accessible to almost everyone. Start doing something today!

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