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Top 10 Tips to Future Proof Your Business

What’s gotten you where you are today is no longer good enough for the next leg of the journey. In times of change and uncertainty, when all the old bets are off we need to explore a new set of possibilities. After Singapore and Hong Kong, Ireland is the 3rd most global economy in the world. As markets open up, we’re also experiencing a rapid escalation of complexity as the world we occupy becomes more economically, technologically and socially interconnected. In this new global economy the path forward requires new ways of thinking, connecting and doing business.

What we do now matters more than ever before. The Cork News met up with the team at ThinkTank to brainstorm the best ways that SMEs can adapt to and anticipate the future.

1. Architect your future
The race for tomorrow’s customers hinges on two things – the design of your business model and your implementation capability! Develop a direction and vision for your company that will take you from your existing present to your best future. Lead by example, engage in an ongoing two way strategic conversation with your people and evangelize the message to your key stakeholders to gain their critical support.

2. Create stretch
The beliefs of the organization set the upper limit on how much innovation is possible for your company. Set goals that raise the bar even higher to create stretch so that people are motivated and inspired to perform beyond their capabilities. Increasing stretch for each individual employee can translate into exponential gains throughout your organization.

3. Mobilise talent
The best companies are more about having the best people as opposed to the best products. Ultimately your most competitive weapons are the imagination and spirit of your people. Get the right people on the bus early on and you will minimise pain and maximise gain down the line. Develop a ‘lighthouse approach’ where you are constantly on the look out for new talent and potential partners that could make a difference to your business. Invest your time in finding the best people and then give them the platform and opportunity to truly excel. Create a balance between hard work and personal time as this will foster a deeper level of commitment from your people.

4. Re-invent your structure
Trying to run a company in the 21st century with an organizing model designed for the 20th century places limits on how well a company performs. Often the way you are structured can be the biggest barrier to success and can suppress ideas and creative thinking. Have a cold hard look at your existing company structure and see if it’s working for your people and your customers. Instead of getting stuck in your organogram, open things up and be sure that your structure follows your strategy instead of the other way round. Consider more flexible and adaptable cell type units that can mobilize quickly, work intelligently and deliver smartly.

5. Expand your opportunity horizons
If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you always got. Innovation requires us to think differently and to have a passion for the possibility of change. Engage in low risk experimentation to constantly try out new things and have the flexibility to change if things aren’t working. Have an open mind – to new ideas, new thinking and new people because this is the magical space where new opportunities are created.

6. Know your customer
It’s amazing how seldom we ask our customers what they really think. Marketing has evolved to be not only product centred but customer centred. It’s never been more important to understand your clients unmet and unarticulated needs because these are your future profit streams. You’ve also got to understand and choose the customers you want to serve. Don’t just go after everyone. Define the target market carefully through segmentation and then really position yourself as different and as superior to that target market. Don’t go into that target market if you’re not superior.

7. Leverage your brand
You can’t escape your brand. Either you make the customer experience or it gets made without you. Building a brand is a holistic process not a number of individual components cobbled together by a designer. People are desperately looking for new handles – functional features, emotional appeals that will draw people to their product. The key to brand-building is to have a strategic premise that you roll-out in a very intelligent way. Make sure your brand is faithful and true to who you really are and what your’re good at.

8. Stay ahead of the competition
We are not in a state of competition anymore; we’re in a state of hyper-competition. The one thing that you can be certain of as just as you are thinking of pioneering a great idea someone else across the world is thinking of that very same idea. So develop a stealth approach that gathers information while operating under the radar. Make an effort to continuously learn more about your market and your competitors – find out what makes them tick and why clients chose them. Understand contextually what you are good at and what you’re not good at so that you understand where and how to compete.

9. Listen to new voices
Revolutionary strategies can only be found by listening to revolutionary voices. Don’t encourage a culture of conformity of yes-men or women! Seek input and insights from the periphery, from new recruits, from outside your organization and beyond your personal frame of reference. Expose your people to what is going on both inside and outside your industry and challenge them to innovate in their specific area. Develop a central on-line pool where people can share and discuss new ideas and reward those whose suggestions make it to market.

10. Reward your people
If you want an entrepreneurial spirit at your company, you must get people to think and act like entrepreneurs and pay them accordingly. Create the framework, instil a sense of discipline but give people the personal room to become real entrepreneurs and take ownership of their work. Look at new measures like Profit per Employee to get people to understand their role in improving overall performance.