Forecasting the changing business landscape can help engage employees in creating future success
By Axiom associate and futurologist Chris Middleton
“The fact is, the future is unknowable. So why bother trying to predict it?“
I’ve heard variations of this view expressed across my career. Most often it’s trotted out in companies that fear change, don’t change and are likely headed to the wall. Once upon a time, Kodak was the biggest name in consumer photography. But it failed to anticipate the rise of digital photography and then of smartphone cameras and ended up bankrupt. (Only in the past couple of years has it started a comeback of sorts – including recently by out-licensing the Kodak brand for a new line of Android tablets and smartphones).
The more enlightened approach, the one challenger brands take, is to say: “The world will continue to change around us and we need to be ready. We need to prepare today in order to survive tomorrow.”
This is where I come in. I help companies seize tomorrow’s opportunities today by working alongside them to co-create the future. It’s about building the best possible assumption base about the world to come, and then analysing the opportunities and threats that this ‘likely’ world represents.
This enables management teams to put their arms around the future and anticipate, then intercept, the evolving business landscape. For instance, work with Tesco a decade ago pointed up its corporate vulnerability as sector big boys, highlighted shoppers’ move back to the high street and anticipated that superstores were likely too big and too remote in a world of emerging authenticity and rising fuel prices. As the world has unfolded since this futuring study, Tesco has indeed been pummelled by ‘Tescopoly’ accusations. In response to the high-street opportunity, it has opened 1,600 Tesco Express convenience stores in Britain. And it is now facing up to its over-spaced Extra stores that are no longer fit for purpose.
Another example: Work with Michelin a few years back highlighted the potential for peer-to-peer car share. Subsequently, we’ve seen the emergence of blablacar, liftshare and catcharide.
But there are still organisations that seemingly turn their backs on the future and so miss out on seeing how developments in their industry will play out and impact their brands and performance. All too often, they go into denial about the challenges of the future because meeting them inevitably demands change – and change can be scary and threatening.
This is where Axiom can come in; through employee engagement that addresses the fear of change and gets people excited about the future.
Future-gazing and employee engagement
One of the most important ways of driving employee engagement is to instil confidence in the vision and direction of the company. In doing so, you reassure staff about the future, earn their buy-in and drive co-ordinated frontline effort to make the vision a reality. This is where future-gazing and employee engagement can come together.
Global real estate player Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) lacked differentiation versus its competitors and wanted to set itself apart by delivering thought leadership. Providing inspired insights about the future of retailing to its retail clients would drive client meetings and generate more strategic dialogues.
I carried out a Retail 2020 analysis that anticipated the move to omni-channel models, forecasted the end of ‘silent retailing’ and indicated how far retailers would go in communicating directly with customers using mobile apps. The study anchored the new JLL strategy, and its insights were cascaded to the company’s 2,000 employees through a wide-ranging employee communication programme. This ensured that staff understood and bought into the predictions, believed in the vision and started talking the right language with each other and with JLL’s clients.
Subsequently, JLL was able to secure access to the boardrooms of 50 key clients and demonstrate the leap forward it had made in understanding the industry and anticipating the future of retailing.
Axiom wants to encourage companies to be future-facing so they can shape employee engagement in the context of the world to come. Applying a robust methodology to anticipate the trends in the marketplace not only enables a future-proofed strategy, it also paves the way for more effective change and employee engagement.
Axiom associate Chris Middleton is a trends expert who inspires brands to rejuvenate and profit from opportunities. Away from his work with Axiom, Chris operates independently under the banner of futurescoaching