As Polaroid, Blockbuster, Kodak and countless other companies will testify, resting on your laurels can be a dangerous business. To achieve longevity, companies should, Grove advises, constantly renovate their products to outwit the competition. It’s the reason why Facebook earlier this year purchased messaging service WhatsApp for $19bn (£11.3bn) and why Google is ploughing millions of dollars into funding research into the ‘Internet of Things’.
However, recent news reports suggest the potential for complacency in UK businesses is rising again. Optimism among UK firms is at its highest since the 1990s, according to the BDO optimism index in February. In March, chartered accounts McBrides reported 80 per cent of its clients felt more confident about the economy. Car sales are at their highest in a decade, while the IMF has predicted the UK will grow faster than any other advanced economies this year.
But how do you avoid lapsing into self-contentment and ensure you’re constantly ahead of the curve? What’s the best way to innovate in your company to keep the complacency wolves (not to mention new competition) at bay? And how can you inspire staff to unlock the true potential of your business? You can start by ditching some stale and ineffective working practices, as experts suggest here. Remember paranoia (well, not letting standards slip) is the key…
How to… manage change effectively
When Dame Fiona Reynolds led the revitalisation of the National Trust in the noughties, restructuring the leadership team was key to her strategy: “We dismantled the hierarchy in our top-down management command line and created a new structure, based on four big bundles of activity that relate to each other,” she told Director.
It is sensitive management of any process of change that marks the difference between success and failure according to IoD tutor Tony O’Connell, who coaches directors in leadership strategy.
“Change management is a process by which you lead an organisation from one state to another,” he says. “Do that well, and you will create success.”
The board, he says, needs to be clear about its aims, plus the roles of the individuals working as a team. He stresses the importance of unity: “The board must speak with one voice.”
In addition, he recommends putting ‘change champions’ in place to
take responsibility for leading transformation. Ultimately, leaders’ integrity will come under the microscope. “They have to be honest with employees and take account of different stakeholders and different stakeholder groups.”
For directors, he recommends thinking about how much influence and power the stakeholders hold, and how they will be affected by the change: “Having a dialogue with them is going to be crucial to the success of your change plan.”
How to… retain top talent
Remuneration and status figure highly among the key reasons
why high-flyers remain with a company. But keeping them focused, motivated and satisfied with the role is arguably even more crucial, along with nurturing in-house flexibility. In a 2011 global study by consulting firm BlessingWhite, when employees were asked the most important factor influencing their plans to stay, 30 per cent cited their work and liking their job. The statistics for younger employees are even more startling. Forty-five per cent of them, according to Gen Y research firm Millennial Branding, would choose workplace flexibility over pay.
But how do you keep your top talent happy? Managing your high-flyers’ expectations is essential, says Todd Turner, chief executive of people development company Hemsley Fraser.
He recommends putting top talent on a “high potential programme”, allowing those with high potential to learn leadership skills – not only for the purposes of succession planning, but also for uncovering hidden potential. “There can be many unforeseen benefits too, such as the cross-fertilisation that occurs by moving staff around the organisation through participating in a high-potential programme, yielding a greater understanding, deeper dialogue and even empathy for those in a similar position.”
Be careful not to clip your top talents’ wings, warns Turner, who encourages organisations to take a chance. Creating a company culture in which bold ideas aren’t encouraged could lead to the business losing its best talent, he says.
“They could get discouraged if they feel held back. Let them take risks and see what comes of it.”
But watch out for the green-eyed monster, he urges. “If staff haven’t been selected to be in a high-potential programme, be careful how that communication is managed. Even staff that are selected might not get placed into a top position so [think about] how you then manage their expectations as they’re weeded out of a programme.”
It’s not just high-flyers who need nurturing, as everyone in the workforce needs development, explains Turner. “Not everybody wants to be a high potential, some people are content in the jobs they’re in… it would be chaos if everybody wanted to be a high potential. [But] those folks should enjoy investment and development as well – it could just be that the pace of development or long-range nature of the development is slightly different.”
How to… future-proof your firm
Andy Grove wasn’t the only Intel employee to coin a long-lasting business mantra. The company’s co-founder, Gordon Moore, conceived the idea of ‘Moore’s Law’ – the observation that computer chips double in power every 18 months. It’s the reason why computing has grown exponentially over the last 40 years. Naturally, the ability to keep up with this digital Darwinism has secured the survival of many firms. Grove forecast in 1999 that “in five years, companies that are not internet companies won’t be companies at all”.
But what’s the best way to embrace new technology to increase company efficiency? One method of truly revolutionising your business (and streamline costs in the process) is by adopting cloud computing.
By being able to access multiple devices from any location, cloud computing can drive business productivity as it allows employees to work effectively even when they aren’t in the office. It’s a trend that shows no sign of abating. Around 74 per cent of US companies allow Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), while a YouGov survey last year revealed 47 per cent of all British adults now use their smartphone, laptop or tablet for work purposes.
Transferring pivotal business functions such as book-keeping and word processing to a cloud can also curtail the amount of time and money spent buying or looking after in-house IT solutions.
Taking advantage of free marketing such as social media can also help your company. Even though it requires a heavy investment of time and energy, Twitter and Facebook can push potential clients towards your business. Indeed, a recent global LinkedIn survey found 91 per cent of SMEs said social media helped “increase awareness” of their brand, while 82 per cent said it helped generate “new leads”. To use social media effectively, it’s worth targeting the platforms where your customers can be found, plus using a CRM service provider such as HootSuite or CubeSocial to manage multiple accounts from a single dashboard. To find out if your social media campaign has been successful or not, it’s also worth accessing online analytics tools such as Topsy (Twitter), Page Insights (Facebook) and Google Analytics – which will also tell you where the traffic that visits your website heads afterwards.
Making your website more mobile-friendly could also bring in new customers; for example, by ensuring your website uses a design that instantly changes to fit the device it is being viewed on. By using image-editing software to reduce the size of files on the site, or by ditching the 1000-word profile on your homepage, you could ensnare some of those 61 per cent of users who instantly leave a website when they don’t find what they’re looking for straight away. Also, don’t forget other tools which can free up time for business owners, such as scan-to-pay app Zapper.com (helps with invoicing) and Readdle.com for document management.
How to… hold smarter meetings
A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and Epson found that office workers in Britain waste two hours and 39 minutes in meetings every week, costing business an estimated £26bn a year. The 2012 report also discovered that if these wasted hours had been spent productively, it would equate to 13 million more productive hours per week and an annual increase in gross domestic product of approximately 1.7 per cent.
Jane Sunley, chief executive of Purple Cubed and an expert in HR and people management, says that directors and managers need to ask themselves if a meeting is necessary. “Don’t have a meeting if you don’t need one,” she says. “Where a meeting is necessary, think about who truly needs to attend. Be prepared and get the timing right – nobody minded if a meeting was too short but everyone complains if it finishes late. Be productive – if the chair loses control, achievements won’t be made. If you don’t leave a meeting feeling fired up then question the way you are holding meetings.”
A less hierarchal structure will bring out the best in all participants and lead to an equal sharing of ideas, she says. “Consider having a roving chair. Letting each person take a turn at chairing not only up-skills the individuals, but means meetings are kept fresh. I think it’s really important that things are kept moving, so it’s not always one person in charge.”