At this time of year people, in their personal lives, take stock and make resolutions about how they want to live, eat and act in the new year. Likewise, it may be a good time for business leaders to take a fresh look at how, why and with whom they want to do business in the future.
Many times we tend to get lulled into thinking that all is well on the business side, only to be surprised by unanticipated changes in what our customers want and in how or even by whom business is done in our industry.
The needs of customers change over time: what they regarded as a valuable product or feature before may not be valuable to them anymore. An important fact to remember is that value lies in the perception of the customers; a new product or a feature will only be regarded as valuable (i.e. different or better) if the customer perceives it as such.
Keeping constant tabs on who’s who and what they do in an industry is vital. In most industries, competitive advantages become qualifiers as time passes. Not so long ago online bookings and check-in were the competitive advantage of one or two airlines; now they are qualifiers. Players in that market will not even be able to participate if they don’t offer those services. Business leaders should be able to determine how stable or risky the position of their business is in their industry. One way to do this is to analyse start-ups, historical partners, suppliers and competitors in their own as well as adjacent industries to find out more about these market players’ potential to fulfil the existing and emerging needs of customers.
Just reacting to changes might not be sufficient: business leaders have to be proactive. In order to keep attention focused on driving forces within an industry, business leaders can do three things:
1. Facilitate strategic listening. All the people within an organisation should share the burden of strategic listening in order to identify opportunities to create value. Value innovation should be part and parcel of the job of every person in the organisation. Business leaders should create ways and means for the information generated by strategic listening to flow through the organisation in a meaningful manner.
2. Allocate diary time. If we don’t allocate regular diary time, our bright new plans are going to stay a good intention, and we won’t get to actually carrying them out. They will go the way of most New Year’s resolutions – on the radar screen for a while, but soon forgotten and crowded out by day-to-day challenges.
3. Seek to learn. As business leaders, we should remain students of our field at all times. Creating and sustaining an environment conducive to learning is probably the most valuable contribution that leaders can make to their organisations. Truly entrepreneurial organisations are able to learn on three levels:
- Tactical level: improving our efficiencies in terms of processes and services;
- Strategic level: looking for new ways of conducting our existing business; and
- Paradigm level: changing our organisational paradigm and doing something entirely different based on core competencies and what we’ve learnt. This is the highest form of learning and is fairly rare.
Aspects such as those mentioned above will be the focus of a series of free/subsidised workshops sponsored by the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and hosted by the USB-ED Centre for Applied Entrepreneurship. Participants will be introduced to instruments and methodologies to help them identify potential indicators of change and to assess the impact and opportunities that these changes create.
Business owners who are interested in attending these workshops can download the flyer or contact Doris Viljoen on 082 965 7007 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Doris Viljoen is part-time faculty at USB-ED. Her field of expertise is Business Development Support. In her consulting business her focus is on strategy and the feasibility of future initiatives.