Maybe you’ve never thought of your brand as having a direct influence on the day to day operation of your business, but believe me, a strong brand will help you get stuff done and certainly make it easier to run your business. It may even be the difference between success and failure in the digital age.
Ben reflects on the fact that businesses in the digital age have to be driven by egalitarian communities and that command-and-control hierarchies just don’t work anymore. He quotes a number of persuasive case studies, including that of Haier, published by INSTEAD last year, that even the most stick-in-the-mud business leader couldn’t ignore.
Today’s businesses are complicated
Businesses today have many times the number of components of their forbears. Making it easier to run your business demands understanding of a complex array of specialist disciples.
Not only are there more tools involved and therefore the need for more people with the specialist skills and experience to use them, these disciplines are both comparatively narrow and extremely complex. They are also often only engaged intermittently, so it makes no sense for the experts who wield them to be on the pay role. This is why Warren Bennis, famously suggested that business of the future may only have two employees.
In fact, a digital era business operates with a combination of full and part-time employees, consultants, free-lancers, and partner organisation. Failure to recognise that this requires a different management model is now one of the main reasons businesses fold, but awareness is only one part of the problem. Maybe the biggest problem is in applying that understanding.
There is significant resistance among business leaders to this obvious need to change and the most likely reason for this is founded in the traditions of leadership and what I call the “infallible manager”.
The traditional leadership model is hierarchical. It relies on command-and-control that, in turn, is founded on the principal that leaders are all-knowing. After all, if people don’t believe you are at least likely to be right they’ll be reluctant to respond to commands. Because of this traditional leaders are brainwashed into the belief that infallibility is sacrosanct and they defend this illusion with primal ferocity!
When you consider the number of disciplines required to run a contemporary business and the degree of specialism involved in each, it’s easy to see how this might be a worry for a leader struggling to perpetuate the facade of infallibility.
Obviously, no one person could possibly know enough about all these disciplines, even if they were aware of them. So, today’s successful leaders surround themselves with experts, give them the problem and allow them the freedom to come up with a solution..
To have a hope of success, leaders simply have to abandon their pretence of infallibility and switch from command-and-control to a facilitatory style of leadership. It makes traditional leaders feel vulnerable, insecure. It’s no wonder so many resist change!
It’s alright not to know stuff. It’s a totally unrealistic expectation anyway. Everything is new to all of us. The cut-and-paste solutions that traditional leaders have been brought up have no relevance. The measure of today’s leaders is how they react when faced with things that nobody has encountered before.
Today’s businesses are not about the product
Product is no-longer king (which is itself inconceivable to many business leaders). In fact products are transient, almost incidental in the fast-paced digital paradigm. The purpose of your business may once have been to make widgets, but today it’s to solve customers’ problems. The lifespan of your widget has a shelf-life is measured in weeks. You are only as good as your NEXT big idea and it’s how you come up with this that defines business success.
Digital technology and social and political actions present us all with new priorities every day.
This reality kicks off a chain of consequential challenges that the old hierarchical leadership model simply can’t cope with. So stop trying to bang that square peg into a round hole and take a moment to understand a few realities that will make it easier to run your business.
Change and other stuff happens faster in the digital economy.
There was a time when a business could find a ready market for the same product for decades. Take Prestige’s pressure cooker or the cassette player. These days a product is relevant for a mere heartbeat compared to products our grandparents bought.
The business guru Tom Peters told us years ago that by the time a product appears on the shelves of your High Street stores it is out of date. In fact, most businesses have two or three successors to their ”current” products in development at any time.
Worse still is the fact that these changes in consumer needs are so extreme that it’s rarely a case of iteration or making improvements to existing products, but completely new products designed to resolve previously unrecognised needs.
Technological advancement is self-perpetuating.
This forms the basis of the “More-For-Less Economy” I’ve spoken of many times over the years.
Technology begets technology. Computers help us do things faster with fewer people, but just as the invention of the wheel gave mankind a whole host of subsequent inventions, digital made things like artificial intelligence a reality. That has eliminated comparatively slow-thinking humans from large parts of the innovation process, which itself has increased the rate of acceleration and led to the emergence of things like neuromorphic and quantum computing, which make digital technology appear decidedly sluggish. As the man said, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
We all expect, better designed and better made products delivered faster and at a lower price. These are reasonable expectations in the digital age and the race will be won by the businesses that work out how to do so first.
The good news is that the technology driving change also provides us with the ability to keep up. While everything else has accelerated, so too has all the intelligence gathering, development and testing involved in innovation. There really is no excuse for not knowing what consumers need, provided you know your way around the technology. That’s where specialists enter the game.
The momentum of change is cumulative.
Products become obsolete because social and economic pressures re-focus our priorities. Yesterday’s must-haves have always become has-beens because they don’t meet contemporary needs, but the difference now is that change is far more rapid.
When you combine the dual realities of new demands emerging at an ever-increasing rate and technology allowing manufacturers to shorten product development times so dramatically, the challenge becomes pretty daunting. You need to find ways to make it easier to run your business.
New products can be developed and take the lions’ share of a market in a matter of months. The Apple watch was launched in 2016 and by 2020 it was out-selling the entire Swiss watch industry at a rate of two to one. What’s more the businesses disrupting your sector are unlikely to be among your traditional competitors, (I’m pretty sure Swiss watchmakers didn’t see the mobile phone company coming) so they won’t be on your RADAR and they’ll probably catch you napping.
Today what separates successful businesses from those that fail is agility — the ability to respond to changes, develop solutions quickly and get them to market in a fraction of the time traditional businesses might think is OK.
That’s why the infallible manager is a thing of the past and the need for a switch to facilitatory leadership is essential.
Today’s influences are more diverse than ever before
Political actions, ranging from wars and government changes to laws on inclusion and sustainability, as well as social actions including migration, climate change the emergence of new technologies and the people who know how to apply them and much more, all cause us to make changes to our lives. However small these changes may be they will have consequences for businesses that provide the products and services we need.
These influences impact the workplace too. People refocus their priorities. More people want to work from home, so office space can be smaller, but it has to be designed differently too. Employees have longer leave entitlement, work part-time, have more than one employer, bring their kids or their pets to work and are more likely to stay at home when they are sick.
They also identify new opportunities offered by emerging technologies and want to share in their secrets. The changes prompted by the Covid pandemic perfectly illustrate the suddenness with which these influences emerge and the speed with which they change our lives.
What we understand by the working week, transport habits and catering requirements are part of this change. We have different relationships with our homes too, which In turn influences house prices and housing needs and so on. The implications are endless.
Businesses have to think more broadly, be more sensitive, gather more data, follow trends, talk to customers and, of course, move faster and be more efficient.
The role your brand plays in making it easier to run your business
The team that is going to manage all this and make your business work is your brand. Forget what people may have told a brand is. The fact is, a brand is a community of people united behind a clearly defined objective and a set of shared principles and values.
Your brand community incorporates six special interest groups — investors, partners, suppliers, distributors, employees and customers. Each community segment is there for a different reason, but they contribute equally to your success provided they are committed to your objective and keen to contribute to its realisation. This all helps make it easier to run your business.
The first job of a leader is to establish the objective and set out the values and principles. This is recorded in the form of a “brand model”.
The second task is to build the community. This is an ongoing, continuous process, itself requiring a range of specialist technical and communications disciplines.
Once your community is primed and ready, your third and on-going task is to remove any obstacles they may face when trying to do their work and keep them on target for achieving the objective.
I understand this vision of leadership may sound daunting to some traditional leaders, but that’s the reality. There is no choice, other than to climb on board, but, rest assured, there are people like me around to offer a leg up to anyone facing the challenge.
I have worked with businesses large and small, around the world helping leadership teams come to terms with the new demands and adapt their approach. My Brand-Led Business philosophy represents the new paradigm and my Brand-Led Business Transformation programme helps leaders re-construct their business to be a winner in the digital age.
I help my clients devise their business and marketing strategies and build the teams that will implement them. If you feel business life is getting tougher I’m happy to help you understand the issues, come to terms with the changes these will bring to your life and work, define your brand, build your community, help you leverage this to make it easier to run your business and set you on the road to business success.
November 9, 2023