What Businesses Need Now More Than Ever

Companies and organizations are at a crossroad-The long heralded age of disruption is upon us and the feverish pace of change is visiting every industry imaginable. Executives, CEO’s and entrepreneurs alike realize that the time has come to cross the Rubicon and make it to the “other side” of this growing digital economy. And, of course the biggest question that looms overhead is how to do this with the least amount of fallout without disrupting the existing core business.

 Opportunities to innovate with either existing capabilities or create new ones internally abound. However, what seems to be prevailing is the continuous resistance to bring forward the much needed processes to allow new ideas and a creative mindset to flourish.

 The following three examples provide a clear window to what most companies are facing and cannot seem to overcome with the existing mindset and infrastructure:

 Failure To Distribute Authority

Recently, I was traveling on business for a client and while on the plane, the air steward asked the person sitting next to me what his beverage of choice might be for the flight. The gentleman kindly responded that he wished for ginger ale. The air steward apologized and stated that she did not have any more on this flight. Under normal circumstances I would have not paid this conversation any further consideration. However, she added that unfortunately, she did not get to make the decision on what type of beverages would be served on the flights, and that decision rested with someone at the corporate head office.

 Huh? These are the kind of inefficiencies that always leave me scratching my head. How was it possible that the person in the organization who is not only customer-facing but engages them day in and day out does not get to provide feedback about what the customers really want? Think about this scenario for a few seconds. Even if the person sitting at the corporate office has reams of information and data that tells him the number of beverages, and more importantly what type of beverages are being consumed on the flights, would it make more sense to complement this data though feedback from the employees who are on the front lines and serve these beverages?

 What this airline fails to realize is that the end user (i.e. passengers) are not their only customer or stakeholder. In the New Economy, every stakeholder, especially the front-end facing employee must have access and authority to make decisions that will benefit the customer. There is no longer room for a minority of people at the “top” to make decisions based solely on historical data. The era of “real time” decisions is now at our fingertips based on information that can be provided by every stakeholder on the ecosystem to allow the organization to self-correct and adapt to dynamic changes in the marketplace instantly.  How hard would it be for the airline to create an internal app that allows all airline stewards to not only input quantitative but also qualitative data in real time that can corroborate what people in corporate are seeing based on their numbers. Either way the data would either complement each other or contradict themselves, in which case it would provide a red flag to their internal operations. The customer is at the center of the organization’s ecosystem, but every stakeholder should now also have the authority to make decisions that are in the best interest of the very same customer without waiting for central command to approve it.

 Relying on The Tried & True Approach To Challenges

In California, a debate is raging as the California Board of Pharmacy is considering all pharmacies in the state to provide bilingual labels on prescription medicines (California Pharmacists Resist Translating Medicine Labels). Statewide, 44 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home, and the State represents a snapshot of the level of diversity that will be common in the future. Critics of the move say that translating the labels will force pharmacies to provide larger pill bottles to accommodate the extra text, and research finds that patients do not like larger bottles and tend to transpose the medication into other receptacles.  In addition, pharmacists fear the increased costs of malpractice insurance in cases where a patient fails to follow a prescribed label if the translation is faulty.

 This situation and challenge is legitimate and creates all sorts of barriers for all parties involved. However, what stands out the most in this case is how the organization seems to focus on enlarging the bottles as the next best solution to this challenge.  The assumption that this is the best solution to this problem is symptomatic to how organizations approach solutions to their most common business challenges. It is easy to rely on what has worked in the past and not search for ideas that may seem far-fetched but could possibly hold an opportunity to break from the past and innovate on many possible answers.

 In this respect, the first idea that comes to mind is to crowdsource this challenge and allow other ideas to provide a window to solutions in adjacent industries that could possibly provide a better answer to this vexing issue. The challenge of responding to different languages affects a great number of people in various industries and you can bet that someone, somewhere is tinkering with an idea that could be used to respond to it that has nothing to do with having bigger pill bottles.

 The second idea is to start experimenting with IOT (Internet of Things) and partner with a company like Google whose Google Translate provides the most common translations in any language. Imagine a medicine bottle with a chip connected to the Internet that allows the patient to choose his language of choice and have it appear on the label based on his instructions. Google Glasses also comes to mind in this respect as a possible gadget that could be used to help both pharmacists and patients alike to use the existing infrastructure and customize it to their needs. Google has already begun these types of partnerships that aims to help the health care and pharmaceutical industry deal with some of their challenges as well as create innovative ideas to confront others (Novartis-Google team on lens for diabetes, vision issues)

 There are many ways to overcome our business challenges, but not by going around in circles doing exactly what has worked in the past. The challenges are becoming more complex, but we also have the technologies and the know-how to come up with new and different solutions to overcome them. It’s time to expand our thinking and exactly who gets to come up with the solutions is no longer the realm of the few nor to be found solely in the tried and true.

 Turning Constraints Into Competitive Advantages

During a recent conversation with a Financial Planner, she confided in me that her industry was facing one of its hardest challenges in bridging a generational gap. The “conversation” chasm was steadily growing between older planners who had grown their book of business the old fashion way by cold calling and earning their clients’ trust one relationship at a time. On the other side was a growing army of young financial planners who see social media, mobile and other digital forms of communications as their main tool for connecting, sharing and disseminating information. In addition, the generational wealth of most clients was also being transferred to a younger generation who did not necessarily see financial planners as a necessary tool to engage in their long-term financial survival. Today, they have at their disposal many more options, and information at their fingertips to make informed decisions in a matter of seconds in a market that offers opportunities at every corner and at every second.

 Companies and organizations continue to see themselves through a very constrained lens of what’s possible and what they are as opposed to why they exist. In the financial industry the differences between an older generational set and a younger one may on the surface seem like an internal challenge, but what it really represents is an opportunity to create a true portal of knowledge that spans decades of experience. The true value for consumers no longer rests in organizations owning information, but rather how it can guide their clients to making smarter decisions at the right time when it is needed the most. Companies need to customize their offerings to a client’s needs at just the right moment and offer expert advice and guidance based on personal data and information that complements their daily lives. This is where data analytics, social media and digital information collide to provide unprecedented access and knowledge about the client’s deepest needs along his life cycle. If companies provide such a value, then consumers will allow them to be part of their own personal “life ecosystem”.

 Companies must also begin to understand that their industry no longer defines what they represent for clients. Just as consumers have begun to see financial planners as not keeping up with their needs, so must the industry realize that they must shift how clients see them by redefining what they truly do and can provide them, in other words expert guidance in a chaotic world at their disposal when they need it the most. Clients are willing to pay for that luxury, especially if it helps them with overarching goals through their life span. Financial planning then no longer becomes a black box in which decisions are made transactionally, but rather a portal of knowledge and mutual benefits sharing. In other words, is Barnes & Noble really still a bookstore or rather a gathering place for people where they happen to buy books in a manner that is convenient for them?

 What businesses need now more than ever is access to a new way of thinking and seeing the marketplace. The capacity to create a bridge between their core business and innovate themselves into agility, nimbleness and adaptation in any direction that presents an opportunity, and execute on both adroitly. There is a way ahead with the least amount of fallout from what exists today, but organizations must be courageous enough to let go of their perch and move boldly into the future without believing that it heralds the end.  Change is hard, but necessary at this stage of the game, so what businesses need now is to take a first step toward evolution…..your future customers are waiting. 

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