What are the biggest challenges to growing your business? Is it talent attraction and retention, rapidly changing technology or delivering unique and meaningful customer experiences?
All businesses face obstacles in this rapidly changing climate, and they must adapt to grow.
We talked with HORNE Partner Bruce Walt about the challenges facing businesses right now and how companies can better position themselves not only to accept change but also accelerate it and thrive.
What’s the single most important piece of advice you would give to any business?
We have a saying here that sums up the realities that businesses are wrestling with today: “Big change requires big changes.”
COVID brought a lot of big, significant changes; it brought them on very quickly. Most dealt with economic uncertainty and businesses had to use new and different technology to keep going.
Companies also were forced to find new ways for their employees to work, including working from home and staggered schedules. While these practices were responses to COVID, businesses have kept them to attract the new generation of workers who want more work/life balance, as well as flexibility.
In the early months of the pandemic, many companies were in a reactive mode, responding to events as they unfolded.
Successful companies pivoted quickly and took proactive steps to manage sweeping change. For example, grocery stores and restaurants began offering curbside pickup or home delivery. Other businesses provided employees with laptops that allowed them to work from home. They saw that status quo or small incremental adjustments were not going to be enough.
We’re going to spend the rest of our lives in the future. So today is the right time to take a step back, anticipate what lies ahead, crystalize your view of the future and make the big changes needed to take control of change from inside your business.
Which areas should be the primary focus?
At HORNE, we’ve narrowed down the challenges to key areas in which most companies have control and where they can make substantial moves to position themselves for growth and a competitive advantage.
These include the need to hire, grow and retain talent, process improvement, technology, customer experience and having the right strategy to drive their business model.
It’s a lot to deal with, but owners and executives can take big steps forward in these areas.
Let’s talk about one area that everyone seems to be struggling with — finding and keeping people.
The frustrating thing about the employee shortage is that it’s not caused by one thing, but by multiple factors.
- Baby boomers are retiring.
- People are reevaluating what they really want from work.
- They are leaving low-wage or stressful jobs.
- They are leaving bad bosses.
- Others are changing jobs for better opportunities or better pay.
All this has created a situation in which unemployment is at historic lows, but we have twice as many job openings as we do people looking for work.
How can your business compete for talent in a market in which job seekers have the leverage?
Part of the answer is to evaluate your company objectively and ask some hard questions:
- Is your pay competitive?
- Is your work culture positive and a place where people want to work?
- Are there opportunities for growth and professional development?
- And are your hiring and interviewing processes designed to uncover the candidates who are most likely to stay?
Beyond that, employers must understand that the members of Generation Z coming into the workforce want more than a paycheck: They want flexibility and work-life balance. They want purpose. They want a sense of community and giving back. And they will make up 30% of the workforce by 2030.
Generation Z is entering into the workforce want more than a paycheck: they want flexibility and work-life balance. They want purpose. They want a sense of community and giving back. And they will make up 30% of the workforce by 2030.
Focus your people on high-value, rewarding work.
The labor shortage goes hand in hand with another challenge you mentioned: process improvement.
That’s right. As you seek to fill positions, you should also review how you operate.
- What functions are redundant or unnecessary?
- What manual or low-value work could be automated, eliminated or outsourced?
- What’s being done on-site that could be done remotely?
Your goal should be to eliminate as much low-value work as possible or automate it with bots. Focus your people on high-value, rewarding work. That’s how you ultimately support higher wages, attract better candidates, increase employee satisfaction and operate more profitably.
And this, in turn, dovetails with technology?
Yes, technology is at the core of addressing so much of what is going on — not just in terms of enabling businesses to leverage their data and assets more effectively, but also in terms of reshaping the customer experience.
Just think for a moment. Before COVID, how many people had Facetimed with their family doctors? How many had used DoorDash or Grubhub?
Who thought that a local pharmacy should offer drive-thru medical tests or that grocery stores should carry preordered groceries out to your car? Furniture and clothing stores are now selling large portions of their inventories online, and traditional dine-in restaurants are now competing with carry-out fast food. Businesses are doing “virtual trade shows” and replacing meetings with Zoom calls.
The pandemic did in two years what would have probably taken 10 years during normal times, turning things that were once tech pipe dreams into improved consumer experiences. Companies that aren’t up to speed will be left behind.
That’s a lot for companies to deal with. Where do they start?
You begin with an honest, baseline evaluation of where you are and where you want to be — and that’s where getting an outside perspective can help. At our firm, we offer what we call the HORNE Business Health Check. It evaluates businesses across four pillars:
It’s designed to provide a gap analysis of the areas you might be trailing your industry as a whole and to pinpoint where you can achieve rapid, significant improvement.
At the end of the process, we can help you craft a solid strategic plan that helps you refine your business model and guides you through the years ahead.
It all sounds like a lot of work. Is there an upside that you would point out to companies?
Staying ahead of today’s top challenges is a lot of work. But the upside is that the benefits you’ve created will continue. Automation and process improvement will boost long-term profitability and performance. Hiring more effectively and supporting remote workers will expand your future talent pool far beyond traditional geographic boundaries. The online and digital strategies you create will draw in new customers for years to come. And by creating a culture and environment that appeals to employees, , you’ll better position your company to find, grow, and retain leaders.
Does your company need advice on how to create opportunities by outpacing change?
Bruce is a partner at HORNE Accelerate, where he leads business development for technology, learning and development, marketing and process transformation solutions.