Organisations and management have been talking about the challenges of surviving in the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world for years now. Lately, it is all about the Age of Disruption. What we see today is no different from what we have been seeing all these years, and probably for many more years to come.
This is simply because change is constant. Hence my primary focus is always about getting individuals and groups to ‘Be the change, before change changes them’. This is especially true when seeking out new markets in the 21st century. Traditional businesses can still fall behind in spite of boasting strong brands and excellent track records, if they fail to reach out to new markets.
Related article: Can You Thrive In A VUCA World?
The challenge of 21st century businesses is all about the pace in which people think and act. Things move so fast that we often launch a new product or service without having sufficient time to manage its brand return. The F.A.S.T. approach looks at the key essentials needed to counter the challenges faced in 21st century businesses.
Challenge #1: First Impressions—Social Media
Trying to impress someone new in person is no longer enough. What you learnt to do well in your verbal and non-verbal presence i.e. facial expression, body language, hand gestures, tonality, pitch, consistency, and the like is secondary now.
Thanks to social media, people who are keen to know about you can instantly search for your profile online the minute they hear about you. It is the first place they turn to prior to meeting someone for the first time.
By the time they meet you in person, they would have already formed an impression of you, regardless of the derived outcome. Hence, to convey the right impression we must be mindful of our personal social media habits. Some questions to ask ourselves are:
- How many social media platforms do I use today and why?
- How does my social media profile and photo look? Do I like what I see? Am I impressed?
- What is my key message and purpose?
- What kind of articles do I share and comment on?
- How do I communicate with my social media communities?
These questions (and more) will help you piece together your profile. What you post on your social media platforms says a lot about you. As such, be clear and consistent in your message so that your profile represents you and your brand with minimum ambiguity.
Challenge #2: Alignment—People
Problem-solving is key to winning people in the 21st century. Focus on what the customer truly needs, instead of simply selling what you have (regardless of how dynamic or robust your products and services may be).
It is the person-to-person alignment that needs constant nurturing. We need to rethink hard-work and make the shift to heart-work. As the saying goes:
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
The key to successfully aligning yourself with your customer is to place yourself in their shoes, truly understand, and take a genuine interest in what he/she wants to achieve. If you are uninterested or unable to do this, then you are in no position to offer anything else.
Let’s look at the 4A approach to establishing a long-term partnership:
- Awareness. How aware are you of your customers’ emotional states before communicating? This sets the mood and can easily influence the outcome. Understanding the demographic of your customers plays a huge part as well.
- Acknowledgement. Knowing is one thing, accepting is another. How conscious and comfortable are you in acknowledging circumstances that may or may not agree with you at first contact?
- Adjustment. How quickly are you able to make an adjustment for a greater cause? It is no longer about you but about uniting your team as one especially when dealing with customers of different demographic backgrounds.
- Advancement. Always celebrate your customers’ accomplishments (whether big or small). The one-team approach will help to sustain and advance your partnerships for the long haul.
Challenge #3: Significant—Flexibility
The establishment of loyal customers starts with you being significant in their business. Besides customer care and relationships, how quickly can you customise and deliver your product or service to meet your customers’ needs?
The speed of flexibility in customisation will continue to be a demanding key factor. Are you constrained by bureaucratic processes? Do you have what it takes to make things happen?
To be significant to your customers, you must be flexible, understand, and adopt the roadmap to results (R2R) strategic development process (as shown in figure 1) from the start of your first contact.
- Roadmap (what). First things first, always be clear on what you and your customers want to accomplish. Be flexible in accommodating each other’s needs and wants to derive common goal(s).
- Rationale (why) refers to the ultimate objectives of this partnership. Are you doing this for passion or monetary gain?
- Route (how). Do you have what it takes to make the partnership work and achieve the ultimate goals? If not, what needs to be done to help you succeed? How flexible are you in adapting to change while taking a course of action?
- Roadblock (where). Can you identify the hurdles and barriers that can potentially affect your collaboration? What are the key actions needed to remove these roadblocks?
- Resource (who). Think ‘team’ and leverage on available resources (both internal and external) to speed up your process. There is no need to start from ‘ground zero’. Be flexible in your approach. As the popular saying goes:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- Results (when). All collaboration has an ultimate timeline. Flexibility is good but there must be limitations. Twenty-first century customers may want you to be flexible according to their expectations, but they will definitely not accept too much flexibility in your delivery timeline.
Challenge #4: Trust—Actions
Trust is yours until you let me think otherwise.
This is a personal code I use whenever I meet a new team. Many people think trust is intangible, but I know it is not. Trust is all about actions. Customers do not trust you based on how or what you think; they learn to trust you based on what you do and what they can clearly see.
Going through the R2R strategic development process with your customers clearly shows the interest and passion you have in their business. It shows that you are willing to work with them to help them achieve their goals.
Be it the VUCA world or the Age of Disruption, trust remains visible in the 21st century business environment. As long as we continue to work with people, we need to gain trust through our actions, which means delivering on a promise.
Read also: Why Trust Is The Most Valuable Of All Business Assets
Ms Kim Underhill is the founder and managing partner of Ultimate Balance Consultancy. With over 23 years of experience in the food service industry, she has held key roles at multinational commercial and manufacturing organisations—managing key accounts of Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, Nestle, Unilever, and more. She is a highly engaged member in both business and women’s empowerment communities, the president of Daughters of Tomorrow, and the author of Success Inside Out, Challenge or Choice. To connect with her, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
First published on Singapore Institute of Management Today’s Manager magazines.