4 key signs of business change every leader should be ready for in 2021

4 key signs of business change every leader should be ready for in 2021
Image: iStock / skynesher
This article is sponsored by Accenture.

The world is now emerging from a crisis never before seen in our times, but with this setback comes a raft of opportunities. 

The pandemic triggered the reinvention of business models, the restructuring of supply chains and a collection of fast-tracked scientific breakthroughs. Organisations have been transformed, almost overnight, as leaders found ways for productivity to virtually thrive. 

The businesses which will achieve sustainable success after the pandemic will capitalise on this momentum, accelerate on innovation that is only now being tapped into and optimise for a new global reality. 

The following are four key signals that will allow leaders to stay one step ahead of change.

Learning from the future

Artificial intelligence now makes it possible to anticipate the future. 

Instead of looking to the past for insights, data analytics and modelling allow us to predict what is coming next with greater accuracy. 

Real-time data moves businesses away from relying on outdated information. It helps to identify new patterns and growth opportunities from highly relevant information.

88% of C-suite executives at large organisations who were surveyed by Accenture agree that Learning from the future is important for their organisation’s success. As shared in Accenture’s Business Futures 2021: Signals of Change report, “Organisations that shift from experience-based, top-down decision-making to data-driven, bottom-up decision-making — where employees augment their judgment and intuition with algorithms’ recommendations — will excel at learning from the future.”

This real-time data and analytics-led approach to strategy and consulting delivers world-class capabilities that will guide the journey from strategy through to execution. 

“The combination of real-time data, analytics and AI offers Australian organisations tremendous opportunities by helping them to anticipate the future and respond faster to changing industry dynamics,” Louise May, Strategy & Consulting Lead, Accenture Australia and New Zealand told Business Insider Australia.

“Organisations adopting superior forward-looking capabilities can offer customers more customised products and services, helping to drive competition, economic value and growth.”

Push to the edge 

With the rate of change increasing, it is impossible for leaders to take on the responsibility of making every single decision, especially in parts of the world or business landscape where they are never ‘on the ground’. 

The pandemic highlighted how much is possible when businesses respond to a situation and make decisions quickly. Business executives who ‘work smart’ are responding to this change by pushing decision-making authority to people at the ‘edges’. They are relying on highly networked teams to act with speed and agility, making decisions at local levels that better reflect the needs of the customer.

When companies empower their edges to make most day-to-day operational decisions, they free up their headquarters to focus on key strategic decisions. Accenture’s research suggests organisations will increasingly “restructure to operate more like broad federations of business operations, rather than relying on traditional operating models to respond to the increasingly fragmented business environment of countries, regions and cultures.”

Edge organisations are structured in ways that make them flatter and faster. They shift away from conventional hierarchies toward networked structures built around empowered, multidisciplinary teams that are centred on customer outcomes.

Sustainable purpose

‘To deliver better returns for stakeholders’ has been a KPI for business leaders for decades. However, there is a growing consensus that the interests of society and investors are best served by organisations that create value for all stakeholders. 

Accenture found after interviewing executives from around the world that for 43% of 521 of the world’s largest companies, the ability to deliver multi-dimensional value does not match intent. These companies devoted an above-average share of their earnings calls to environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics, but their actual performance on ESG indicators was consistently below average over the past three years. This is referred to as the ‘intention delivery’ gap. 

After the pandemic highlighted the major differences between industries and even countries, pressure on organisations to close the gap will only intensify. Stakeholders will increasingly hold companies accountable if they fail to deliver on their claims and promises surrounding purpose.

‘Purpose-run’ organisations are closing the gap by engineering purpose into the core of their operations.

To create a lasting purpose-run approach, it is first important to define your purpose as an organisation, rather than trying to do too much for too many. Companies can then measure stakeholder return by disclosing key stakeholders, sharing how they are impacted by the organisation’s decisions and giving them a meaningful voice in shaping governance. 

Supply unbounded

Shipping container shortages and the lack of freight solutions caused significant delays in the delivery of physical goods during the pandemic. 

To meet growing customer needs for fast, flexible, cost-effective and sustainable order fulfilment, companies are restructuring their supply chains by moving production closer to the point of demand. They are also working on discovering solutions to problems such as complexity and unreliable supply.

Fulfilling more orders traditionally requires covering more miles, but new technologies — and the business models they enable — can minimise the impact of distance and borders on business.

Route-optimisation algorithms are helping reduce mileage and improve on-time delivery rates. In logistics, quantum routing uses cloud-based, quantum computing to calculate the fastest route for all vehicles, taking into account millions of real-time data points about traffic congestion.

In the past, delivering more orders required expanding the footprint of fulfilment centres. By ‘atomising’ supply chains into micro-fulfilment centres, organisations can serve more customers from a smaller footprint.

As organisations review their fulfilment networks, they can consider not just new demand profiles for the nodes they own, but also how best to work with potential partners, such as local couriers and on-demand delivery firms, to improve their overall supply-chain performance.

Overcoming the physical limits of distance through new technologies could add 9.2% to trade growth in 2030 across 10 economies studied by Accenture.

In the 2020s, leaders face an unprecedented challenge: to identify what works for a rapidly evolving today and what will be required to exist tomorrow. Decisions made over the next 12 to 18 months could determine the difference between thriving and struggling to survive in the next five years. There is no time for hesitation when it comes to capitalising on changes and seizing the future.