Five key management trends which SMEs should watch

Thinking strategically about your business is always crucial. Here are five key management trends our research tells us you need to get to grips with. You may choose to act on them right now or wait to assess the impact. Whatever you do we believe businesses of every size will need to address these future factors.

1. Long term vs. right here, right now

Many leaders are challenged by a leadership juggling act; They clearly see changes taking place and a very different future emerging, however, this isn’t always reflected in the immediate requests from customers. They understand that the change can start very slowly and then suddenly speed up. Tension between focusing on the here and now and allocating time and resource to an uncertain future is likely to grow rapidly. Developing leadership skills for this “new normal” will become a critical priority: learning how to balance the “urgency of now” with the “importance of next”.

2. Future awareness

Businesses typically fall into three future readiness categories:

a. Some organisations can be proud of their level of awareness of factors that might shape their world in the coming years. They are prepared for a range of scenarios, with strategies ready if the economy suddenly nosedives or if growth opportunities develop faster than expected.

b. The second group are happy to rest on their laurels, believing their offerings will always be in demand and their client relationships are rock solid. This group is often slowest to respond to change and feels the most negative impacts when it happens.

c. Those in the final group are honest enough to say they are uncertain about what might happen next, how change might impact them or how to prepare for future uncertainty. Knowing where you stand is a critical start point. The next step is ensuring that leaders and managers are investing in encouraging their staff to scan the horizon, read about impending changes and think about possible implications and responses. If they lead by example, their teams will follow.

3. Starting from zero

Companies often start their annual planning knowing that some proportion of our business was repeatable i.e. recurring revenues. However, today contracts are shortening, retainer relationships are being dissolved and organizations are starting from zero when analysing where next year’s revenues might come from. Budgeting from zero is a mindset and capability that needs developing across the business. At one extreme, this is driving firms to reduce headcount, adopting a more contingent workforce model, at the other we are seeing innovative strategies to lock-in longer term customer commitments.

4. Exponential organizations

Driving exponential improvement at speed is going to capture attention across the board. Most commentators focus on the big technology-enabled examples e.g. AirBnB handling 90x more bedrooms per employee than the typical hotel group. Equally attractive are the simple innovations that can deliver rapid improvements, for example, airports introducing parallel loading bays at security checkpoints to treble the flow of passengers. Leaders will be expected to encourage the pursuit of exponential gains and lead by example in the search for opportunities.

5. Ecosystem thinking

Rapidly changing markets, short-lived opportunities, and exponential rates of development in technology, means firms have little choice but to work with a network of external partners. This helps both to absorb the constant onslaught of change and provide the capacity to respond faster. A mindset shift is taking place towards “who can do it better, cheaper and faster?”. To make these ecosystem models work, it is critical to develop leaders, managers, and staff with a willingness to share, learn and create solutions in partnership.

Rohit Talwar and Steve Wells are founders of Fast Future Publishing. Their most recent book, The Future of Business, draws on contributions from 62 future thinkers around the world to explore how developments such as AI and robotics could transform existing industries, create new trillion-dollar sectors and reinvent business over the next decade.