Here we are once again. The days are shortening, the nights drawing in. This is the time of year many of us plan ahead; thinking about what 2022 will bring and resolving to become the better selves we always knew we could be.
For businesses, this time of the year is all about planning too. Creating a road map to a leaner, healthier, and more profitable business is as reliable a seasonal ritual as firing up the menorah or putting stockings out for Santa.
But if you’re anything like me the idea of an annual plan has something of a hollow ring to it these days. It’s just not very 2022. It harkens back to a more predictable time when the slings and arrows of fate came at a much more manageable pace. The past nearly two years have changed things inexorably. In our post-pandemic world, we know that change—momentous change—can come out of nowhere and when it does we’d better be ready to act.
BRING ORDER OUT OF CHAOS
Leaders need to be like surfers. Surfers don’t sit down and write up a game plan about how they’re going to tackle the waves. Instead, they come to recognize the sea for what it is: a living system of wave patterns whose frequencies and amplitudes they can come to recognize and navigate. Surfers read turbulence.
The challenge for businesses is to be able to read the turbulence of events to find meaning in apparent chaos. This they can do through real-time analytics. Algorithms can mine a broad range of datasets to identify underlying patterns in things like customer behavior, natural disasters, consumer sentiment, and other factors that impact the business.
In my own particular domain of media and communications, for instance, leaders can now keep a constant finger on the pulse of customer sentiment through real-time analysis of social media feeds, news broadcasts, customer surveys, Net Promoter Scores, and much else besides. That means they can respond to what’s happening in the moment with exactly the right outreach, through the right channel, and at the right time. There’s neither need nor want for long-term plans here.
FORGET GOALS AND TARGETS—EMBRACE PURPOSE
Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher who developed a great deal of the media theory we now take for granted once said that pattern recognition would be the primary skill required to navigate the future. With real-time data analytics, that future has arrived, and it is an important shift. By abandoning the annual, quarterly, or monthly planning cycle, we can replace a linear notion of progress with something much more powerful: purpose-led business.
Purpose is becoming understood less as a reason for doing something than an approach to action. Purpose is characterized by essential integrity, awareness of business impacts, and an almost instinctive grasp of what’s appropriate in any given context.
As such, purpose cascades into values and through values into activities. With a clear-eyed vision of what the company is and what it stands for, ethics become part of the process of decision-making. In the light of real-time data and pattern analysis, brands have a clear lens through which to make decisions. With a proper approach to purpose and values, supported by that necessary real-time data lens, businesses have a template for action in all circumstances. That means they can respond with greater agility and authenticity than their peers.
COVID-19 has brought organizations closer to their customers. It has also been a shock to leaders and taught us the need for agile and responsive management practices. Achieving this goal means embracing chaos, but also seeking to discern order through the use of real-time data analytics. It also means embracing brand purpose and using corporate values as a template to enable rapid decision-making as new situations present themselves.
For my money, the best present business leaders can give themselves this season is to cancel their planning meetings and instead focus on understanding what matters most to their customers and then using this knowledge as a foundation for agile decision-making.