Deep-rooted economic, social and demographic trends are changing the way we live and work. It’s down to consultants to demonstrate how they can help clients stay afloat in choppy seas and anticipate the rogue waves on the horizon, argues Hay Group CEO Stephen Kaye.
You often hear that the business environment has changed and that it’s volatile and complex. And usually it’s the financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that followed that are cited as the cause. It’s true the operating environment is unpredictable. But at Hay Group, it’s our view that while that change has been accelerated by the crisis, it’s in fact the result of global megatrends that have been in play for some time.
At the Hay Group, we see it as our job to help clients understand the importance of those megatrends and respond to them successfully. Which ones will have the biggest effect on their business? And how can clients harness the power of these megatrends for their own benefit?
As you’d expect from the consultancy that specializes in people and work, we’ve spent time researching the root causes of this disruption. And the book “Leadership 2030,” by Hay Group consultants Yvonne Sell and Georg Vielmetter, identifies six big trends that are already making themselves felt.
WHAT ARE THESE MEGATRENDS?
1. Globalization 2.0: As Asia flourishes, how can companies satisfy the preferences of a new middle class with tastes differing from those of its Western counterparts?
2. Environmental Crisis: Climate change and diminishing resources will make sustainability a business imperative not just a CSR nice-to-have. How can leaders make sure their people are ready and able to deliver it?
3. The Rise of the Individual: For many employees—Millennial or otherwise—meaning in work, work-life balance, corporate culture and autonomy will be as important as salary. How can organizations become flatter and more flexible to meet employees’ changing expectations?
4. The Impact of Digital: Internet connectivity and the rise of social networking will continue to erode boundaries between work and personal lives. How can leaders strengthen loyalty and maintain a united and effective workforce when teams are likely to be diverse and dispersed?
5. Demographic Change: In some parts of the world, populations will continue to grow. Other societies will age as fertility rates fall far below replacement levels. In many cases, demand for new workers will outstrip supply, creating a war for talent. How will organizations recruit and keep people with the right skills from an increasingly diverse and distributed talent pool?
6. Technological Convergence: Advanced scientific disciplines such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, IT, cognitive science and robots will converge to drive the transformation of many industries. How can leaders make the most of new developments and foster the collaboration and knowledge sharing needed to make more new breakthroughs? The implications are huge. And at Hay Group, we’re making sure we’re ready with the right technology and people to help our clients tackle them.
WHAT SHOULD CONSULTANTS DO?
Go Global: It may seem obvious, but experience from previous phases of globalization still applies. Those firms with deep international roots will be in the best position to support their clients’ expansion, and as a result benefit themselves. We’ve always been clear about the importance of having a global reach. When we opened our second office back in 1960, in Toronto, Canada, we intentionally located it outside the United States, where we are headquartered. It’s important to understand local markets and cultures. When we’ve set up in a new country, we’ve always looked for the best local people to staff our offices. As a result, we’re able to advise global clients on how to implement corporate standards in a way that works on the ground.
Focus on flexibility: No one can predict how these megatrends will play out over the next 15 to 20 years. What we do know is that the rate of change is so rapid that few people are likely to have the same job, the same set of responsibilities or even the same career over an entire lifetime. Here the same rules apply for consultancies as for their clients. Instead of hiring people with specific skill-sets, recruit underlying competencies. Qualities such as motivation, curiosity, resilience and insight will help all organizations respond to technology development and changing market conditions.
Grasp the digital opportunity: Technology holds exciting possibilities for those consultancies that have robust data, strong intellectual property resources and traditions of empirical research. We’ve designed a series of web-based mobile apps that empower clients to perform specific tasks relating to their people quickly and effectively. And we’re seeing rapid take-up! But this comes with a health warning. People expect the same high-quality experience from consultant-provided tools as they would from consumer software and hardware. And they want to access tools as they work remotely. To satisfy clients and end users, you have to meet those expectations.
Make it meaningful for your people: It’s clear that people are looking for values-driven employers and meaningful work that has a positive impact beyond the balance sheet. Ultimately, they want a relationship with an organization that shares their values.
Our consultants working in India and Brazil recognize that those countries are in a historical point of change. And they have a strong desire to have a positive impact in their societies. The Millennial generation in particular is looking for more than just a job. We know that clients will always want expertise. But we’re also encouraging people to look beyond the scope of their own specialisms and think about how they develop broad knowledge that will equip them to act as business advisors and help our clients respond to a wide range of issues.
Don’t be complacent: It’s a rare company that says, “Everything’s going great. Now we need to change.” And one of the hardest challenges is to change when there doesn’t seem to be a need. But as Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
They might be successful now, but leaders must be on the alert for ways to protect their position and take advantage of new opportunities. And consultants must be ready to help them. This means working with them to refine their strategies—in real time—helping them adapt as their people, organization and marketplace feel the impact of these megatrends.
Consider Netflix, which developed the concept of DVD delivery through the mail and put Blockbuster out of business. Instead of resting on its laurels, Netflix recognized the need to broaden its vision from delivering DVDs to delivering streaming content over the Internet.
This farsighted decision has helped Netflix to compete with the likes of Apple, Amazon and Google. It’s rare for a company to do what Netflix did and embrace major innovations from a position of success.
Far more often, it takes a trauma to force companies to make that change. But in this complex and volatile environment, waiting for the storm to arrive will put you at a competitive disadvantage.
Stephen Kaye is President and CEO, Hay Group. He joined the firm in 1993 and was appointed CFO of Hay Group worldwide in 1998 and President and CEO in March of 2013.