ArticleNovember 21, 2022 · 5 min read time
Once upon a time, there was a company marketing printers and image processing technology. The company faced an unexpected change, adapted and turned it to an advantage. This success story has nostalgic elements, but also a timeless lesson: you can change a company if you have people who are willing to let change happen and want to change themselves as well. All this will be even more valuable in the future.
What does the company’s future look like? How can we reach our goals in a constantly changing world where the future feels impossible to predict? These questions are increasingly difficult to answer today, but there are ways to anticipate what is on the horizon.
The last few years have seen plenty of upheavals. Over the past two years, for example, the prices of raw materials and electricity have changed radically due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the subsequent energy crisis. The availability of materials and products, the general rise in costs, the end of the use of certain services, and the decline in purchasing power have caused dramatic changes in companies’ business environments.
However, companies cannot change their direction, technologies or the focus of their operations every six months. How to tackle this situation?
Sustainability cuts through everything
A future-proof strategy aims at sustainable business operations. If the goal before was to make business operations more customer-oriented, we now want to think about things more broadly. Business ideas need to be ethically, socially and technologically sustainable. The concept of sustainability has broadened to cover more than just ecological sustainability and the carbon footprint.
We can make greener choices when it comes to the use of technology, but digital solutions are not entirely problem-free: there are, for example, questions about energy consumption. In addition, the natural resources that are used in devices are limited. Climate change has brought on increased regulation, but our values have also changed. The fact is that climate change cannot be ignored, and a company’s business cannot be considered sustainable if its operations are not ecologically, socially and financially sustainable. Sometimes, this means we must have the courage to let go of the old way of doing things.
Responsibility has found its way onto companies’ agenda, right into the core of business and strategy. The change can also be seen in practice at companies in the form of new roles, such as that of a Sustainability Director, or, at Nitor, in the creation of the role of Sustainability Engineer.
Before, social responsibility was absent from sustainability considerations or only dealt with superficially. Now, the concept of social responsibility has broadened. In the Nordic countries, we have relied on everyone complying with agreements and legislation, and there has been no risk of child labour. However, as supply chains have grown and working life has become more diverse, it has become necessary to take another look at social responsibility. One good example of this is accessibility – we must ensure that services are accessible to increasing user groups.
At a company’s business strategy level, we must consider how sustainability can be integrated into the service’s building process, maintenance and accessibility, what the profits are spent on and what the revenue models are. All of this has a profound effect on our everyday work.
The changing world contributes to the renaissance of generalists
The changing business environment increases the need for generalist-type competence. At one point, generalists had a slightly poor image in public discussion about working life: people wondered if generalists knew enough about anything at all. The ideal to aspire to was a super expert, highly specialised in one thing. The need for highly specialised professionals is unlikely to go away, but the demand for generalists has made a comeback.
Quick changes in direction require competence in and understanding of many different areas. The need for modifying one’s competence will also grow – we must accept this development and be ready to change regardless of our role.
This is why companies are taking an entirely new perspective on recruitment – companies are seeing the value of a prospective employee having seen and worked in many fields during their career.
When buying consulting services, companies may even request that the consultant have no previous experience in the company's industry. These requests are motivated by the desire to get new, fresh ideas and outside-the-box thinking. This is also a reflection of the change at hand.
The pace of change is picking up
During the Covid-19 pandemic and even after, a common claim was that remote work completely changed working life. However, when it comes to the business environment, it has been more about following a trend that had already emerged. Practices had to be changed quickly, but the seed of change had already been planted before Covid-19 hit.
Instead, the biggest and maybe the most surprising change in the business environment was the increase in the pace of change and the shrinking of time windows. The time window of strategy work used to reach many years into the future: a goal was set and a roadmap created for reaching the goal.
Now, the time window of strategy work covers two or three years, sometimes five, but rarely more than that. In a way, it feels contradictory that we must make choices that can stand the test of time while living in a situation where it is increasingly difficult to predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone in a couple of years’ time.
A good example of this change is one of our clients, with whom we have worked for two years. During that time, the client company’s customer base indicators and consumer behaviour have changed dramatically every six months, and the company has had to change direction along the way. As the client changed direction, scenario work turned out to be a useful tool – we have been able to draw on earlier thinking, even though the situation has been changing.
Through scenario work, it is possible to identify alternative futures and dependencies. If and when the world changes, we will already have a pretty good idea of the new map. Not all elements can be flexible, so we must choose the ones that can.
There is no single path to happiness: flexibility and back gates are needed, but it is also impossible to maintain an endless range of opportunities. The solution to this is a sufficiently flexible long-term vision that makes it possible to adapt to surprising changes. This is the only way for companies to succeed in a future that cannot be predicted.