Contributed Column

The Manager's Corner

by Emily Morrow

Future proofing your business

Buckle your seatbelt. Snugly. 2017 will be a fast-paced, bumpy ride into an uncertain future. What has worked well for your business to date may not be sufficient to get your business to where it needs to be (or even maintain the status quo).

Wikipedia defines “future proofing” as “the process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimizing the effects of shocks and stresses of future events.” The need to future proof your business internally and externally is compelling. By “internal,” I mean how your business functions day-to-day: how things are managed and people interact, what gets done, and how it gets done. By “externally,” I mean how your business interacts with external constituents, what work you do, business development, and the like.

Internal future proofing

The two most important components of an internally future-proofed business are having 1) a high-performance culture and 2) an optimal governance structure.

1. High-performance culture. A business with a high-trust culture invariably has a high-performance culture. Things get done well, people communicate with each other efficiently and effectively, morale and retention are high, leadership is respected and trusted, people look forward to coming to work, and the office is an employer of choice.

Having a high-performance culture is an outcome of everything that happens within a business, rather than an objective. By focusing on developing high-trust professional relationships, a business will develop a high-performance culture. The following are characteristics of high-trust organizations:

• Interaction. Professional interactions that foster a high-trust culture occur appropriately and frequently and are tailored to the situation.

• Disclosure. When everyone shares appropriate information and explains why the information matters, high-trust relationships develop.

• Flexibility. This means things can be accomplished in various ways and by being open-minded when one collaborates with others.

• Consistency over time. It’s important to be consistently consistent in your work interactions with other people over time. Building trust is cumulative and iterative.

• Good intentions. The first four characteristics will not alone build high-trust professional relationships without good intentions. Leadership must genuinely seek positive outcomes and want to support everyone’s success.

2. Optimal governance structure. A governance structure is based on a small group of individuals (accountable to a wider group) who are responsible for the running of an organization, and consists of agreed-upon rules, practices, and processes. It aligns with and consistently reinforces a high-performance culture.

External future proofing

The key to externally future proofing your business is the ability to be reasonably prescient — to know what information really matters, put it in context, and make, and act on, informed and accurate guesses about what will happen in the future.

Some businesses have leaders who are naturally adept at doing internal and external future-proofing analyses. Others may lack the internal capability to do so. In either case, a retreat can be an excellent way to begin the process. Because such discussions can be challenging, it can be helpful to have a capable external facilitator to keep the conversation focused, positive, and productive.

Business future proofing is a moving target. However, if you don’t start the process, you are less likely to prosper in the rapidly approaching future. Is your business ready for it?

Emily Morrow, JD ( of Shelburne and Auckland, New Zealand, provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives, and HR personnel.

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