If I asked you to raise your hand if you could predict the future, I’d see very few hands. If I did, I’d be asking you for next week’s lottery numbers! Jokes apart, many of us believe we are agents of our own destiny and can, whether on purpose or by accident, shape the future. I’d get more hands if I asked if you believed you could change your future, rather than predict it.

Philosophy aside, if the future is infinite, in business, we are playing an infinite game where there are no winners, only losers. The concept, more recently espoused by Simon Sinek, explains that if there is no ‘end time’, the scores continue to pile up unless/until someone simply gives up.

It’s a tough pill to swallow but it is true; we are playing in a game where those that improve and get better continue to avoid losing in order to stay in the game, but nobody actually ‘wins’ in the end. There is no final whistle where we count the scores. So, you put your effort and energy into increasing your competitiveness and outsmarting your competition, attracting the best talent and exceeding your customers’ expectations. But guess what? So is everyone else in your marketplace that is playing this infinite game!

So, in these unprecedented times, we need a radical shift in perspective, or rather ‘mindset’ in the way we play the game. To me, these are the three key things we need to shift:

  1. See clients as ambassadors
  2. Consider competitors as partners
  3. Treat employees as investors

The goal of this shift also needs to change. We are no longer playing to win – win customers, win market share, win talent – but to be sustainable. Even if we sell, merge or acquire another business, the DNA of the business, which is mainly made up of its USP and culture, lives on, even as leaders and employees come and go.

Like  ‘you’ are still ‘you’ although every single cell in your body has changed every 10 years, your company is not simply limited to the current products, employees, CEOs or shareholders. The only difference is that the human being is finite.

So, let’s look at these three mind-shifts in more detail:

  1. Seeing clients as ambassadors means that we need our clients to go beyond buying our products. Their social media and digital footprint makes them our potential sales team, promoters and referral funnels. We need to shift to thinking that customer service is the new product and customer relationship is the value proposition, not the object or service they actually purchase. Subscription model businesses, from software to car leasing, gyms to booksellers, have fully understood this; the retail, hospitality, financial services and frankly, everybody else will need to follow suit. Can you change your product or service into a long term sustainable relationship where your customers and your company form a healthy symbiotic relationship? That’s when you need to ensure your top NPS customers become your most passionate ambassadors.

  1. If you played a finite game like a football match and all your competitors disappeared, you’d win every game, but it wouldn’t be much fun. So, marketplaces pitching companies against each other, inviting them to price and value wars, suits a stable economy and is self-sustaining. However, when economies destabilise (pandemics, supply chain problems, societal changes, brain drain etc) only the most able to adapt can survive (paraphrasing Darwin). So working in partnerships helps mix the intrinsic diversity (DNA, if you want) that increases your chances of surviving these changes.

    It’s far quicker to adapt than to evolve. Slow moving corporations with strong structure and financial resilience need to mix their DNA with young startups that are nimble and creative, but lack the cash to survive. Mutual partnerships, rather than acquisition, may be an even healthier option, as the best-of-both is more likely to live on than if one eats up the other. Partnerships can also be dissolved as the situation evolves further, as long as this has some inbuilt premeditated (prenuptial) agreements to ensure both survive the change. Essentially, it requires us to look around and see how we can coexist, as opposed to competing. What’s more, your energy and resources have a completely different focus, so the attention of your people is positively driven, instead of on a constant war path.

  1. The ‘great resignation’ we are seeing in post COVID times has created a salary war between companies vying for talent. As costs increase, along with supply chain speed and cost issues, profitability requires a hike in prices. Employees can simply jump ship as it slowly sinks while you, the owner, deals with the aftermath. Whilst there has been considerable effort to invest in employee engagement, by investing in career paths, training, succession plans and performance management schemes, very few companies are sharing ownership with the whole cohort of employees; the few that do have employee shared ownership schemes usually reserve it to the top team (at least in Malta).

    Yet, every psychology book tells us that human beings will value their possessions over anyone else’s. Ask yourself how much you might sell your kids for… at a minimum for millions, but most would reply they are priceless, right? But how much would you pay for mine? Certainly not for the same amount… because we have a strange motivation to overvalue things we believe we own, or have invested a great deal of effort and care in them.

    This works in business too. We need to treat our employees as investors, with ownership and a right to claim that the business is partly theirs. They are far less likely to shift for an increase in salary if they have vested a lot of energy in your product or service, or their team and colleagues, if they have something to show for.  It is no surprise that many top performing executives I speak to are not exploring leaving their jobs to work for someone else, but to become self employed and OWN their own business. And the best ones will become your competitors [or if we follow the above shift, your future partners]. So if that may become the case, why not invest in them now?

The above thinking is nothing new. It just seems to me that these concepts are converging quickly due to the way the world is changing. Call it business ‘philosophy’ or business strategy – we need to find a new way of working. We need a shift of the same magnitude as the way the world is changing, which is significant. We can’t ‘tweak’ our way out of what is coming next.

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