Looking ahead to stay ahead

11 Dec 2023 by Steven Giannoulis

Innovation 2 HR

There are both threats and opportunities on the horizon that a little planning today will help you better prepare for.

As a small business it’s easy, especially in these tough times, to keep your head down and focus on the here and now. The focus through the pandemic and its subsequent economic slowdown has been on cashflow, maintaining revenue, retaining and attracting staff and clients, and just keeping the lights on. While survival is a natural instinct when so much seems to be working against you, all businesses need to look up from time to time. 

It's probably my corporate background but I’m big on planning. We have clearly defined purpose, vision, and values statements. Each year we review our strategy for the next three years, develop a business plan and roll this through into divisional and individual KPIs. While most years the strategy is a review and refinement of the last strategy, every three years we start with a blank bit of paper. The focus is very much on what’s ahead rather than what do we need to keep doing.

This year is a blank page year so I’ve been exploring the main social, economic, environmental, technological, political, and lifestyle trends that will shape what our clients (and their customers) will need from us in the future. These same trends will also shape our people, our operations, and many other aspects of our business. And, no doubt, will frame your organisation's future as well.

So here are a few of the ‘mega trends’ most commentators are talking about, their impact on business, and what we should all be considering as we plan for the next few years.

Social Trends:

Demographic Shifts: We already know about the ageing population and the impact it will have on healthcare and our economy. It’s also changing the profile of our clients and workforce. Younger leaders are emerging, making decisions with a different frame-of-reference and expectation from what we are used to. This new generation is also more culturally diverse and socially dynamic, further reinforcing the perspective shift.

Social Justice Movements: Increased awareness and activism around racial equality, gender rights, LGBTQ+ issues, and other social justice causes.

Mental Health Awareness: Growing recognition of mental health challenges, leading to increased awareness, more empathetic and caring initiatives, greater flexibility, and less tolerance of previously accepted behaviours.

Flexible Work Arrangements: The acceleration of working from home, and other flexible work arrangements to enhance work-life balance, will continue to drive how businesses recruit and manage people, build culture, and make decisions about space requirements.

Economic Trends:

Digital Transformation: Rapid adoption of digital technologies is driving significant change to business models, supply chains, and the way businesses engage with their customers.

Economic Resilience: The post-COVID economic downturn, along with war and natural disasters, has seen businesses thinking about how to prepare for the next major event.

Sustainable Investing: Businesses are increasingly focused on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors and this is flowing through into their investment decisions.

Environmental Trends:

Climate Change Considerations: Businesses are looking to address (or at least trying to look like they are addressing) their climate change impacts by taking active measures to reduce their carbon footprint, energy efficiency, and waste management. There’s also a shift towards a circular economy model, emphasising resource efficiency and waste reduction.

Biodiversity Conservation: There’s a growing awareness of the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature resulting in ever growing initiatives to protect biodiversity and ecosystems and a growing move against actions that lead to negative impacts.

Technological Trends:

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Continued advancements in AI, machine learning, and automation are influencing various industries like manufacturing, healthcare, professional services, and logistics. AI is no longer an emerging idea but a real threat and opportunity that many businesses – including our own – need to consider and plan for now.

5G Technology: More widespread deployment of 5G networks is delivering faster and more reliable wireless communications, enabling more real time and remote decision making.

Digital Governance: The potential for information, data and IP to be used in ways not originally intended is burgeoning as our reliance on digital technologies grows. The result is expanding regulations around data privacy, digital rights, and the governance of emerging technologies.

Political Trends:

Political Polarisation: On one hand, there is a shift to a united approach to addressing global issues such as pandemics, climate change, and migration. On the other, there is polarisation in political ideologies, including the rise of more nationalist approaches, influencing policy-making and governance.

Geopolitical Shifts: Evolving geopolitical dynamics, with changing alliances and tensions influencing international relations. This trend is all-too-evident in our Asia-Pacific region.

Lifestyle Trends:

Lifestyle trends are influenced by the social, economic, environmental, technological, and political shifts discussed above and by society’s evolving values. Key lifestyle trends include:

  • Increased focus on holistic wellbeing, including physical, mental, and emotional health leading to the rise of practices like mindfulness, meditation, and a balanced diet. A growing awareness of the impact of excessive social media use on mental health is fuelling trends like digital detoxing and mindful social media consumption.
  • Growing awareness of environmental issues is leading to increased adoption of sustainable lifestyles, including eco-friendly consumption, reducing waste, and supporting ethical brands.
  • The rise of remote work has facilitated the emergence of digital nomads, individuals who work remotely while traveling.
  • Embracing a minimalist lifestyle characterised by decluttering and on experiences over material possessions.
  • The acceleration of remote online learning and upskilling.
  • A shift towards mindful and intentional consumption, with shoppers making informed choices about products and services based on ethical and sustainable considerations.
  • Increased focus on nesting, with individuals investing in home improvement to create comfortable living spaces.
  • Continued interest in diverse cuisines, home cooking, and culinary exploration, including the ongoing rise of foodie culture.
  • Continued growth of online shopping, with a focus on convenience, personalised recommendations, and sustainable choices.
  • A desire for community connection and engagement, whether through local initiatives, social groups, online communities, or connecting with family and culture.
  • Adoption of smart technologies for home automation, including smart homes and connected devices for enhanced convenience.

We hear often about the volume and speed of change our generation faces. As business leaders, it’s our responsibility to stay across developments and to keep incorporating them into our plans for future success. I hope this list of trends helps inspire your next steps as much as it has ours.