Trends, culture and making it count

Appearing in In The Black magazine, June 2022

The New Megatrends: Seeing Clearly in the Age of Disruption
By Marian Salzman
Crown, $45

Trying to determine the shape of the future is always a dangerous undertaking but Salzman, a senior figure in the consulting giant Philip Morris International, gives it a determined try in this book. Consciously following the model of John Naisbitt’s popular Megatrends series, she looks at existing trends and extrapolates from them, looking out to 2038. She acknowledges that there is no single answer but instead there will be continuing waves of economic and political disruption. The impact of COVID-19 will linger, entrenching the model of remote working and giving priority to health issues. Social media technology will continue to evolve, giving rise to “virtual tribes” with increasing segmentation and polarisation. Countering this, there will be a movement towards lives that are more natural, less urban, deliberately disconnected, and slower. E-commerce will replace traditional retail models to the point that shopping malls will become, says Salzman, “extinct”.

Interesting food for thought, but the problem is that it is often difficult to follow Salzman’s thinking (which she admits is based on “nonlinear leaps”). Nevertheless, there is validity in her point that the necessary talents to thrive in the future will be resilience, adaptability and a willingness to find opportunities in apparent chaos.

Let’s Talk Culture
By Shane Hatton
Major Street Publishing, $33

A positive, dynamic culture is the difference between a business that survives and one that thrives, according to leadership specialist Hatton. Based on a survey by McCrindle Research of 1002 Australian managers, he examines how good cultures are built and sustained. He emphasises that the leader should be clear in their own mind about what sort of culture they want and what direction the company should take. Once they have established this they must constantly work at developing a culture, which often means giving form and expression to the unspoken and near-invisible. He distils the research into a series of ‘conversations’, dealing with expectations, clarity of language, procedures for communication, priorities and focus, recognition of success, and feedback.

He readily acknowledges that this is not easy for leaders, especially those who expertise is not in people management. He breaks the process into a series of steps, finishing each section with suggestions for action. Along the way, he supplies some handy tools and illustrates his points with real-world cases. He is mainly aiming at mid-sized companies that are looking to grow, but much of what he says is applicable to firms of any size, or even team leaders within an organisation.

Making Numbers Count: The art and science of communicating numbers
By Chip Heath and Karla Starr
Penguin, $35

For finance professionals, communicating with people with little understanding of how numbers work can be a frustrating experience. Heath, a Stanford business academic, and Starr, a science journalist, are very familiar with this problem, and in Making Numbers Count they set out a variety of ways to get a numerical-based point across. Work out which statistics are the most important and focus on them, rather than flood the audience with data, they say. Use straightforward examples to support the message. For example, citing the amount of acreage destroyed in an Australian bushfire is not very meaningful. Saying that it is twice the area of Portugal gives a powerful frame of reference.

Likewise, financial projections can be couched in terms of past performances, and risk management (including the likelihood of adverse events) can be discussed in concrete, everyday language. Comparisons are more likely to stick in the mind if they have a witty and slightly bizarre element to them. Heath and Starr provide templates for all this, as well as tables, anecdotes, and highlight boxes. The book is a short, fast read but the tools and contextual frameworks it provides will be useful for addressing a wide range of communication problems.

Downloadable Resources

Metaverse is a site that provides information on a broad range of technology issues, and this feature goes a long way to explaining the metaverse. It walks through the basic principles, noting the origin of the metaverse in the gaming sector and the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality. The article looks at the companies that are already moving into metaverse tech, the role of Non-Fungible Tokens as the metaverse ‘currency’, and the development of supplementary equipment, such as AR glasses. The metaverse is not yet part of the business landscape but it is certainly looming on the horizon.

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Why so serious?

Many senior executives believe that their role demands stony-faced seriousness but in this TED Talk Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, behaviour specialists who dabble in consulting, argue that there is no need for it to be so. They offer advice on when humour is appropriate and provide a self-assessment test to establish “your humour style”. A sense of humour also provides accessibility and humility for leaders. Not only is a bit of laughter good for you, a quip or a joke can make a critical difference in a tricky negotiation (such as offering to throw in a pet frog to sweeten the deal).

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Credit where due

Information about debt and creditworthiness is useful to companies entering into contracts with suppliers, partners and buyers, as well as being a good indicator general economic health. This site contains a great deal of information on this area. Some of it can only be accessed on a subscription basis but there is a wealth of material available without cost. A blog looks at specific issues, such as the impact of natural disasters on the construction sector, and there is also a podcast series that examines research papers and surveys, including a Business Risk Index that includes a sector-by-sector breakdown.

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Accounting giant PwC has been conducting an annual survey of Australian CEOs for 25 years, and it has proved to be a good guide to plans and concerns. The most recent poll finds a great deal of confidence in the business sector, with 88 per cent of respondents expecting economic growth in Australia and 98 per cent anticipating good revenue growth for their companies. Cybersecurity is flagged as the primary concern of CEOs, even greater than a resurgence of COVID-19. There is a renewed focus on investing in talented people to take advantage of a post-pandemic recovery in the medium term.

Mental health

Executive stress has reached epidemic levels, and according to research from consulting heavyweight McKinsey much of it stems from a lack of sleep. This feature draws together a number of articles on the theme, looking at how a decent night’s rest is critical for mental health, the way in which sleep underpins recovery from burnout, technology-based solutions to sleeplessness, and how healthy sleep patterns can be created and maintained. Company leaders also have to be aware of the need to foster good mental health for their employees, with a clear company policy and a willingness to lead by example.

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