Welcome to 2016! As each new year begins, the business world is abuzz with what people think will be the next big thing, and the biggest challenges. Given that people occasionally ask for my opinion on business topics, I thought it would be fun to make my predictions for the top business challenges of 2016.
Leaving aside the obvious ones like the political uncertainty related to the presidential election, and the continued challenges related to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, here are what I think the biggest challenges of 2016 will be.
The first challenge I will address is not something new, but simply something whose importance continues to increase. That challenge is how to manage an increasingly diverse workforce. There is no question that the workforce is becoming much less homogenous in terms of gender, ethnicity, age and social values. It is also proven that organizations that properly manage the integration of diverse groups of workers are far better at solving complex business problems and meeting the need of an evolving customer base. The only way to do this is to break down the old paradigms, which many organizations seem to be having trouble doing.
That first challenge is related to our second challenge which is increased stakeholder expectations. Every stakeholder for every organization wants more. Customers want more services for less, employees want raises (e.g., minimum wage debate), and shareholders want higher returns than the previous year. While this also isn't a new challenge, the pace of it has taken on new urgency. Social media and increased communication channels have allowed people to organize their demands like never before, and companies no longer have any excuse for not listening.
In tandem with those increased demands comes our third challenge which is information overload. There is an ever increasing amount of information about each organization, the truthfulness of which is not always guaranteed. Communication channels such as Twitter and the ability to "re-tweet" any grievance have exponentially increased the impact of that one angry customer who had a bad experience, regardless of the validity of their views. Organizations have to be ever more mindful about their cyberspace reputation. To meet this challenge there are now companies who troll the internet for negative information about their clients so that appropriate action can be taken.
Taking these actions is very tricky due to information being distributed across multiple redundant systems without any single source of truth that would allow it to be addressed efficiently. These distributed systems are sometimes referred to as cloud computing and are our fourth challenge for 2016. The good news, however, is that cloud computing is not only a challenge but is also a potential benefit. Having data backed up to a cloud based source, assuming proper security is in place, reduces the risk of critical information being lost due to failure and/or destruction of physical architecture.
All these challenges bring us to the fifth and greatest challenge for any organization, which is staying positive despite so much negativity. If we look at basic tenants of positive organization science (e.g., David Cooperrider's Appreciative Inquiry), it is easy to see that organizations that focus on their strengths and build on those do better than organizations that focus on negatives. This is a very simple concept that seems to hold true year in and year out. If we listen to the negative information out there, it will create a negative spiral weighing on the organization that will make it hard to succeed. Stay positive. That is the most important challenge of all.
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About the Author
Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with eighteen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard.