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THROWING CAUTION TO THE WIND:  THREE HURDLES FOR BUSINESSES TO VAULT IN 2018

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by Chris Ducker, Senior Director – Global Proposition Strategy Global Proposition Strategy, Sungard Availability Services

How would you summarise 2017 in three phrases? Most organisations would paint a less than favourable picture. Let’s start with ‘cyber-attacks’ – ransomware attacks are growing at a yearly rate of 350 per cent[1].  Following a snap general election, and a concerning lack of clarity on Brexit, why don’t we add ‘political uncertainty’ to the mix? And ‘economic turbulence’ seems apt, after the pound fell to an eight-year low.

chris ducker

chris ducker

There was no shortage of challenges for businesses in 2017. But as the quote goes ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ So how can organisations ensure that they learn from both their, and others’, mistakes in 2017?

Unpredictability lurks around every corner, and while it’s nigh impossible to know what’s on the horizon, this does not negate the need for preparation and foresight to ensure your enterprise is equipped to deal with the inevitable challenges for businesses in 2018. How can they become more robust and resilient enterprise? Here I reflect on the lessons of 2017, as well as examining three significant hurdles ahead:

  1. Brexit

It’s inevitable that Brexit will stir the waters for businesses in 2018, with the capacity to hit the job market, economic stability and global commerce. However, whether we like it or not, it’s on the cards for 2019 and negotiation talks will pick up the pace throughout the year. Businesses will need to look beyond Brexit’s negative connotations and establish how they can profit from the opportunity.

2018 represents a chance for firms to review and boost their recovery capabilities to have the best shot at navigating the risky waters ahead. Full resilience across their people, processes and technologies, and the capability to not only maintain ‘business as usual’ in the face of turbulence, but thrive, should be the ultimate goal.

Business should regularly review and test systems to ensure they have the agility to deliver on emerging market demands and Brexit-related volatility.Whether running production or recovery environments, resilience across all aspects of the business as Brexit unfolds is vital. This identifies vulnerabilities; enabling strategies for optimum resilience to be put in place, to manage risk positively should the worst happen.

  1. Cybersecurity and data protection

Barely a day went by in 2017 without a business falling victim to a cyber-attack. And this is more than media speculation; a cyber-attack that brings down a major internet cloud provider could cause as much economic devastation as Hurricane Katrina, according to the World Economic Forum. Security and recovery will need to be placed high on the agenda in 2018.

However, our research reveals that a seemingly inadequate 10% of IT budget is currently being spent on security provisions. Cyber threats continue to evolve, and defenses will need to be a central component of any digital and business strategy.

We know that security spending is in the Top-5 of CIOs priorities,[2] but as 2018 develops, what they need to do is weigh up how much risk they are prepared to take versus the spend that will be required.  Certainly, businesses will need to be equipped to tackle threats from a security defense point of view. But if the worst happens, what next? To minimise damage to finances, stakeholder and staff relationships, and global reputation, businesses will also need to be fully prepared from a recovery and crisis communications point of view to temper the aftermath.

We often see businesses scale up their recovery requirements at time of testing. This suggests either that plans were inadequate, their environment has changed or what a successful recovery looked like was not what the board expected. Businesses should be specific about what outcome they are trying to achieve. Is it tick-over mode whilst the business pulls itself together?  Or is it resilience, so you carry on strong following an attack?

As the May deadline fast approaches, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) [3]will also be a driver for improvement to data security. It will require businesses to hire data protection officers, and have a solid crisis management team in place to take care of customer relationship management. Laying the groundwork now by mapping your company data, and ensuring full visibility of what information is stored where at all times, is vital. Another element of GDPR, which is often overlooked, obliges companies to maintain availability and recoverability of data following a disruption.  Business leaders should ensure their IT teams are covering availability, as well as data security.

  1. The Skills Crisis

IT departments have been hit hard by the skills gap[4], and it’s fair to speculate that this talent shortage will continue to grow in 2018. IT systems are becoming increasingly hybrid, making it an arduous task to balance the skills required from different generations to maintain infrastructure. Paired with this, new technologies are coming onto the market every day, meaning skillsets that didn’t even exist in the past have now become integral to businesses IT strategy.

Heading into 2018, we expect that cybersecurity skills will continue to be highly sought after. Security tools are crucial, but more often than not it is staff themselves who constitute a weak security link for organisations. Meanwhile, as companies scale out on SaaS, PaaS and IaaS, core infrastructure management roles will diminish in numbers. Businesses will need to focus on addressing the lack of staff given up-to-date training onto managing, monitoring, updating and maintaining the security aspect of modern IT infrastructure.

As their adoption becomes more commonplace, new technologies such as AI, machine learning and coding will mean skills in those areas are increasingly in demand; training in such areas needs to rise up the education agenda for young people. We expect that, more generally, the most valuable skills to benefit students’ career prospects will be problem solving, innovation & strategy development, design & technology and financial management.

While training up the younger generations is important, businesses will also need to ensure they have the right skills and knowledge at boardroom level; rather than those who possess legacy skills alone and a lack comprehensive digital awareness.

Managing 2018 risk from the start

So, what can we expect in 2018? Natural disasters and terrorist attacks are likely possibilities, whereas tremors resulting from Brexit and the introduction of the GDPR are certainties. Whatever lies ahead, businesses are operating in a more perilous minefield than ever before and will need to equip themselves to avoid damage to their bottom line. Managing 2018’s risk scenarios at the earliest possible stage will help to minimise damage to strategic business and IT programmes, and show that they can thrive in the face of hardship and more, importantly, be available to their customers and market.

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B2B plays a big role in our economy, but how can it contribute to our recovery?

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B2B plays a big role in our economy, but how can it contribute to our recovery? 1

By Richard Parsons from True, creative B2B marketing agency, discusses the current state of marketing and looks ahead to what the future might bring. 

The average consumer will likely be unaware that more than half of the companies listed on the FTSE 350 operate purely in B2B transactions. Not only that, but 50% of our economy is generated by B2B transactions and 82% of companies derive some or all of their income from B2B. There is also a global B2B trade surplus, unlike in B2C. The significant conAltribution of B2B is routinely missed but could hold the key to economic recovery.

The famous essay “I, Pencil” by Leonard E. Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, lays out the different skills, materials and jobs utilised in the production of a pencil. An inexhaustive list includes cedarwood from Oregon, logs from California, graphite from Ceylon and clay from Mississippi. The list was so comprehensive that Read even named the lighthouse keeper signalling the ship in and the factory worker sweeping the floor as part of the employment dependant on the pencil.

B2C might dominate brand awareness for obvious reasons, but what is less obvious is it’s inescapable foundations in B2B. These companies play a vital role in our ongoing economic recovery and – drawing on lessons learned during previous economic challenges – here are some of the trends that we expect to play out over the coming months and into 2021.

Below the Line to Above the Line

Even in normal times, businesses tend to place a skewed emphasis on lead generation and brand conversion when they should be focusing on the top of the funnel. Typically, 90% of marketing spend is allocated to short-term lead generation, which translates as telemarketing and mailshots. This balance should be much closer to 50%, with the remaining 50% spent on building brand equity. A shift from Below the Line to Above the Line is essential if brands want to recover well.

Lead-generation tactics do have a role to play. Still, the B2B industry can be guilty of neglecting emotional marketing in favour of rational campaigns, and here they lose their power to attract new interest. The B2B Brand Index Study – the most extensive global study of its kind – established that creative campaigns are 12 times more efficient at delivering business success.

While there are clear differences, B2B and B2C also share certain similarities. For instance, brand awareness among a target audience will always be a fundamental part of securing revenue. A B2B decision-maker will not be as impulsive as a consumer, for example, choosing Coke or Pepsi, but it is still vital that your brand is well known.

This brings us to the Rule of Three – a well-documented concept of brand market share and consumer decision making in a developed market. When looking for the answer to a problem, a prospective customer will have around three known brands that could solve the issue immediately spring to mind as a result of exposure to memorable campaigns and sustained awareness building. Further research will often expand this pool of options to around ten brands, but when it comes to the crunch, one of the original three will win the purchase between 70-90% of the time.

Value for Money

Marketing budgets have been understandably pared back this year. In an April 2020 survey, 90% of respondents said their budgets were delayed or under review. The full economic impact of the COVID-19 is not yet clear, but we are a long way from normal market confidence, and many businesses are increasingly cautious when it comes to allocating marketing spend.

We know that this approach is wrong. According to System1, advertising ability to connect with people remains as strong as before, and media consumption has risen during lockdown. The CPM of Facebook advertising has gone from $1.88 in November 2019 to $0.81 in March 2020. In short, the ROI for marketing spend is better now than before and so those who can spend, should.

Event Budgets

The events industry has clearly been badly hit, with months of planning, investment and time redundant. But seminars can become webinars and conferences can become virtual, and while this is small consolation for a devasted industry, virtual versions are generally cheaper than in-person events. This will leave a surplus of budget previously earmarked for events which means a reallocation of money to other facets of marketing to stimulate new revenues and a better recovery.

Think Long Term. Hold Your Nerve.

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising case studies show that brands that maintain marketing investment in recessions grow 4.5 times faster than brands that cut spend. Those that cut spend also struggle for longer and take five years to recover revenue. A marketing black-out might alleviate damage to bottom lines in the short term, but it will breed serious problems and long-term profit loss.

Of course, many brands will pursue the short-term fix and cut marketing costs, and this presents an opportunity for those willing to be bold. It might not feel like a wise investment as profits tumble alongside the rest of the sector but maintaining or increasing spend will allow brands to outflank competitors and for smaller brands to increase their share of voice and gain ground on more cautious industry leaders.

What’s Next?

It remains to be seen how short-term marketing cuts will pan out in the mid to long term, but changes are indeed afoot. Crises are catalysts for change and, like any crisis, the current one will have winners and losers. Brands that hold their nerve, innovate and invest in their recovery are likely to see the benefit in the long term. The current economic uncertainty is accompanied by changes in other aspects of the way we live, work and travel. Rather than a threat, it presents an opportunity.

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5 ways to keep your team connected with split working

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By Sam Hill, Head of People and Culture at BizSpace 

As the government switches its message back to “work from home” where possible, businesses face a challenge as their employees are split between locations, with bubbles in one place and individuals elsewhere.

Although technology has permitted teams to stay connected over the past few months, the return of some employees to the office presents a new challenge to leadership as they must ensure those who remain working from home are not left behind. As teams typically speak less frequently when working remotely, employers must ensure that their employees who are not yet in the office do not feel isolated and that the culture remains unchanged.

Employees have a need to feel valued and connected to other members of the firm, even when working remotely. To aid business leaders in ensuring they avoid ostracising colleagues at home, this article provides practical tips for employers on achieving an inclusive workplace while their employees engage in split working.

Maximise the use of technology

When part of the team has returned to the office, it can be easy to forget to include remote working employees in particular conversations which may happen in passing or casually during the day. For remote working employees, this can be a significant contributor to them feeling isolated or that they are unable to sufficiently complete their job at home.

To combat this, business leaders should ensure their teams continue to use technology to their advantage. To maintain the communication which can be lost with remote working, management should continue to host daily or weekly team meetings via video conferencing, where employees can catch up and share what they are working on. This will ensure all employees continue to build connections and celebrate their achievements.

Encourage team work wherever possible

When employees work separately in different locations, it can be easy for those away from the office to feel isolated and detached from their direct team. Despite this, business owners should encourage teamwork wherever possible to allow the group to solve issues together and meet targets in a more efficient and effective manner.

Employees working remotely can struggle to speak up when they are facing challenges since they cannot turn to a colleague as quickly to ask for advice. By encouraging team members to work together, this issue can be combated as employees build a natural relationship over time where they feel more comfortable reaching out to their peers, while the added benefit of being virtual ‘opens the door’ to new lines of communication between colleagues which may not have communicated face-to-face.

Reinforce the company culture

Sam Hill,

Sam Hill,

While employees are split between home and office work, it can be easy for the culture of the company to begin to slip. It is important for leaders to ensure they are proactive in nurturing and reinforcing the company culture, since healthy company cultures have a direct impact on the performance of teams.

Taking the time to reinforce the vision and values of the firm to employees will help to ensure the team is in touch with the wider goals of the organisation. Coupling this with the open communication of any news or updates relating to the company will allow for transparency, an important trait which ensures employees remain loyal to the company. Uncertainty is detrimental to the morale of a team, so any communication should be as clear and certain as possible.

Introduce lunch and learn talks

Lunch and learn sessions are a great way to ensure businesses are stimulating employee engagement and generating a positive team activity. They are typically less formal and can offer employees opportunities to deliver talks on a variety of topics which are directly or indirectly related to the business.

For employees working remotely, this is a perfect way to ensure they are still able to engage in training, with video and audio conferencing opening up the ability for remote workers to tune in wherever they are.

Don’t dismiss virtual social events

Although the use of zoom quizzes and calls quickly became tiresome for many employees during the national lockdown, the use of virtual social events should not be dismissed by businesses. For employees still working remotely, these social events are a direct replacement for the usual social events and informal drinks after work which they would have otherwise attended. Since employees who have returned to the office may be engaging in more social events in person, it is imperative for businesses to facilitate a space for remote working employees to socialise.

Social events are an easy way to create natural conversation opportunities and bring employees together on a far more personal level. They also contribute to the success of the firm by boosting the morale of employees, leading to higher productivity and satisfaction in teams. This, in turn, can boost the company culture as employees feel a higher sense of loyalty to the organisation, even from their remote locations.

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The new virtual leaders – adapting your leadership style for a changed workforce

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By Debbie Clifford, Head of People and Talent at Olive

During this pandemic, organisations across all sectors have witnessed a dramatic change in workplace structure, and as such have had to undergo huge changes themselves to adapt and pivot to the needs of their organisations and new, remote workforces.

With many finance organisations continuing in the main to operate remotely or operating a hybrid office model, senior leaders in finance have been required to adapt their leadership approach, shifting from the traditional ‘boardroom culture’ to a more approachable and inclusive management style.

 The key characteristics of the new virtual leader 

Prior to the pandemic, leadership, in general, was starting to move towards a more open and trusting relationship between leaders and teams. Yet there hadn’t quite been the evolution towards a more emotionally intelligent and involved leader.

While challenges or issues relating to staff were easier to pick up on in the office; previously, managers could take cues from certain behaviours and attitudes witnessed during the working day. Now, that’s almost impossible, and leaders are having to invest more of their time in people management, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity.

The shift in emphasis on the management of people will continue to grow in the remote workplace. Yet leaders have to accommodate this while still having to meet their own ongoing commercial and operational targets. It’s tough, but ultimately the more you invest your time in your people the more likely you and your team will succeed.   Managing true performance, giving feedback regularly, interacting, and ensuring regular check-ins will stand you in good stead to achieve your goals with the support of an engaged team.

Build Trust. Communicate.

With everyone working from different locations, it’s hugely important to instil trust in your people and become more output focused. There are various performance tools that can help you to achieve that, such as goal setting (using your HR system or Performance platform), ticketing systems such as JIRA or CSAT data that comes back from Voice of Customer surveys, as examples. It’s also equally important to have open and honest conversations with your people about how the world of work has changed. The changing nature of our day to day work may mean that your team may feel that they are being questioned more, possibly even micromanaged – due to the increase in internal meetings and catch up’s. It’s really important to communicate the reason for this, due to less ‘in person’ interaction.

Employees not used to home working have found themselves without the face to face guidance they are used to, thus the reciprocal trust between team member and manager becomes even more important to hone, alongside measuring productivity and output of work. Also remember that everyone will be struggling at times and many are suffering from the shift to permanent home working. Microsoft  reported how the move to homeworking has impacted the global workforce.  People are working longer hours, starting and finishing later, are overworked and stressed.

As a leader, and an emotionally intelligent one, it’s important to be mindful of the effect of home working and that there’s no separation between work and home anymore.

Trust is one of the most important traits you want to cultivate and build in your team, being authentic, open and honest will take you to performance you never thought you could achieve. Your behaviour as a trusting leader will enable you to drive performance and loyalty from your team that will exceed all expectations. It is key to driving empowerment, accountability and ultimately, productivity.

The importance of HR

 Look to your HR team for more guidance, as the disciplines of HR have and will continue to change during this time. Previously, HR in the main was the recruitment arm for the business or for discipline or exit purposes. Now HR is central to driving team engagement and development.

This period, viewed positively, should allow for your employees to have more capacity to bring on their personal development (no long commute for example) and many will be actively seeking this. See it as an opportunity, as in turn it will be valuable to your organisation. HR is key to fostering team environment and collaboration; Encourage your HR team to drive an engaging personal development programme for your employees to make them feel valued and valuable.

Debbie Clifford

Debbie Clifford

Appraisals will also need to change and be more agile. What you set today as a performance goal could easily change tomorrow due to the current market dynamics. By focusing on people, the more time efficient you become, and the more interactions you have, the more you get buy in. Your team will understand more about your objectives and intent and feel more bought into the overall vision and goal.

Get involved and show recognition

Be visible on the team internal and external socials. Break the barrier. Work has changed so much that we’ve all had to change. Prior to Covid some leaders and senior management may have felt that being visible on the company social channels may not have been appropriate. This is not the case now. And it doesn’t have to be all about company business. Make it personal and be human.

Thank and show your team that you have noticed them. Find somewhere where you can share recognition, such as the company Teams channels or intranet which are great for peer to peer feedback and help keep people engaged in the company activity.  Reward good effort with the offer of a few hours off or send some flowers. It will make your employees day and show them they are valued. Small gestures of kindness go a long way in this virtual working world.

 Create a management and development pathway  

Shared learning is a great way to engage the senior team members as part of a learning and development pathway that cascades through the business. Examples of this include small bitesize pieces of learning, such as packaged business leadership content, a TED talk, white paper or video that senior leaders can absorb, and coach to their managers, which in turn then cascades through to employees.

Done on a regular basis, this practice helps your finance firm move your management teams forward. It’s a structured way of learning and sharing with a consistency of language and approach – with everyone seeing and learning the same things.

The importance of self-discipline

It’s never been more important for leader’s to not burnout and be a positive role model to the organisation.

Be disciplined – don’t be ‘always on’ and responsive all the time. Be aware that leading by example will have a positive impact on your organisation.  Think about what works best for you as a leader and make time to move away and have some space – your team will respect this and follow your lead.

It’s important to remember and acknowledge that we are all learning all of the time – and that often we don’t have all the answers. Showing a level of vulnerability, humility and honesty to your team will go a long way towards connecting with them in a deeper and meaningful way, and more than ‘being the boss’ and getting tasks done. High performance is gained because of the way you trust and believe in people, not because of your status in the hierarchy.

Ultimately, successful leaders are ones who create their culture, who are liked and respected by employees. Post pandemic the new workplace could and should be a much better place, with much better leadership. If we don’t use this time as a catalyst for change, we’ve potentially missed an opportunity to make something bad something much, much better.

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