By ROSHAN THIRAN
It’s that time of the year when we look into the crystal balls to figure out what awaits us.
Here is my Top 10 list of what is in store in 2010 (in no order of priority):
1. Start-ups will thrive
This will surely be the year for entrepreneurs to become globally competitive. Globalisation today means that anyone anywhere, with access to a PC and the Web, can create and run a global business with minimal capital.
Products can be shipped anywhere in the world. With marketing costs spiraling close to zero, thanks to the Internet, and new high-tech supply chains linking everyone across the planet, we can reach any audience quickly and easily. Telekom Malaysia’s high-speed broadband roll-out in 2010 will accelerate this here.
Big businesses has to be aware that an individual can become a competitor overnight as Amazon, Google and other start-ups have demonstrated in the United States. This year will see more talented Malaysians deciding to set up their own shops, possibly even overpowering the big boys in years to come.
Business is social, and so it is not surprising that social media sites like Facebook, Friendster and LinkedIn continue to change the face of business. — AFP
2. Collaborators will be big winners
Last year provided glimpses of the changing business models, from a competitive, stand-alone model to a more collaborative one. Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia and numerous start-ups have shown how this new collaborative model works by harnessing the power of an entire globe.
The Huffington Post, a two-year-old start-up online newspaper is now challenging the big press establishments with free resources derived from collaboration.
Money or size will not necessarily determine your success. Microsoft shut down its Encarta business (due largely to competition from Wikipedia) and has lost ground in the browser market to Mozilla Firefox, proving that resources alone don’t decide the game.
Collaboration is not just limited to technology companies. Low-cost airlines have successfully collaborated with their customers to download and print their airline tickets, saving huge costs. So expect Malaysian businesses to begin exploring more profitable collaborative models.
3. HR will transform
The ability of human resources (HR) to add value at a strategic level “is currently more promise than reality”. That’s a sobering point from a long-term study of HR by Lawler and Mohrman.
HR systems and structures are still primitive and administrative in many Malaysian companies. As the battle for talent intensifies, there will be more emphasis on world-class HR practices and systems. HR executives will have to re-invent their departments to be talent-focused and more aligned to the business.
“If they want to be effective business partners, they need to change their skill set and thinking,” Lawler and Mohrman conclude. This will mean a total overhaul of HR policies and processes, and even HR’s role. HR has to transform from an administrative body to a more strategic business partner. If they don’t, more companies will opt to promote non-HR executives from the business side into HR roles.
We will see signs of such change in Malaysian companies this year.
4. More investments in fewer people
If you go through the annual reports of our listed companies over the last 10 years, you’d be surprised to see how little is mentioned about their people.
“What’s the basis for competition in the 21st century?” asks Thomas P. Flannery, a HR practitioner. “It’s your ability to think through complex problems, serve the customers better, and be more creative.”
All these qualities boil down to the capabilities of your best people. He adds:
“Machines stay put, but people walk at any time.”
Salary and benefits are significant costs for most organisations. Yet, few truly extract full returns from their people’s potential.
Companies will now try to obtain more value from their people. This may mean cutting back on ineffective training programmes for the masses but deepening training and accelerating development programmes for the best 20%-30% of their people. We will also see training move away from classroom-based programmes to more action learning-oriented programmes.
5. The rise of social media
Business is social, and so it is not surprising that social media sites like Facebook, Friendster and LinkedIn continue to change the face of business. Last year saw exponential growth of social media in Malaysia. But businesses have yet to fully leverage social media. This year, we will see businesses take social media beyond one-off marketing and communications initiatives. Social media will become a serious business tool to uncover cost savings and communicate effectively.
Dell increased its sales significantly via Twitter. Through social media, start-ups are launching free marketing campaigns that rival those of the big traditional firms. Malaysia Airlines launched its employee blog (LMH) and has started to see the pay-off on its foray into Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.
As more companies clamp down on smoking in public areas, cigarette breaks are turning into “social media breaks”. This will lead to companies adopting social media policies. Currently, about 70% of Malaysian organisations ban social networks. But that will change as more business is conducted via social media sites.
6. The spread of decision-making power
A few centuries ago, the mighty Spanish army wiped out the entire Incan and Aztec civilisations, but could not stand against the leaderless nomadic Apache tribe in North America. In the 20th century, the Soviet Union collapsed because its command-and-control economy couldn’t keep up with the free market.
Today, the same fate will befall companies whose leaders attempt to control all decision-making. In a world that is becoming ever dependent on brain power, the sharing of leadership power across the organisation will become a hallmark of successful companies.
In nature, while one bee is merely a nuisance, a swarm is deadly. The Internet allows companies to be more like beehives because information is shared horizontally and there are no secrets. So decision-making can be shared.
In fact, many organisations where only the top leader makes all decisions will become slow and ineffective. Even General Electric’s former take-charge CEO Jack Welch made many decisions collegially with a team. ‘’I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t have them,’’ he admits.
John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems says:
‘’I learned a long time ago that a team will always defeat an individual.’’
In Malaysia, we will see more action lab-like initiatives, like MAS’ Profitability Labs, that empower the lower levels of organisation with decision-making power and spread decision-making.
7. Culture becomes king
Each organisation has a unique culture that ultimately determines its success or failure. Previously, most CEOs spent little time or energy driving cultural change, preferring to invest their time in operations.
As more leaders wise up to the power of culture, expect to see more cultural transformation initiatives. Funds that would have otherwise been used to engage strategy consultants will be channeled towards driving cultural change and execution at the workplace.
8. Innovation culture to ride on social media
To be competitive requires constant innovation. “Studies in the electronics industry show the top 10% of companies worldwide change 80% of their products every five years – such is their rate of innovation,” says Roger La Salle, an innovation expert.
Companies wishing to remain “long-term” have to invest in innovation. This means building processes, structures and a culture of innovation among their employees. It means extracting innovative ideas and thoughts from your employees on a daily basis and executing on them, now made easy through judicious use of social media.
9. Sustainability becomes the real deal
Throughout 2009, vast efforts were spent driving ecological consciousness globally. This year may see Malaysian businesses play the game.
The 2009 Cone Consumer environmental survey states that 70% of consumers are attentive to what companies are doing with regards to environmental sustainability.
This trend is not so different in Malaysia. A research done by Kelly Solutions found that 88% of Malaysian job-seekers want to work for an environmentally responsible company.
This means that people are becoming more aware of what you do as a company and will expose any irresponsible behaviour, particularly via social media sites. So, expect sustainability to move from being a trend to being the real deal.
10. Businesses head back to school
As more businesses get alarmed by the under-performing graduates they are forced to hire, more corporations will start getting involved directly in leadership development at school and universities. Already, signs of corporate involvement in schools are evident such as Khazanah Nasional Bhd’s Pintar project.
The war for talent will move to schools as companies go to schools to recruit and build brand awareness. Motorola China has a unique recruiting system in universities that is more akin to a marketing campaign.
This year is set to be an exciting year, when dreams can come true, especially for start-ups. Here is wishing you a blessed new year and success in your careers and your businesses.