Five Keys to Ensure Professional Relevance

By Restoring the Soul of Business Archives
Cover image for  article: Five Keys to Ensure Professional Relevance

Professionals across the world, across industries and across all levels (but particularly middle to senior executive levels) are grappling with the issue of relevance.

  1. Are our businesses and business models relevant?
  2. Are our organizational designs, incentive plans and talent relevant?
  3. Are our partners, suppliers and the way we tap into external resources relevant?
  4. Are our positions and roles relevant?
  5. Are WE still relevant?

While we may give voice to the first three, there is no doubt we are also concerned about our own roles and our own capabilities. This hold true whether we work in a company of a hundred thousand or are self-employed.

Business Models

The past decade has made clear to every business and individual that the biggest threats and opportunities to any business come from outside our category or competitive set. The moment one benchmarks only against current competitors or historical performance and cost data one has begun a slide into irrelevance.

Dollar Shave Club came for Gillette. Google came for the newspapers and classified advertising. Tesla and Uber came for the auto industry. Netflix and Spotify and Substack came for the content industry. Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drugs is coming for Anthem, United Health and other PBMs. None of these were spotted or taken seriously till they did significant damage to the leaders.

Completely new ways of marketing in a world of empowered, purpose-driven people, innovative experience and data-driven storytelling is challenging every marketer and agency and media company.

Do not ask for whom the bell tolls and what AI, Blockchain, AR/VR and 5G are coming for. (Go here to read about how real 5G is already changing experiences and expectations when it is deployed in private networks.) They are coming for all of us, but they are also coming to help us re-invent and turbo-charge ourselves, our companies, our growth and our future.

We are in re-inventing times! To re-invent we should consider the blank sheet of paper exercise:

  1. Identify a challenge or opportunity.
  2. Assume we have every asset we currently have.
  3. Do not constrain our solution except that we need to keep within the law, what is technologically possible today and some goal to break even or show results in x months.

Every team that does this exercise will come up with amazing ideas to address challenges or opportunities and will realize that most constraints are self-imposed. If we do not do what we have imagined we can to address our challenges and seize our opportunities to re-invent, someone else will and they will clean our clocks.

Organizational Structure

The future does not fit in the containers of the past. Most companies’ organizations and incentive systems have been optimized for their past or existing business rather than the world we are moving into. If we want people to work together but we measure how our individual units do, we will not gain collaboration. If we want people to think multi-platform and multi-media but we promote and incentivize magazine-page sales, or radio or tv inventory, we will fail to transform. If we try to manage tomorrow and today with the same teams, we will have a diluted today and a non-competitive entry into tomorrow.

If we delude ourselves in thinking scale, marketing spending, brand and access to resources create a moat we will find that what we have done is build walls and laid the seeds of self-defeat in a world where data, eco-systems, ideas, talent and access to modern marketplaces are the new scaling drivers. In addition, today we also have to design organizations that incorporate in-person and remote teams and grapple with how to combine and integrate and set expectations.

And if we blame Wall Street, "management" or some other factor no customer or client will really care. It is just fear and bad leadership. Companies and management that thrive bend structures and processes to adapt to change. Change and marketplaces do not bend to fit our yesterday’s shapes and business models.

At minimum consider a model of "schizophrenia." Develop a team to optimize for tomorrow with its own specific goals and incentives while focusing the rest of the organization to maximize today with their own goals and incentives. Both teams report to the same management and are aware of each other’s goals and can swap talent and resources as necessary but need to focus on their goals.

Partnering Ecosystem

No individual is an island and no company in a connected world can prosper without great connections to other individuals or companies -- whether they be suppliers, partners, sources of talent, technology and other platforms.

In a world of Amazon Web Services, Azure, Shopify, Open Ai, Upwork, etc., which are bring new sources of solutions, talent and scale while at the same time every service provider is upgrading themselves to remain competitive, all of us need to ensure that we have the best people, the best processes and the best value as we partner with the marketplace.

All smart managers are asking if we are investing enough in upgrading and resourcing talent. (If we work for ourselves are we investing enough in ourselves?) Are we ensuring tight coordination with our partners and suppliers? Are our external resources constantly iterating and improving to help give ourselves and our companies an edge?

Management Relevance

Today managers are buffeted from every direction. There is a "de-layering" mania underway as companies try to find cost savings and increase agility to cope with transformational times. This is most acute in technology companies, where between twenty and twenty five percent of employees have been let go with a particular emphasis on mid-level management and anyone who is not a revenue contributor or a maker, builder and creator.

At the same time there is a deepening generational mindset divide, with many Gen-Z youth holding senior management in low regard wondering what they do and contribute besides allocating, monitoring and delegating, while senior management looks askance at middle and lower management who are refusing to work "hard-core," painting them as crybabies and softies who need a kick in the pants and a dose of reality.

Every individual and manager can continue to be successful in a transforming world. The issue is how to see, think and feel differently and then execute, iterate and improve to remain relevant. Provide personalized guidance and nuances versus mandates. Be a coach versus a boss. Communicate clearly and be transparent versus thinking that information and data is power. And be open to receiving and giving feedback including recognizing the turd on the table.

Personal Relevance

The scale and rate of technological, demographic, mindset and global change (The Four Shifts) means the half-life of knowledge and skills is growing shorter and shorter. This places a premium on having to learn new skills while simultaneously unlearning skills.

Take any senior or middle manager for drinks and sooner or later you will discover we are all struggling with how we can add value to a world which seems to be so different and alien. The competitors are different, the category dynamics are changing, the talent landscape and the workspace seem to be shape-shifting in ways we do not recognize. At the same time the workload is increasing, the expectations rising and change, which sucks, is coming so fast that we cannot a) hope to wait it out until we retire, b) have the time to manage our today while preparing for our tomorrow, c) fake it with buzz word bingo (AI! Data Lake! Personalization! Platform Strategy! Disruption!) or d) play for time by launching task forces or hiring consultants to do landscape overviews, competitive benchmarking and scenario planning which everyone else can see and we know ourselves is nothing but doing the 3D dance of delaying, dawdlinganddithering.

Companies do not grow or remain relevant unless managers grow and remain relevant. Every individual is a manager in that they manage themselves. We will all spend the rest of our lives in the future which begins as early as tomorrow, so we must find our time today to prepare for tomorrow or there will not be a tomorrow.

The future is bright for all of us in what may be the most exciting times. All we must do is upgrade ourselves to continue to remain relevant.

AI-Volution of Culture

Clearly, remaining relevant will include staying on top of AI. One of the boards I serve on is at a company called Quilt. Ai and they are holding an incredible event at The Times Center in New York City on September 6, 2023, where they will bring together marketers, storytellers, builders and technologists to understand the fundamentals of AI and discuss the integration of it into their business and how to use it for good.

Quilt has provided me with access to a limited number of free tickets for people who might want to attend. Speakers will include the Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Financial Times, an Oscar nominated director, the head of a major museum, fashion leaders, pioneering CMOs and technologists. Everybody will get lots of free books, content and software subscriptions. You can read about the event and sign up by clicking here and get in for free with my code: rishadxquilt. (There is a limited number of free passes so do sign up if you can be there.)

It will also be streamed globally.

Posted at MediaVillage through the Thought Leadership self-publishing platform.

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