Where business leaders are focusing their efforts this year
It is tradition to forecast what a new year heralds and 2022 is no different. While it’s fun to rely on crystal balls and star signs, we prefer to observe tiny ripples in the market that might actually gain sufficient momentum to become tidal waves! Last November at the QED Changemaker Forum, we conducted our biannual senior leadership forecast survey with over 90 responses from a spectrum of industries across public and private sectors about what would capture their attention, time and resources in the next 12 months.
The following five key business areas rose above all the trending business topics:
• Future (still @) Work
• Innovation Economy
• Hyper-Digital Economy
• Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)
• Circular Economy
These five areas may sound familiar to many, but there’s no denying that the collective investment of focus and resources from the market will lead to breakthroughs, opportunities and possibilities that will impact us economically in the near future.
The Future of Work is now Future (still @) Work
There is a subtle but significant adjustment from the ‘Future of Work’ to ‘Future (still at) Work’. Seismic changes from global lockdowns drastically altered consumer behaviours and perceptions of work in general. The definition of work needs realignment in the areas of technology, capabilities, human capital, and resources.
Beyond AI, digital and technology, conversations around human capital are returning to dominate leadership discussions. After all, there isn’t a future of work without a workforce. Organisational leaders are now paying more attention to the employee experience, reviewing performance management processes and capability development in the context of hybrid work arrangements.
"The pandemic has magnified the importance of human connection, showing that people are at the centre of success in any organisation. The workplace must become a medium where employees feel valued and are driven by a sense of belonging."
IAN LEE, REGIONAL PRESIDENT, ASIA PACIFIC
THE ADDECO GROUP
"This requires a mindset shift by employers – Their goal is not to offer jobs and livelihoods, but to provide a career with a greater purpose. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic, employees began to re-evaluate their life priorities and career goals. The reality is that our future will continue to be Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA). For organisations to retain their talent successfully and sustainably in the VUCA world, they must equip them with the adaptability, infrastructure, and resilience to thrive in change. This involves establishing support systems to protect the mental wellbeing of employees, cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture as a key to innovation, and providing re/upskilling opportunities for individual development. Organisations must act immediately and systematically to ensure that these people-first principles don’t remain a cliché", he added.
Innovation is increasingly central to economic growth
A business-as-usual modus operandi will not solve the business challenges of today. At the height of the global lockdown in April 2020, world carbon emissions dropped by a mere 17% according to a report by Nature Climate Change. Thus, further optimization and reduction while maintaining existing business operations and practises, will not get us anywhere close to the net-zero goal of the Paris Agreement. Instead, we need a confluence of new ideas, people and technology to fuel entrepreneurship and collaboration that innovates new and viable solutions for a more sustainable future.
"Business leaders predict that by 2026, half of their revenues will come from products, services, or businesses that haven't yet been created."
BORKO KOVACEVIC, ACTING COUNTRY MANAGER,
"Given the ambition to develop these new revenue streams, many of which respond to sustainability goals and technological change, businesses should be committed, more than ever, to help customers and partners co-create that future. The past two years have disrupted the pace at which organisations embrace technological innovation, but we have also seen customers and partners implement their transformations as quickly as in two months putting people, culture and technology at the centre of their digital journeys because they reimagined their future in a digital-first economy”, he added.
A Hyper-Digital Economy is more than technological advancement
At a glance, a hyper-digital economy seems to imply that it is only about digitalisation and technology. However, in reality, it should also include business performance, workforce productivity and the meeting of customer expectations to collectively power an economy.
As Howie Lau, Managing Partner, Corporate Development & Partnerships at NCS describes, “From digital to post-digital, and now the hyper-digital stage, emerging innovations and cutting-edge technologies have to deliver improved business outcomes in tandem with superior experiences and satisfied customers. Thus, the following areas can expect to see rising interests:
• Data analytics and security practises,
• Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Metaverse,
• Various types of cloud computing that are vital to modern business models,
• Blockchain and NFTs,
• Artificial Intelligence and the need for integration and collaboration to elevate human capital value
Take for example the deployment of Singtel’s UNBOXED, an unmanned retail experience leveraged the increased speed and power unleashed by 5G. A newly deployed concierge bot and virtual assistant detected in-store customers' emotions to provide highly personalised in-store recommendations. This resulted in a whopping 96% customer satisfaction rating based on a 70,000-visitor footfall. The results of this new experiential retail pilot are a testament to the advent of a hyper-digital economy that marries both improved business outcomes with raised levels of customer satisfaction.
"A hyper-digital economy is ultimately about accelerating business performance, transforming into a hybrid, multi-modal workplace to support a digital workforce, upskilling and empowering talents to ensure delivery of quality services to clients, and co-creating and collaborating with clients to advance communities and business results."
HOWIE LAU, MANAGING PARTNER,
CORPORATE DEVELOPMENT & PARTNERSHIPS
"Hence leaders have to embrace and equip their businesses adequately to discover and tackle new rules, business models, stakeholders, and possibilities in this hyper-digital economy”, he concluded.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) is beyond gender
Expectations of DEI are very different in Asia compared to the world stage. Even within Asia, the pace of embracing DEI in the corporate world has a wide spectrum of progress as it clashes with deep-rooted cultural norms. However, there has been significant improvement with countries like Singapore mandating listed entities to disclose board diversity policies that address aspects like gender, skill, and experience, as of 2022.
There is still much to be done to help Asian corporations understand the benefits, scope and risks (of omission) to incorporating good DEI practises. Only then can Asia align with the rest of the world to keep up with new dynamics and stay relevant in an increasingly global workforce.
“Diversity is a fact, Inclusion is a choice.”
HELEN SNOWBALL, GLOBAL HEAD OF PEOPLE EXPERIENCE & SOLUTIONS
“Many leaders say they are committed to DEI, but often their actions do not match their words. It is imperative that we call out leadership hypocrisy and tokenism if we are to create more equality within our workplaces and boardrooms.
At JLL, facts and data as opposed to just words alone drive DEI outcomes and the right conversations so that our employees know we are serious about driving change. In 2021, JLL appointed two new female CEOs across Asia Pacific to lead our largest employee-based countries - India and China.
Leaders do have to constantly review and assure employees against the idea of inclusion for inclusion’s sake, tokenism, and for mandate purposes only. The sign of successful inclusion is when employees feel a sense of purpose and belonging with little to no doubt on their standing position.”
A sustainable future is only possible when we embrace a Circular Economy
“A sustainable future is only possible when we embrace a circular economy that constantly refreshes rather than exhausts our limited environment and resources,” says Bill Chua, Independent Director and Chairman of Audit & Risk Committee, Sunseap Group.
“Overproduction and overconsumption has been the crux of our climate crisis and embracing the circular economy is the needed step in the right direction."
BILL CHUA, INDEPENDENT DIRECTOR AND
CHAIRMAN OF AUDIT & RISK COMMITTEE
"The circular economy balances economic growth and environmental sustainability by relieving pressure off the environment through practises such as sustainable production. It aims to reduce waste by recovering and repairing resources at the end of a product’s lifecycle and recycling for future production.
Many governments have implemented the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), shifting away from traditionally linear economies where products are used and disposed of immediately. This policy assigns the responsibility of waste management and relative costs to the production companies. The producers will be more inclined to design products that can be easily recycled, innovate on work processes to close their waste loop and save on extra costs.” shares Bill.
Businesses should look into redesigning their models and workflow such that they are economically viable and meaningful. These 3Rs may be taken into consideration as core factors:
• Reuse/recycle — Expanding the utility of existing products (a second/third life),
• Repair — Going beyond the consume-and-throw culture; new business models to increase the lifespan of products and services while maintaining profitability,
• Renew/refresh our natural ecosystem — Allowing and supporting our world as it recovers and regrows.
I thought to leave you with how Borko expressed our current requisite as senior business leaders that we need a “holistic approach across people, spaces and technology to build connected, secure, resilient and digitally-inclusive futures for individuals and organisations to achieve more, robustly and sustainably”.