Tuesday, 26 September 2017

What is the new normal?


There’s no doubt that the last 12 months have got most people muttering, ‘Well, truth is stranger than fiction, after all.’ It’s easy to get caught up in the mass, global Chicken Little, ‘the sky is falling in’ reaction to events such as the Trump election and the Brexit referendum.

We’re used to keeping an eye on the world to spot the trends, shifts, and Netflix series coming our way. But this can sometimes blind us to our unique experience living and doing business in Africa. Operating in change and uncertainty is our status quo. And, without wanting to glamourise the very real challenges Africa faces, the unintended consequence is that we’ve become extraordinarily resilient and adaptable – comfortable with not only riding out tectonic disruptions but also turning them into opportunities.

Here in South Africa we’ve been through a few pretty bumpy few years, to put it mildly. From musical chairs in our finance minister’s office, which wiped out around R500 billion in value from the economy and saw the rand go into free fall at the end of 2015; a yo-yoing petrol price; a 6,6% official inflation rate (many would argue the true inflation rate is double that!); and last but not least, a highly uncertain political landscape. Not to mention that, like the rest of the world, we are facing a massive period of digital disruption as we enter the fourth industrial economy. Change is quite literally our constant.

Today we need to tap into our inherent entrepreneurial savvy more than ever before. At all levels.

For instance, typically when you plan you set parameters and make some fairly significant assumptions: ‘Robots won’t be replacing my people in the next five years’; ‘The UK will still be part of the European Union’; ‘Smartphones aren’t going to become the biggest supplier of my product.’

Today, these assumptions are pointless! You can’t plan for the amount of disruption that is coming your way. And if you try, you risk baking a panicky, knee-jerk reaction into your numbers. At best, this would be inappropriate and regrettable when the dust settles. At worst, this approach becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead, ensure your planning and business strategy is responsive to change by looping in the view from the grass roots of your organisation. Head office might be running around like Chicken Little, but the people on the ground can often see the opportunities, and know where to hustle. That is why you employed them, after all.

Look for the opportunities. We are resilient and uniquely adapted to make things happen, so we should be relishing the potential presented by the turbulence in the world today!

Navigating the new normal
  • Realise you can’t begin to plan for the amount of disruption you are about to face.
  • Embrace the hustle like you’ve never done before.
  • Don’t codify a Chicken Little response – it may just come true.
  • Look for opportunities and don’t only focus on the threats.
  • Leverage our adaptability and resilience, the unintended consequence of ‘our normal’.
As published Accountancy SA - 1st September 2017
http://www.accountancysa.org.za/wordpress/viewpoint-what-is-the-new-normal/ 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

When your normal is change then change is opportunity


It's easy to get disruption fatigue when literally every article you read reminds you that digital disruption is here, and that if you are not doing something about it, you’ve already missed the bus

Well, I hate to say it, but you’ve not only missed the bus, but you’re missing the taxi-on-demand-service and are imminently going to miss the self-driving vehicle. Take Uber — the poster child for the disruption of traditional business, shaking up the centuries-old taxi industry. But, while Uber sorts out its internal culture issues, and figures out its relationship with its drivers, it is already getting a taste of its own medicine. Dubai is about to disrupt the disruptor with the announcement that it is launching driverless drone taxis this year.


So I think we can all agree that change is coming, it is coming fast and it is exponential. I could say: “like nothing we have seen before” but we have, consistently over the last generation. It is just getting faster!


However, operating in this amount of change and uncertainty is par for the course in Africa. And the consequence of our exposure to unrelenting and erratic change is a deep-seated entrepreneurial optimism, which I think is going to stand us in good stead. I’m writing this in the week that my country, South Africa, saw its president survive an eighth vote of no confidence in parliament. This is a reasonable reflection of the lack of confidence the country as a whole is suffering from, compounded by musical chairs in our finance minister’s office; a yo-yo-ing petrol price; and an official 6.6% inflation rate (which many would argue is far from realistic) and constant revelations of mismanagement, corruption and graft. Change is quite literally our constant.


We’ve become extraordinarily resilient and adaptable. Comfortable with not only riding out tectonic shifts, but also turning them into opportunities. With the uncertainty created by Brexit and Trump, the western world is learning the hard way how to challenge existing thought processes and adapt to an environment of continual change and uncertainty. It is not all bad and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is a more versatile and adaptable management team, with a good dose of entrepreneurial spirit thrown in.


If your normal is change, then you should be well-prepared for making the most of digital disruption by looking for the gaps and the opportunities it presents. Because there are going to be opportunities. Take the arrival of the car at the start of the last century. For sure, businesses died as fewer horses were used: the grain industry faced ruin; and stables, farriers, trainers and other support services that had built up around horse-drawn vehicles saw a massive decline.


But other businesses emerged. Cars needed to be built and these cars needed tyres, fuel stations, etc. Proper roads had to be designed and built, as did road signs, pedestrian crossings and other infrastructure we take for granted.


How is this playing out in our finance world? Consider the automation of accountancy functions. Robots are simply better at doing tasks that are repetitive and rule-based. They are faster and more accurate than we are, and don't get bored or distracted. They are taking over some of the more repetitive functions in our firms, and at our clients, as accountancy software becomes more accessible.


So, as accountants, do we go the same way as the farriers and grain suppliers? Or are we agile enough to adapt to this new normal and look for the opportunities? For instance, with the flood of repetitive work taken care of, can we hone our critical thinking and problem-solving skills on behalf of our clients? Can we use our time analysing and assessing the real-time data we now have at our finger tips to give strategic input to our clients and support their planning and decision-making process? Can we develop our inter-personal skills now that we can leave the back office and interact with the rest of the firm as well as our clients? And can we review a few holy cows, for instance, what impact will blockchain technology have for us and our clients?


We have the opportunity to lead, not follow, the digital disruption. But we need to learn to be adaptive and hone those skills that were not perhaps at the top of the list: interpersonal skills, analysis, and a healthy and open minded view of what the future holds for us and our clients. We can lead or we can follow, but in tomorrow’s world there is little value to be added by being a follower.


As published Economia 17th August 2017
http://economia.icaew.com/en/tech-hub/when-your-normal-is-change-then-change-is-opportunity