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Six Signals of Business Change That Should Be on Every Leader’s Radar


Expert insights from Antony Keane, Managing Director, Strategy and Consulting Lead, Accenture Ireland.

During the past year, we witnessed change on an unprecedented scale. Almost overnight, most organisations saw every aspect of their business disrupted. Organisations once hesitant to change had to reinvent themselves or risk being left behind, and changes that traditionally took longer to occur were seemingly happening immediately. We saw a new world of possibilities for Irish businesses, virtual working became the new norm, businesses refocused their offerings to survive in this new environment, and new supply chains were set up in a matter of days, rather than months. 

As Ireland recovers from the global pandemic, businesses are left facing a new challenge: to identify what works for a new and evolving today and what will be required to thrive tomorrow. What will be key for leaders is to determine how they capitalise on this new momentum and navigate a path forward? 88% of companies say they finally have a clear picture of the challenges they are facing today, but only 6% are completely confident in their current abilities to respond to future disruption. 

So how can business leaders stay ahead of change? The Accenture’s Business Futures 2021 report aims to help leaders make sense of this new reality by identifying six key signals of business change that are reshaping organisations globally and will be critically important for leaders to understand in order to drive success today and beyond. These signals are: 

1) Learning from the Future – See Change Before it Happens 

As organisations fundamentally rethink ways of doing business that deliver growth, focusing on historical data to inform the future has been challenged. To make decisions faster, many organisations are now capturing new data sets and using analytics and artificial intelligence to respond to and target changing market and consumption shifts. Our report shows organisations have increased their use of both internal and external sources of real-time data over the past 12 months, but less than 40% of people across their organisations consistently use real-time data in their day-to-day work. 

2) Pushed to the Edge – Decentralise Decision-Making 

The global crisis has made markets much more fragmented, and distinct regions are emerging with their own governance systems, economic models, and cultural norms. At the same time, consumer behaviours are changing fast, with new competitors catering to evolving needs. Businesses are responding by pushing decision-making authority to people at the edges of their organisations, creating a networked structure of teams that can act with speed and agility. When businesses empower their “edges” to make most day-to-day operational decisions, they free up their headquarters to focus on key strategic decisions. 

3) Sustainable Purpose – Move from Purpose-Focused to Purpose-Run 

Organisations recognise the need to have a purpose that benefits all their stakeholders, but a growing gap between intentions and results emerged. The purpose paradox demonstrates the challenges faced in building sustainability into the fabric of their operations and delivering on commitments made for the benefit of all their stakeholders. Nearly half (48%) of organisations report that one of the biggest barriers is balancing their commercial interests but there are signs that focus is shifting, with only 24% of leaders saying they would consider cutting investments in environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives to avoid missing earnings guidance.  

4) Supply Unbounded – Break Physical Limits of Fulfilment 

The global pandemic stretched supply chains like never before as organisations took drastic steps to keep goods moving. To meet growing expectations for fast, flexible, cost-effective, responsible, and sustainable order fulfilment, organisations are breaking the physical limits of their supply chains and moving production to the point of demand. 

5) Real Virtualities – Redefine Reality and Place 

As virtual environments come of age, the physical and virtual worlds are blurring and redefining our sense of reality and place. while also creating new ways for people to live, work, consume and socialise. Emerging from a year of limited physical interaction, businesses are doubling down on virtual, with 88% of organisations investing in technologies to create virtual environments and, among those, 91% are planning to invest further. 

6) The New Scientific Method – Become a Scientific Company 

The pandemic shone a spotlight on scientific innovation, putting it to the top of the business agenda. While during the past decade, every company became a digital company, in the coming decade, every company will need to become a scientific company – and apply science to tackle the world’s fundamental challenges. Working at the convergence of the new frontiers of science will bring radical possibilities, but only if organisations can enhance their approaches to innovation.

As we look ahead to address these shifts, it will be critical for leaders to enhance their approach to innovation and evolve how they have traditionally operated. It’s important for Irish business leaders to review the signals outlined, as they highlight the totality of the changes ahead and can help them make sense of - and respond to - the disruption happening everywhere. These Signals stand out as significant catalysts to the future success of organisations and offer an opportunity to further drive change instigated or accelerated by the pandemic. The ultimate direction of business success in the future depends on what leaders decide to do today. Will they choose to change -- reinventing their organisations in the process -- or will they falter against a new business landscape being built before our eyes?