By Nicole Fallon
At its core, the basic premise of business leadership will never change. There will always be a need for individuals who can motivate, inspire and encourage their teams to work together toward common goals. But the environment in which leaders are expected to accomplish this mission has transformed dramatically in recent years, and those who have been at the top for some time now need to figure out how to navigate the modern business world. Four leadership experts weighed in on how to overcome today’s biggest workplace management challenges.
Keeping up with technology
Technology, especially for businesses, is evolving at lightning speed. The latest and greatest tools from just a few years ago are now obsolete, and business leaders may find it difficult to follow every change. But staying ahead of the curve means using technological tools to your advantage, so if you want to compete in today’s market, you need to find a way to do it.
“The more experienced leader may never feel comfortable with technology,” said David Scarola, vice president of business coaching service provider The Alternative Board. “If you’re not [comfortable], allow your younger staff to help lead your company into a more technology-friendly direction.” [5 Simple Ways to Become a Better Leader]
Scarola noted that Generation Y, whose presence is continually increasing in the modern workplace, is generally very tech-savvy, especially with social media. As long as the appropriate administrative and security controls are in place, younger workers can help you ensure that your business stays current.
Globalization and changing demographics
The Internet has opened the doors for global business opportunities in many different industries. While the increasingly global economy has given businesses the chance to enter previously untapped markets, it also means that leaders need to be more aware of what happens in those markets.
“You’re impacted by the globe, whether you’re an individual consumer, a business owner or a Fortune 500 executive,” said Shirley Engelmeier, author of “Becoming an Inclusive Leader” (eBookIt.com, 2014). “What happens everywhere else affects you.”
Along with globalization, today’s business world is seeing a huge shift in demographics, Engelmeier said. Disposable income and spending power have increased greatly for Generation Y as well as Latino and African American populations in recent years, so diverse input in the workplace will be required to adapt to this changing market.
“Who you’re hiring matters for how you’re tapping into these markets,” Engelmeier told Business News Daily. “The traditional makeup of who’s running [major corporations] is 96 percent [older] white males. Make sure you have representation and diversity across races, genders and ages.”
Understanding customer needs and motivations
Every business owner knows that the key to success is giving customers what they want, but are you doing everything you can to find out exactly what that is? Bruce Cazenave, CEO of home fitness solutions provider Nautilus, believes that many of today’s leaders have trouble understanding the complex, changing needs of their customers.
“Not only can business leaders get caught up in outdated policies and yesterday’s successes; they can also quickly lose sight of the emerging needs of their target audience,” he said. “It’s imperative to understand the emotional and intellectual essentials of your customers better than anyone else, and then motivate your organization to deliver innovative, relevant products and solutions that meet [customers’] needs.”
Cazenave recommended spending quality time with your customers to let their voices drive progress and inform changes within your organization. You can do this with personal visits, consumer insight research, trade shows, social media and other communications channels.
“We are continuously in a learning mode,” Cazenave said. “When we solicit feedback in a nonthreatening way, the information we get back is powerful and allows us to create one-of-a-kind products and solutions.”
Information and choice available to the workforce
Attracting top talent to your organization is no longer just about being at the forefront of your industry; company culture and leadership are becoming increasingly important to today’s job seekers. A decade ago, a company with some management issues or a bureaucratic culture might be able to hide those problems until after a person is hired. Today, websites like Glassdoor and Rate My Employer allow employees of an organization to share their opinions about their employers, which means candidates may form an opinion of your company before contact is ever made.
“The Internet has changed workplace team dynamics in ways many leaders don’t fully realize,” said leadership author and speaker David Dye. “An organization’s management culture, compensation and even its interview questions are often available to anyone who wants to look. In the past, employees might have shrugged off a poor boss and thought, ‘That’s just the way it is.’ Today, people know better.”
Creating a strong culture of collaboration and respect within a company — and consequently, a good impression of it to the outside workforce — begins with its leaders. To build this culture, Dye advised treating your team as if they were volunteers who are motivated by factors other than salary and benefits.
“Recognize that your employees choose how they’ll show up each day, how much energy they will expend, and whether or not they will solve problems or ignore them,” Dye said. “Wages and salary do not directly affect these choices, but leadership, culture and internal motivations do. Act with integrity, ensure that expectations are clear, celebrate success, hold team members accountable for their commitments, believe in and respect your people, and equip them to succeed.”