Something very interesting happened to me and my team while co-delivering a Business Acumen / Business Leadership workshop for a client in South America this week. After months of careful, detail oriented preparation, we realized we hadn’t anticipated something that could have been very important to participants of the customized digital business simulation we were using to develop the Business Acumen and Business Leadership skills of our learners. Over dinner with our client and wonderful co-facilitators @BarbaraHauser and @MichelleHollingshead, we were reviewing the week and talking about the key learnings of our participants and ourselves. Somewhere around mid-meal I shared that I had a valuable learning because I should have anticipated the need for participants to have a new report generated by the business simulation that provided market share by customer segment in addition to market share by product line. My colleague suggested that we weren’t “prepared” which led to an awesome and robust discussion about the difference between preparation and anticipation. The center of the debate was my notion that we were actually extremely prepared to execute the training session; we just didn’t anticipate the need of our audience for that particular report.
As the discussion continued, we shared our observations from the workshop; the four teams comprising the business simulation marketplace were given the responsibility of selecting and executing a business strategy through operational decisions for three simulated years. A key component of building Business Acumen skills is understanding how to select the right strategy and value proposition and then flawlessly execute that strategy through the people of your organization. All four of our simulation teams did well but one excelled because they were both prepared to make decisions and they were able to anticipate the needs of their customers who wanted “good products at affordable prices” better than any of their competitors in the simulated market. As an interesting side-note, it was the vocal leader of that that winning team who gave me the feedback and suggested how nice it would be to have the report we didn’t anticipate needing.
Based on some quick and intense research, discussion with experts, and my own observations, I’ve compiled a list of three tips for increasing your anticipation skills in the business environment.
To start, let’s define anticipation as a business skill context. Anticipation as a Business Acumen skill can be defined as the ability to look ahead to see things others, including customers and competitors, don’t see and then developing solutions in the form of products and services that are executed before your competitors, and before customers give up looking for the solution.
Know the Business Ecosystem
Things and events in business just don’t happen randomly. Your job as a business leader is the understand the system of business that includes the supply chain, your existing key competitors, the competitors who may come into your ecosystem, the competitors who may replace your ecosystem, and of course, your various types of customers.
Pay Significant Attention to Trend Setters
There are always weak signals of trends that are entering your ecosystem very quietly until you wake up one day out of business. Blockbuster didn’t pay attention to the trend of streaming video. Kodak ignored the trend of digitization. Legacy food and consumer companies thought “all natural” and “organic” was just a fad. Paying attention to the trend setters on a regular basis will spur new ideas and insights that will enable you to anticipate new demands and new technologies.
Look for and Understand of Cycles and Patterns within Your Industry
Do you work in an industry that is cyclical such as cars, restaurants, big ticket consumer goods, or airlines? Or in an industry that is dependent on those industries? A cyclical industry is an industry that is sensitive to business cycles where growth of revenues is always higher in times of economic prosperity and expansion and lower in times of economic downturns and contraction. When cycles and patterns hit, many companies don’t have the agility to deal with them effectively. For example, in an economic downturn companies will make layoffs and cut expenses to counter the cycle. In economic growth, companies will pay hiring bonuses and provide higher salaries to retain key talent. Having the skills to understand these cycles and patterns is the basis for anticipating trends and making the right decisions to ride out the changes of a cycle or take advantage of the opportunities.