Last year, I decided to pursue a career transition as a full-time occupation. I’ve been out in the market for the past six months, assessing business opportunities as I network with executives in financial services, healthcare, media and retail, as well as with VCs, private equity investors and advisers.
What’s been great is that invariably any role in any organization, however broad, will be framed by the priorities that drive the business, which may be using a short-range lens defined by the annual plan, or one that doesn’t offer much of a peripheral view. Transition-as-occupation offers full permission to set the aperture and depth of field for insight-gathering and exploration.
What has also been remarkable is not only the generosity of many people at the top of their respective fields to share perspectives, but also how I’ve been able to help others by playing the role of connector among people who may not normally meet up with each other, but who are excited to understand how others are addressing common questions in a complex and changing environment.
Here are six connected trends on the collective mind of the leaders with whom I’ve met. They represent a snapshot of what I am hearing. Within them are opportunities to be realized across this industry:
- Customer-centricity – is it talk or walk? C-suiters certainly verbalize that “customer-centricity” matters, but few teams demonstrate that empathizing with the customer is bedrock for viable, win/win relationships, growth and profit improvement. The phrase has as many definitions as (or more than) the number of people defining it. Most significantly, the connection to concrete, quantifiable business priorities is generally missing. For those who get beyond the buzzwords, there is tremendous tangible value, even disruptive opportunity, in being a customer-focused player in this sector.
- Old norms don’t work…digital and innovation are essential. Businesses are faced with redesigning processes, structures and metrics, recruiting more agile learners who are also able to deliver and overcoming legacy infrastructure to adopt new technologies. This level of change in the way businesses operate is not for the faint-hearted. The companies that take on these real implementation requirements will gain ground.
- Yes, technology truly is changing everything. Even with greater efficiency, there is no growth without compelling offerings that meet big market needs. For companies engineered to serve baby boomers, serving the millennial generation requires profound change, not just a digital coat of paint. The implications go way beyond having a social media presence, cool apps and clever advertising. The millennial generation is inheriting a different world, re-shaped in good and bad ways by prior generations. The starting point for progress is to be truly insight-led, and not presume you know what people want and need.
- The marketing bar is being raised. This discipline has been disrupted, and more is being demanded. Traditionally viewed as “support” people, marketers are now being held to results that require a different seat at the table, a different talent profile, processes and resources and an entirely new set of connections with colleagues and external partners. Begin by redefining relationships, especially with product, IT and sales internally, and with the advertising and media agencies as key outside partners.
- Two tales are playing out within financial services. Legacy institutions remain heavily focused on regulation, compliance, expense reduction and cyber security…while fin tech is hot, with capital flowing into payments, wealth management, consumer lending and related start-ups pursuing market disruption and reshaping the industry. Start-ups are doing great things in this sector and will keep incumbents on their toes, as well as representing potential acquisition opportunities as a strategy to modernize. Alignment around a clear strategy and a collaborative culture are at the foundation of leading change vs. playing defense.
- Healthcare disruption is creating opportunities, but the pace is slow. Payers and providers are aiming to address Affordable Care Act and other government, employer and consumer-driven impacts. Using electronic medical records, controlling employer healthcare expenses and enabling patient accountability for medical care decisions are just three of many big and complex challenges. The road to change will be long and slow given the sheer complexity and fragmentation of healthcare delivery. As in financial services, new entrants are leading innovation with solutions that address elements of the ecosystem. As in financial services, there is room for incumbents to realize opportunity with the right strategic and cultural conditions.