November 2019 | Point of View

2020: Bringing certainty to an uncertain year

2020: Bringing certainty to an uncertain year

As we wrap up the 2010s and begin a new decade, the upcoming year is sure to be a pivotal one. But for business leaders, 2020 is starting off with a heavy dose of uncertainty.

While the economy continues to be steady, this steadiness has bred a new level of uncertainty. Think about inflating a balloon—the longer you blow air into it, the more anxious you become expecting it to “pop.” But what happens when the balloon just gets larger and doesn’t burst?

That’s the case right now: We are now 11 years into a typical seven-year recession cycle, and the business community could not be more on edge about if, when, and what type of downturn might occur—the burst balloon. Couple that anxiety with a contentious election year, and we find ourselves wanting a heavy dose of something to get us through the next 12 months.

As a CEO, I feel the uncertainty. But as we are drawn to the drama within our circle of concern (politics, the economy), we need to create our own sense of certainty by focusing within our circle of influence (the business). From my perspective, here are three ways to create your own sense of certainty in 2020:

Invest in the talent you have on your payroll today.

Everyone is challenged to grow their business. With unemployment low and the war for talent high, you’re limited in hiring more people to do more stuff. Smart executives are turning to automation to do more with the same, and that’s working. However, your business needs to explore new frontiers to grow in the digital age, and as a result your organization needs new skills. If you can’t get new talent in the door, you need to upskill the employees you have. Take a look at these numbers: The average cost to hire a new employee is $4,425, far more than the $1,300 average cost to upskill an employee.

This investment in upskilling will create more certainty for your business because you can fill your talent pipeline with your own people. You can also focus employees’ time on more valuable work, which helps retain them in the long run. We found in our most recent employee survey, for example, that “interesting and challenging work” is the most important factor to our employees’ job—ahead of compensation, benefits, and everything else. That was eye-opening.

Stop waiting for perfect and clean data – and move forward with what you have.

The business world is all-in on data—the more data the better, and executives want everything they can get their hands on, fast. I can identify. But, we’ve seen a lot of companies wait for their data structure, capture, and governance to be 100% sound before making any real moves. That’s a mistake.

To bring more certainty to your business next year, our advice is to move forward with what you have. That may seem counterintuitive to creating certainty—to start using data that you don’t fully trust—but nobody has 100% clean data, and they never will. More data is being generated every day and the longer you wait to use the data you have, the more value you are leaking from the business. Value you cannot get back. We advise to start with a small project to unlock hidden value. For example, we used our employees’ corporate travel data to negotiate nearly $1 million in savings (over two years) with our travel vendors last year. We didn’t have close to perfect or complete data on all employee business travel at the time, but we didn’t let that stop us from negotiating—and we’re $1 million better off for it.

Decide to make decisions – faster.

It’s time to take a hard look at how your organization makes decisions, especially at the C-suite and management levels. As we’ve rapidly grown at West Monroe, we’ve tried to hang on to our startup culture as long as possible, and that includes making swift decisions. The larger the organization, the longer the list of people who are required to make decisions—all who are never in the office or available for the same meeting at the same time.

We value diversity of thought and perspectives, but we also value action. The key is balancing the two. To bring certainty to your organization next year, stop the analysis paralysis, the waiting, and the mini congressional sessions to make the smallest of decisions. Involve people to an extent, but get in the habit of prioritizing efficient and expedient decision-making.

2020 is the year to move things forward. The uncertainty of the outside world is not something to be ignored, but it is something to be challenged. At West Monroe, we’re used to being a challenger. I urge you to join in its upside.

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