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Talking SME Podcast: Foresight Focus – A Must for Business Leaders

Our latest guest on Ten2Two’s Talking SME podcast is Cathryn Barnard, Director at Working the Future. In this episode ‘Foresight Focus – A Must for Business Leaders’ we discuss the importance of foresight focus and why it is essential for business leaders. As well as the trends that are currently impacting employees’ expectations of business leaders.

A bit about Cat

Working the Future is a management consultancy helping business leaders make sense of the multiple forces changing how we work in the 2020s.

With a long career in workforce planning, and experience of growing her own successful businesses, Cat recognises the criticality of human connection in accelerating team engagement and performance.

As work becomes increasingly underpinned by digital technology, amazing commercial opportunity emerges – blending the best of human AND technology to deliver highly customised client experiences that drive brand loyalty and enhanced success outcomes.

Listen to our podcast with Cat here:

Click here to find out how Ten2Two can help your business survive and thrive.

‘Foresight Focus – A Must for Business Leaders’ is just one of in our series of podcasts where we talk about a wide range of topics. We talk with business experts, and also offer broad insights to help SMEs become more successful.

Don’t forget to check out our other Talking SME Podcasts here.

Click here for a fascinating and useful insight into Foresight Focus, from Working the Future.



[00:00:02.010] – Jane O’Gorman

Hello and welcome to Talking SME, our quick fire chat with business leaders. I’m Jane O’Gorman and I’m very pleased today to welcome Cathryn Barnard, partner at working the future. Hi Cat, welcome and thanks so much for joining me today.

[00:00:20.280] – Cat Barnard

Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

[00:00:24.270] – Jane O’Gorman

Great, Cat as an expert in helping business leaders design, build and optimize lean and agile organizations. You must be very aware of the demands on business to survive and thrive, particularly in the twenty twenties and the challenges of market disruptors that lie downstream. We have seen only too well an example of this over the past year with covid. Explain for us please, foresight focus and why it’s important for business leaders to have.

[00:01:01.980] – Cat Barnard

Thanks Jane. Yeah, absolutely. So foresight focus is for us, foresight focus is something that every business leader in the twenty twenties needs to have and bluntly, that is the ability to foresee the range of factors that are changing our working environments and plan accordingly for them as best as is possible. So I think the one thing that we know about the commercial world and the twenty twenties is that the twin forces of globalization and hyperconnectivity mean that we now operate in highly complex commercial environments.

[00:01:49.260] – Cat Barnard

And it’s almost impossible really to see the range, the full suite of trends that are reshaping and recalibrating our commercial worlds. And so we developed the service of foresight focus to provide business leaders with the essential insights, so that strategic teams can plan more carefully whilst appraised of a fuller, broader range of feed in factors.

[00:02:23.490] – Jane O’Gorman

That’s really interesting and from your detailed research Cat, can you provide some examples of trends that are likely to reshape work in the twenty twenties?

[00:02:35.640] – Cat Barnard

Yeah for sure. So straight off the bat, we were already experiencing the foothills of the fragmentation of work brought about by ever increasing automation and robotic and artificial intelligence coming onto the market, which fundamentally changes the tasks that humans do in the workplace. So technology being one factor, globalization and hyperconnectivity, which is what I mentioned before.

[00:03:17.880] – Cat Barnard

Even prior to the pandemic, we were seeing an uptick, a mass uptick in demand for flexible working, which I know is a topic close to your heart Jane, from younger generations in particular. And so changing socio cultural attitudes towards work is something that we track closely. We also have changing workforce demographics, the global population is slowly aging and that has a big impact on the workforces of the future. And then we’ve got larger, bluntly more existential threats such as climate change and resource depletion.

[00:04:02.940] – Cat Barnard

So there’s a whole bunch of big trends that are reshaping what people want from work in the twenty twenties and business leaders, need to know what’s going on if they want to continue to access the skills and the talents and the capabilities that they need to grow their organizations.

[00:04:32.370] – Jane O’Gorman

Yeah absolutely, and that’s a lot to think about and interesting to hear about the complexity of those trends. What are your thoughts on the shifting attitude towards work and how can businesses adapt to accommodate the preferences, hopes and aspirations of divergent demographics would you say?

[00:04:56.480] – Cat Barnard

Gosh, there’s lots going on, and I think where we need to start with that is just by acknowledging and appreciating that our mental models with regards to work, haven’t updated in step with generational differences, so we still, for instance, a really good example is we still think that the office is where work happens. And of course, the last fifteen months have shown us that work, in fact, can happen from anywhere with a broadband connection.

[00:05:36.580] – Cat Barnard

But I think young people, younger people entering the workforce, they’re far more socially and environmentally aware. And of course, you know, the crisis points in the environmental crisis and indeed, some of the some of the social injustices, that are in play today are being played out online 24/7, 365. So one of the overarching trends that we see is that people want and expect businesses and business leaders to step up and be a force for good in the world.

[00:06:19.720] – Cat Barnard

So there’s much more pressure on organizations in the twenty twenties to stand for something and to be a force for good in the world. And, because over the last ten years, the perception of permanent work and work stability has altered. People will vote with their feet if they don’t feel that they’re getting what they want from their workplace. And so to that extent, we feel that the psychological contract that accompanies work has shifted.

[00:07:03.100] – Cat Barnard

We’re not in a employer led market anymore, regardless of employment or unemployment. I think the stakes have changed. And I think the employers today are judged on a wider range of metrics. And of course, if you’re not aware of that as an employer and you’re not tailoring your working environment and your culture to those dynamics, fundamentally a key risk is that you’re going to increase your likelihood of a revolving door of talent. Talent won’t stick around.

[00:07:43.960] – Cat Barnard

The interesting thing is that we’re not engaging in enough workplace dialogue to understand the wants and needs of every single participant to the workforce. And so people leave without a conversation, even having taken place about what any sense of dissatisfaction might entail. Works just become far more transactional in that regard I think.

[00:08:14.140] – Jane O’Gorman

That’s really interesting, and there’s so many positives in that I guess in terms of thinking about purpose and having, you know, that sense of thinking about the employee base and it not being a one way conversation, because when you think about conversation, you assume it’s something that happens between two parties. But having that balance now that says actually this isn’t one way traffic, that is a people balance as well as a work life balance in the sense of what communication means.

[00:08:49.770] – Jane O’Gorman

That must be good. But I guess business leaders need to be aware of that to stay ahead and to mitigate risk, as you say, of possibly losing good talent for other business leaders who are already ahead of the game.

[00:09:05.250] – Cat Barnard

Yeah, I think 100 percent and I think a couple of key points that I would make on this score is, I think work is no longer about salary and benefits singularly.

[00:09:21.210] – Cat Barnard

People today want more out of their workplace than they perhaps wanted previously or felt able to express previously. And so I think meaning and purpose and sense of fulfilment and alignment with personal values, those are far more center stage than ever before. And I think also a key point to note is that, as human beings, as a species we’re social creatures and the most foundational requirement that we feel as social creatures is, to feel seen and heard and to feel listened to.

[00:10:14.790] – Cat Barnard

So for me, I think all good team dynamics, which bluntly feeds into organizational future proofing. All good team dynamics, start with participative, mutually inclusive conversation. Which on the one hand, seems really simple, logical, straightforward, etc., and yet we live in this always on, digital world where we’re continuously broadcasting sound byte messages to one another. And that’s one way traffic, because we’re not listening as much as we should be listening.

[00:10:58.480] – Jane O’Gorman

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And as you say the access point, because we are surrounded now and we have that capability of touching in at any point and any time, and particularly I think you mentioned Cat, you know, thinking about the younger demographic and how they are and their technical ability. How they operate is so different perhaps, from how we might have been, when we started out in our career. And I guess it’s about understanding the needs and preferences of the different demographics and how people work in order to be successful and get the best out of teams.

[00:11:37.800] – Cat Barnard

Yeah, yeah, absolutely, I mean I’m sure you hear regularly, business leaders will say things like, I hate generalizing but, you know, you hear quite regularly people say. Oh, these young kids, they don’t know how to work. They’re coming into the workplace. They’re not prepared for work, blah, blah, blah. Actually, I feel very, very strongly that it is our moral imperative as the older generation to take a young person as a blank canvas and role model what we believe good to look like.

[00:12:15.120] – Cat Barnard

And, you know, these kids are hyperconnected. They are very digitally savvy. But, the flipside of growing up digital is that you don’t, perhaps you haven’t experienced the benefits and the value of whole hearted two way in-person conversation. And you perhaps don’t know, what benefits and what feel good factors that brings to a relationship? And so, I kind of feel it’s not enough to say, oh, these kids aren’t coming to us, with the right skills and aptitudes.

[00:13:00.370] – Cat Barnard

It’s our job as the grown ups in the room. It’s our job to set our stores out and demonstrate through our behaviour what good looks like. And actually, the really ironic and sad thing about that is we’re hearing all the time about young people experiencing mental health challenges. And I wholeheartedly believe that, much of that could be solved if we engaged in better mutually exclusive conversation.

[00:13:40.110] – Jane O’Gorman

Yeah. Its that two way process again, isn’t it? And as you say, listening. Leading by example, you know, is not a given. Very good advice. If you could offer one other piece of advice to business leaders as they plan and prepare, for working the future or indeed the now of work as we see it, what would it be Cat?

[00:14:05.170] – Cat Barnard

I think that it’s no longer possible for one brain to keep track of everything that’s playing out in real time, that influences business today and keep delivering business. So I think that, business owners and business leaders need to form better collaborations which integrate a wider set of perspectives for better strategic decision making, which is kind of why we set up working the future. We believe that by delivering bite size insights to business leaders, we can provide a wider suite of trend intelligence to enable better strategic decision making.

[00:15:13.180] – Cat Barnard

I think trying to do it all on your own. Is kind of obsolete. There’s too much going on out in the marketplace now for one brain to keep track of everything that’s going on. And so we need to start thinking very differently about how we access and process information that. Can change the fabric of our business and how we leverage our relationships to enable collective intelligence for organisational future proofing.

[00:15:53.440] – Jane O’Gorman

That’s a great piece of advice, Cat and I’m all for collaboration and collective gathering of information, so I think that’s some very useful input. Thanks so much for joining us today Cat, and for this valuable chat. It’s been a pleasure chatting to you.

[00:16:12.550] – Cat Barnard

Thank you so much for inviting me, Jane. I look forward to doing it again at some stage.

[00:16:16.390] – Jane O’Gorman

I hope so. And to our listeners, I hope you enjoyed our talking SME. Look out for future episodes coming soon.

12 min read