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updated: 8/22/2018 8:59 AM

Self-disrupt your business to be relevant in knowledge age

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  • BRIAN J. BLAHA

    BRIAN J. BLAHA

 

When today's business leaders were kids, there were a lot of integral businesses around that have become irrelevant or have even disappeared. Technology and the internet played a major role in disrupting them. Expedia disrupted travel agencies, ride-sharing services disrupted taxi cabs and we've long said goodbye to Blockbuster, making way for Netflix and Amazon Prime.

It's dangerous for leaders to think disruption won't hit their business or industry. The business environment is more complex than it ever has been, and to remain relevant, your business needs to be a disrupter. We're no longer in the industrial age -- we're in the knowledge age.

This has never been clearer than in looking at one of the core challenges businesses face today: a lack of skilled labor. It's not the lack of manpower to do things; it's the lack of people knowledgeable enough to operate technology-enabled systems. It's not brute-force power -- that's robotics and automation -- but rather interpreting data.

For businesses, to grow in this knowledge age means to change and self-disrupt. And that puts business leadership at a huge premium. Leaders must allow challenges to lead to opportunities, and they must be the ones pushing the change. Most employees in a company are not only heads down and focused on their work but also naturally resistant to change. If your business is going to grow, change must come from the top, and it must be strategically implemented with thorough change management.

So, as a business leader, what can you do to self-disrupt? The first step is to look at emerging technology and understand what that technology may do for your business, when it's going to hit and when you should make investments in it. Bill Gates wrote in his book, The Road Ahead, "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction."

After evaluating technology that may become relevant, you can then create a baseline assessment that determines where your business is at today, reviews your strategic plan and evaluates your organization's knowledge base as well as its risks and opportunities. Afterward, it's about planning -- doing outside research, creating road maps and action plans, and educating employees so they have the capabilities to implement change and the buy-in to get started.

As an example, at Wipfli, we've looked at the changes in the accounting and consulting industries and determined we need to self-disrupt to stay relevant. Businesses no longer come to us for just tax return preparation, accounting advice, and standard audits, reviews and compilations. We recognize that delivering real-time analysis and developing disruptive technology is essential to our long-term success.

Wipfli is now moving toward holistic, integrated advisory solutions delivered from a consultative mindset. We aim to know our clients' businesses better than they even know them, so that we can determine both their present and future needs, and help them stay on top of their own industries. Self-disruption is how we intend to stay relevant, and that's how we'll help our clients stay relevant, too.

Business leaders, take action now or risk falling behind.

• Brian J. Blaha is Growth Partner at Wipfli LLP.