By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. August 3, 2016
What enables commercial organizations to survive and thrive for the long term? That subject is a key part of the business school curriculum, but it is particularly important in the tech industry where company lifespans and market trends often resemble the odd mayfly.
If you had to choose a single characteristic common among businesses that achieve long term success, adaptability would be high on the list. That’s largely because it indicates an essential, imaginative flexibility that can aid companies in numerous circumstances. It’s also evident in the reverse—rigid, unadaptable companies are often referred to as “dinosaurs,” as they falter or fail, even if mass extinction has nothing to do with their demise.
So what is business adaptability, anyway? Certainly it’s important to successfully contend with broad changes in economic or market conditions, along with shifts in customer needs, consumer sentiment and much more. But there are also specific habits or goals that can help companies become more adaptable. Dell and Intel recently announced results from separate surveys that provide important insights into these issues.
Dell’s Legacy for Good update
The first of these was an update of Dell’s 2020 Legacy for Good, a strategic program launched around the time Michael Dell announced plans to take the company private. Legacy for Good is a five-year plan for supporting sustainability programs benefitting the environment, global communities and company team members. But the elements of the plan take many forms. For example, during the most recent fiscal year (February 1, 2015 to January 31, 2016) Dell:
- Improved its global environmental impact by sustainably sourcing 93% (by weight) of its packaging, leveraged sustainable energy sources for 41% of its needs, incorporated 14.1M pounds of recycled plastics in its products (over 20% more than the previous year, and 72% of the way to its 2020 goal) and met Energy Star standards for approximately 90% of its products.
- Supported outreach programs, including adding six new solar-powered Learning Labs in remote communities (bringing the total to eleven), expanded its Youth Learning programs for underserved children (with over 1.6M participants since 2013) and provided funding and technology to the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen). Dell employees worldwide also donated 811,000 hours of volunteer service to over 26,000 local organizations.
- Spent more than $3B (for the fourth year in a row) with diverse suppliers, for a second year promoted the Men Advocating Real Change (MERC) initiative for creating more inclusive workplaces, and expanded its Connected Workplace telecommuting program to 73 sites in 29 countries, with 25% of eligible team members enrolled worldwide.
Trisa Thompson, Dell’s Chief Responsibility Officer, noted that, “The central idea of Legacy for Good is that technology should support positive growth and change for the better.” But at the same time, the programs have also provided the company and employees significant financial savings.
For example, using sustainably sourced packing materials and improving packaging design saved Dell $13M in FY 2016, and $65.9M since 2009. Flexible work programs have saved the company $39.5M since 2014, and allowed it to avoid approximately 25M kWh of energy use and 13,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (like CO2e). Telecommuting also helps Dell employees avoid 5,000 metric tons of CO2e and $12M in expenses annually.
In other words, Dell’s Legacy of Good delivers a plethora of continuing, practical, tangible benefits.
Dell and Intel’s Future Workforce Study
Successfully adaptive organizations also prepare for future challenges and emerging trends. To that point, a new survey sponsored by Dell and Intel underscored how evolving workforce preferences and expectations are likely to impact businesses of every sort.
The 2016 Future Workforce Study (conducted by research firm PSB) polled nearly 4,000 full-time employees from small, medium and large businesses in ten countries. But it also highlighted the often divergent opinions of older (over 35 years old) employees and younger “millennial” workers.
For example, 44% of respondents feel their workspaces aren’t “smart” enough and over half expect to be working in a smart office within the next five years. But smart office expectations were highest (69%) among younger survey participants. Similarly, while over half of all respondents preferred high tech job perks, like access to virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) and Internet of Things (IoT) tools to low tech (free snacks, ping pong tables, etc.) benefits, a larger percentage of millennials (63%) than older workers (55%) stated that preference.
Differences in attitude were also apparent in some traditional business practices, such as the importance of interpersonal communication. A solid majority (57%) of survey participants prefer having face-to-face discussions with colleagues. However, half of the respondents and two thirds of millennials believe that improving communications technologies and team members in remote locales will make face-to-face communications obsolete in the near future.
That point was reinforced in regions, including China, India and South Africa where a majority of respondents said they prefer using collaborative technology tools to face-to-face meetings. Again, millennials are in the forefront of this development with nearly four fifths (79%) believing workplaces are more collaborative than they used to be and slightly fewer (70%+) feeling that advanced technologies and smart offices are crucial to collaborative, efficient and productive workplaces.
So do Dell’s Legacy for Good or the Dell/Intel Future Workforce Study cast any light on business organization longevity and adaptability? Yes, indeed. In the former case, Dell’s five-year plan undercuts conventional wisdom that efforts for the common good are “cost centers” that do little in the way to aid the organizations supporting them.
Instead, Dell has captured a wide range of measurable benefits from its programs, as well as enjoying less tangible results, such as improved employee morale and a strengthened brand, and continuing partner-led innovations, like the Dell Reconnect technology recycling program operated by Goodwill. Collectively, these current and continuing efforts should add considerable weight to the company’s long term prospects.
The implications of the Dell/Intel Future Workforce Study have more to do with long range planning than immediate effects. Most every business faces challenges in attracting and retaining talented workers. That’s especially true during generational shifts, such as replacing the growing numbers of retiring Baby Boomers.
Powerful communication and collaboration technologies should help ease that transition, especially for organizations that operate globally. But the Future Workforce Study suggests that companies are likely to be dealing with sizable numbers of technologically sophisticated and demanding millennial employees who won’t be satisfied with past generation solutions or traditional workplace processes.
Whether those organizations will benefit from these new trends remains to be seen. There’s generally a fine line between companies respected for their long term vision and ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and those that are remembered primarily for missing their chances to survive. These studies from Dell and Intel offer insights for enabling businesses to reside among the former group.
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