Business at every level is being buffeted by change. Technological, social, demographic and cultural revolutions are shifting the ground underfoot and forcing companies to adapt.
Business disruptors have been described as those companies and individuals that are out in front of these changes, blazing a trail with innovations, and in many cases helping other companies adapt to new realities.
Sometimes, being a disruptor involves reinventing the business model of an entire sector. That’s exactly what Vigilant Management has done in Newfoundland and Labrador’s construction industry.
“We call it owners’ project management,” explains Vigilant Management CEO Terry Hussey. This involves overseeing every aspect of a project, including early-stage planning, budgeting, feasibility analysis, applying for financing, developing tender packages, procuring architects and engineers and overseeing their work, as well as managing the construction. “We make sure the owners get the project they want — on budget and on schedule.”
This upends the traditional model in the construction sector, in which owners often find themselves in an adversarial relationship with the design consultant and contractor. Whether it’s a company that needs more space for its expanding workforce or a government department building a piece of infrastructure, owners do not typically have great expertise in the highly technical world of construction management.
“This industry can be very predatory on an owner who doesn’t know what he is walking into,” Hussey says. “It’s not that every player in the construction industry is looking to exploit their clients — that’s not the case. But there are a lot of situations where owners can get in over their heads.”
Vigilant Management was launched eight years ago and employs 17 people. The company is nearing completion on the first design-build public infrastructure project in Newfoundland and Labrador: a $3.5 million water, sewer and street repaving project in Mount Pearl.
Leadership is critical to any business success and these structural and technological changes are altering the way leaders lead, says Tamara Vatcher, a Partner at Training Works in St. John’s. Among its projects, Training Works is working with the national marine transportation sector to identify, map and create training pathways for professional development in the industry.
“It used to be that a leader was a leader,” Vatcher says. “That is not necessarily true anymore. Leadership today is very different from what it was 20 or 30 years ago.”
Leadership, at its core, is still about communicating a vision and having people buy into that vision to work toward a common goal. But leading a diverse group of people, for example, requires a different approach from leading a homogeneous group, where everybody has a similar belief system. Today’s leaders must be able to communicate their visions to people who were not necessarily born and raised in Atlantic Canada. “The stories that leaders tell now have to resonate with a diverse group of people and that makes creating the story, and the vision, much more complicated.”
And it’s not just geographical, linguistic or cultural diversity, Vatcher points out. There is also neurodiversity, that is, people who perceive the world and solve problems in unconventional ways. “People are realizing that there is power in different types of thought,” she says. “So, you have to be able to bring these people onboard.”
Constant technological change means that lifelong learning is becoming more critical than ever. Long gone are the days when education ended the day you received your degree or diploma and entered the workforce. “I think one of the things you will see in the future is a closer collaboration between formal education and the workplace,” Vatcher says. “You will see the workplace brought into education a lot earlier. It’s probably going to start at the K-12 level and continue through post-secondary.”
While technological change is affecting every sector of the economy, Canadian companies vary widely on their adoption of technology. A study by BDC showed only 20 per cent of Canadian companies have a high level of “digital maturity.” Another 20 per cent have made some advances, but have either failed to develop a coherent digital strategy or have not made major investments, while the remaining 60 per cent of companies remain stagnant.
BDC, Canada’s federal development bank, serves 68,000 client companies with both financing and advisory services. Clients come from every sector of the economy and range in size from single-person startups to companies with annual revenues in excess of $1 billion. “Companies that are not investing in technology are losing ground,” says Pierre Cléroux, Vice-President, Research and Chief Economist at BDC.
Digital maturity, as defined by a framework developed at MIT, is measured both by a company’s culture as well as its investment in technology.
“The cultural side is the strategy: How are you going to bring value to your customers by using technology?” Cléroux says. “The retail sector is just one example of how companies that are selling and providing services and information online are the ones that are succeeding.”
BDC has put together a free digital maturity assessment tool, where companies can gauge their level of technological maturity. It’s available online at www.bdc.ca/digitalassessment. “They can compare themselves with other companies in similar sectors,” Cléroux adds. BDC can help client companies finance their investments in technology and also assist in the development of their digital strategies.
Creating a culture of innovation can help attract talented people to an organization, says Tim Fahey, Managing Partner for Newfoundland and Labrador with Deloitte. “People want to work with innovative companies,” Fahey says. “They want to work with leaders who are open to change and new ideas.”
Attracting and retaining the best people involves not just tangible issues like salary, benefits and vacation, Fahey adds, but also a broader sense of purpose. “What is the reason for your company’s existence and what are you trying to accomplish?” Fahey says. “You need to be able to articulate that.”
Deloitte is now expanding beyond its core offerings of tax, audit and advisory services. “We’ve customized services that we feel are important to entrepreneurs,” Fahey says. The scope of services includes mergers and acquisitions, risk management, systems analysis, data protection and cyber security. “We have consultants who can help clients of every size with any type of business challenge.”