If you're in business today, it's critical to become a visionary. Leaders who fail to anticipate the trends that will transform business down the road put themselves at a distinct disadvantage--one that could eventually become fatal for the company. Yet with the rapid-fire pace of constant change taking place in relation to work, innovation, and leadership, how can you be sure that you're zeroing in on the trends that really matter to your company's future?

Begin by looking for the emergence of common denominators. What do the most successful companies have in common? What are they doing differently to command greater market share than their competitors? With these questions in mind, though I don't have a crystal ball, I can make some confident predictions about what organizations can do today to pave the way for 2020.

To start, a key way leaders can help their organizations plan for the changes in store is to learn how to embrace culture as a strategic competitive advantage. Companies that do so will be positioned to reap a number of distinct benefits. Here are three of the biggest ones:

Increased productivity

Over the next five years and beyond, more and more companies will become tech-centric--either relying on technology as an enabler or a driver of their core business. As Silicon Valley has shown us, a vibrant, deliberate culture is the common denominator among tech's most innovative companies, from Google and Facebook to Twitter, LinkedIn, and Airbnb. The top tech firms have achieved a level of success that few companies have managed yet to replicate.

That's because people work differently at the tech giants, in large part through their commitment to fostering a different type of work environment. Pluralsight recently toured a number of these firms, and we were blown away by the awesomeness of their cultures. On the surface, you see teams working in transparent, high-tech spaces while sharing meals in gourmet cafeterias, taking onsite yoga classes, and in some cases transporting between floors on giant office slides.

But behind the scenes, there's a method to the madness. These special work environments--which provide employees with a setting that can feel more like after-hours than an office--do not lead people to get less work done, as might be expected. Instead, by creating a culture where people not only want to come to work but even enjoy staying past 5pm, the top companies attract talented tech-savvy Millennials while boosting productivity. When employees can take care of personal business on the job--like using an onsite laundry service or visiting a staff doctor or dentist--it's easier for them to concentrate on crunching through that last-minute project, even if it means staying a little later.

Higher innovation flow

Workplace culture can also nurture creativity and fuel innovation. Companies that embrace culture as a strategic advantage ensure that more time will be spent on problem-solving than on negotiating cultural barriers. Creating an in-house setting like those described above helps ensure that employees will be empowered to innovate in a no-fear culture, with less political and bureaucratic overhead. Nothing quashes a company's creativity engine faster than a culture where fear leads to poor communication, office politics, and disengagement.

These insights aren't just speculation; they've been validated by research. The Bay Area Council Economic Institute found that the firms in Silicon Valley--with their especially employee-friendly cultural settings--are nearly four times more likely to align their innovation strategy with their overall business strategy, compared with non-Valley firms. Additional research from Booz & Allen found that the free-spirited cultures of Valley firms have more than double the likelihood of non-Valley firms to be tapped into the organization's innovation strategy.

Easier recruiting, better retention

An awesome work culture is a magnet that brings the best talent to you instead of your competitors. Companies that have a reputation for prioritizing workplace culture have a much easier time with recruitment, as people want to participate in such organizations. Not only does culture facilitate recruiting by minimizing the need to search for talent, but it also saves money that would otherwise be required to get the best people in the door through large-scale recruitment efforts. The right work environment additionally makes it much easier to keep the best people. When employees are inspired by the culture, the mission, and the people they work with, they won't want to go anywhere else.

Culture truly is a competitive advantage--in more ways than one. Creating a deliberate culture can play a major role in aligning employees with the company's larger goals, encouraging intrinsic motivation to work toward a shared vision of where you're all trying to go as an organization. This not only stokes a company's productivity engine, but also helps ensure a continuous pipeline of fresh ideas--and long-range talent--to keep your business competitive. I would personally invest in companies with strong cultures over those that don't, because as Patrick Lencioni points out in his book The Advantage, organizations that care about culture are much more likely to be more successful in the long run. It's not just the latest trend, but a true business advantage that will become even more crystal clear in 2020 and beyond.

Published on: Mar 17, 2015
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