SINGAPORE — New global research by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services commissioned by SAP has found that more than nine in 10 (92%) of businesses in Asia Pacific (APAC) say that an adaptive culture and continuous employee upskilling is very important, though only 30% say their organisation is very prepared for unexpected changes or disruptions.
This is particularly important as APAC businesses increase their investment in people (62%), business processes like innovation or services (69%), and operations (43%) over the next year.
“Rarely in the course of history have so many disruptions affected so many businesses at the same time,” said Cathy Ward, Chief Operating Officer, SAP Asia Pacific and Japan. “Unforeseen challenges and new priorities, from supply chain resilience to sustainability, are putting pressure on companies to adapt. What this report shows is that, while agility and resilience are critical to prepare for the future, there’s still no single way to anticipate the changes the future will bring.”
These insights have been revealed in a new report released today, which explores the impact of planning and anticipation of the future on business success. The report, ‘Anticipating the Future for Growth and Innovation’, surveyed 442 global organisations across Asia Pacific, North America, and Europe.
Strategic Planning Focused on Short-Term Horizons
Globally, businesses are strongly focused on strategic planning, many are working to relatively short-term horizons. Almost three quarters (73%) of organisations say they plan for between one and five years into the future. Just one in five (20%) of respondents say their planning horizon is more than five years out.
The research also found that organisations share a few common priorities when planning. The top four priorities respondents selected were revenue growth and improving profit margins (55%), finding new customers, markets, and growth areas (51%), product and service innovation (47%), and retaining and attracting talent (46%). While APAC and other respondents across the globe are mostly aligned on priorities, one difference is in building a more resilient business ecosystem which was selected by more APAC respondents (42%) than respondents from the rest of the world (29%).
Agility and Talent Are Key Obstacles to Anticipating the Future
Despite the priority on anticipating the future, there remain critical challenges many businesses face when planning. Slow decision-making was identified as the biggest challenge by APAC respondents (38%) when anticipating the future, while attracting the right talent (36%) and retaining staff (36%) were both raised as key issues.
Another problem identified by many APAC companies was a hierarchical disconnect when it came to planning. A third (32%) of businesses said that lower-level employees not being involved in planning was a core problem. That may be because the more senior a role, the more they’re encouraged, and rewarded, to have a proactive mindset and think about the future.
“Executives in APAC are much more encouraged (80%) and rewarded (55%) to have a proactive mindset about the future than most other roles,” continued Ward. “But while leaders are integral to building a future-ready business, they cannot do it alone. That’s why one of the most important steps a leader can take as they move towards becoming what we call the Chief Anticipation Officer is creating a culture of collaborative planning and forward-thinking mindset across the organisation.”
Investment in Organisational Culture Is Essential to Plan for Multiple Different Futures
The culture a business nurtures and maintains has a disproportionately large role on success in planning for the future. Globally, more than half (57%) of respondents said that creating a culture that embraces change is an important organisational factor in anticipating the future – the most-selected response.
But building that culture requires a focus on talent acquisition, engagement, and upskilling. Organisations are placing high importance on the ability to attract new talent with needed skills (globally at 59%), aligning employee skill sets with the right roles and responsibilities (59%), and the ability to upskill current employees (56%).
The survey also found that technology and digital infrastructure are on the minds of many executives, though they may not be organisations’ top focuses. Strong digital infrastructure and cybersecurity skills (42%) was noted as the fourth most-cited answer when asked which skills and competencies most help organisations plan for the future. Additionally, lacking the technology an organisation needs for the future is also an important challenge to anticipate the future for APAC respondents (32%).
“This moment in time is an incredible opportunity for businesses to look to the future,” concluded Ward. “Continuous change demands flexible, forward-thinking action in three critical areas: how people will work, how we will do business, and how we will operate our organisations. By focusing on these areas, we can break away from traditional methods, better anticipate what’s coming next, and begin to drive new, successful outcomes in the future.”
The full Anticipating the Future for Growth and Innovation report by SAP and Harvard Business review is available here.