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The five business trends that will dominate in 2019

04 January 2019


Here’s my selection of the top five trends that will define business success during 2019.

Trend #1: Trust is the biggest battlefield for businesses

It’s almost impossible to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper without reading or hearing about another breach of trust. Sports teams, charities, businesses, politicians are all equally guilty, routinely putting their own interests ahead of the people they serve.

Thankfully, I think things are changing. In the business world, power is shifting from the company to the customer. Technology – social media in particular – means that the walls that companies used to be able to build around themselves are being ripped down.

Customers are now able to see straight through an organisation. And these organisations are being judged as much by their behaviours as they are by their products or services. Trust will be everything.

Trend #2: Companies have a responsibility beyond paying wages

For the last 50 years, most companies thought that employing people and paying their wages was enough evidence to demonstrate that they ‘cared’. I don’t think that’s true anymore. Modern companies are waking up to the broader responsibilities they have – both to their employees and to the world around them.

In particular, I think companies have a responsibility for the wellness of their employees. Thanks to technology, work has become an ‘always on’ activity, and this understandably causes problems (particularly around mental health).

Companies have a duty to remove any associated stigma and to provide the environment and the tools to help people address any issues. Businesses that focus on addressing mental health issues, like Sanctus and Big Health look set to explode over the next few years.    

Trend #3: Platforms will win

When people ask me about the mistakes we’ve made at Octopus over the last 18 years, my immediate response is always technology. For the first 14 years of the company’s life, we saw technology as a (largely outsourced) support service to the broader business.

That was a mistake. I now see that when it’s used properly, technology is the ultimate competitive weapon.

Take Octopus Energy, the energy supply business that we launched in 2015. It’s grown to more than 450,000 customers in about 30 months, adding more than 1,000 new customers every single day. As well as scoring very highly for customer satisfaction (it’s the only energy supply business in the UK recommended by Which?), it’s also one of the most efficient (measured by the number of customers per employee).

All of this has been possible because of its proprietary technology. It has built a platform which is more scalable, more adaptable and more efficient than anyone else in the industry.

Which means our costs are lower which, in turn, means we can offer lower prices to our customers. It’s exactly the same in the retail (Amazon or Ocado) and travel (Uber or Airbnb) industries.

Platform businesses will win, and the best ones will win globally.

Trend #4: Ability to cope with change will be everything

The world is changing more quickly today than ever before. The best businesses will not simply cope with this level of change, they’ll thrive on it. And their ability to do so will be down to the kind of people they hire.

In my experience, the people least able to cope with change come from quite traditional backgrounds. Take the financial services industry as an example.

It’s enormously competitive to get a job in financial services but most of the successful candidates are frighteningly similar. All of them will have excelled academically – at school and university. In fact, it’s unlikely they’ll have failed at anything in their lives.

But this is what makes it so difficult for them to cope with change, or so unwilling to take the risks you need to be successful in a world changing this quickly (it’s typically fear of embarrassment that drives this thinking).

But there’s a whole world of candidates out there who don’t think like this. These are the people who perhaps didn’t go to university, or who struggled to excel in an academic environment that favours repetition over imagination.

These jobseekers should feel optimistic: their time is coming.  

Trend #5: In the end, it’s how you make your customers feel

Whatever happens in the world around us, there will be one constant. Great businesses will always be about how they make their customers feel.

As such, it will come down to the actions of every single one of your employees every single day. Which, in turn, is why you should only hire people who share your values, who are radiators and not drains, and why you should ensure that they own shares in the business they work for.

People who feel they own a part of the business they work for will behave better than people who just turn up to a job every day.