Ambitious leaders in 2022


28th February, 2022

Business leaders: Take your ambitions to a new level in 2022

The stage is set for 2022 to be a watershed year for business leaders who can demonstrate true vision, ambition and the ability to think on their feet, writes MYOB’s Head of Product, Valantis Vais.

One of the first jobs I ever had I was fortunate to work alongside my father, working on the warehouse floor of a wholesale operation. Every morning, we’d arrive at the warehouse and – on a good day – we’d receive orders directly into our systems before then processing them for shipping to customers in the afternoon.

On a bad day, we’d arrive in the morning to find out the ordering system had failed, and we’d have to wait – sometimes hours – for that situation to turn around, costing the business thousands of dollars in wasted time every time it happened. The gentleman who ran the business was a career entrepreneur who had been highly successful up to this point, but he just wasn’t overly ambitious when it came to deciding where to go next.

Sound familiar?

I think about this little snippet from my own career as a classic tale for the way leadership, technology and change management all intersect in the modern business environment. Without ambition, leadership is more likely to fall back on known quantities, essentially trading progress for certainty and, ultimately, long-term success for short-term stability.

Of course, even the best of tech systems can break (or be broken, either intentionally or by mistake). But, when business leaders eschew the potential for gains in productivity and efficiency for systems and processes that are old and familiar, their business eventually suffers.

Thinking back to my days on that warehouse floor, the main thing that continues to stand out to me is the sheer amount of influence that one order management system had on the business I started at and the fact that it is repeated at many other businesses impacting the lives of hundreds of employees (and, sometimes, thousands of their customers). It’s this terrifying thought that drove me to sign up to this job at MYOB, and it continues to motivate me in my role today.

My entire career has centred around helping organisations through a period of meaningful change – and this is just as true of MYOB. In fact, it’s even more true of MYOB, where we’re committed to becoming a true business platform that, essentially, acts as the fabric on which other businesses operate.

Our own business transformation mirrors the transformation required at all levels of business. As our economy moves into full-blown recovery mode post-COVID, now is the time that true, visionary ambitious leadership will be an increasingly important for economy wide success.

Looking ahead: 2022 market conditions

Recent MYOB research indicates that many mid-market organisations (those employing 20-500 full time or equivalent roles) bounced back strongly from the severe disruption that 2020 brought with it, particularly in those sectors most prepared for working from home. Many decision makers in these businesses have even told us they’re ‘hopeful’, ‘excited’ and ‘confident’ for the year ahead, perhaps reflecting the general sense of positivity that comes with broadscale vaccinations, borders reopening, and the prospect of fewer restrictions to trade.

There’s little doubt in my mind that mid-market companies that have been well-positioned to weather the pandemic will be looking forward to pushing ahead in 2022. Many of their less-fortunate compatriots may also be champing at the bit to get back to ‘business as usual’, but not everybody can count on an easy ride, as there are no guarantees of avoiding more disruption on the horizon.

The simple fact is, times are tough out there for many individuals, families, and businesses.

It’s sometimes easy to forget, perhaps especially at a time when so many of us have been spending more time apart while working from home, that not everybody is faced with the same level or severity of day-to-day challenges.

Not only are the physical impacts of COVID continuing to cause real trauma in our communities, some of the more long-range knock-on effects of the pandemic are only now coming into focus.

For instance, highly anonymised data from our Australian small-to-medium sizes customers indicates that personal leave rates jumped to 57 percent above the long-term average in January, as the Omicron wave took its toll on the workforce. And, with many business supports or Government-mandated relief efforts coming to an end, impacts to small businesses will soon become a problem for bigger businesses, too.

In New Zealand things are a little different as the country is only just beginning to feel the full impact of this latest variant of concern. But if we look beyond the immediate impacts of the pandemic, there are also economic factors coming into play in 2022 that mid-market leaders will be assessing very carefully.

In particular, the worm seems to have turned for inflation growth that, for some time now, hasn’t really been a concern. With its return, many leaders will be looking to adjust their prices upwards if they can, or getting more strategic around controlling costs as a means of building in a bit of a buffer should inflation continue upward.

Furthermore there is increasing complexity around managing staffing levels and supply chains– both of which have become a hallmark of the pandemic recovery environment as businesses are forced to compete over fewer resources. While we expect these pressures to ease with the return of international travel and, in particular, the arrival of overseas students, there is also likely to be a significant lag even if we assume a straightforward return to normal conditions.

Where there are challenges, there are opportunities

All in all, what we’re looking at in 2022 is a completely different field of play than the one that presented itself in 2020 or 2021. In some ways, the uncertainty and the degree of difficulty is just as high, if not higher. But we have something a lot more tangible to look forward to now that populations have been broadly vaccinated: freedom to move.

With the return of travel for business purposes, tourism and even just the ability to get out for a Sunday drive (most likely) becoming a part of normal life for most of us in 2022, there are opportunities to do business and to promote certain types of business that simply haven’t been available to many for some time. It’s what we as a business community have been working towards for two years.

And that means now is the time for true leadership to begin shining through.

Now we’ve finally arrived at a point of upward inflection, the business leaders who are most able to hold, communicate and enact a vision for business success are best placed to achieve.

3 core traits for ambitious leaders to focus on

In my personal experience, whether back on the warehouse floor or leading my team for MYOB, there are three key traits I’ve noticed as being essential for the type of leadership that will set mid-market businesses up for success this year:

  1. Hunger – While smaller businesses can afford to be ‘lifestyle’ businesses and led to be sustainable over competitive, mid-market organisations can’t afford to stagnate. Growth is the game and ambitious leaders will be striving to achieve it at every turn in 2022.
  2. Bravery – Whether it’s new tech, new hires or even taking on a new project, the leaders who will thrive this year are those who aren’t backward in coming forwards. Shoot your shot, I say.
  3. Unwillingness to compromise – It’s all very well to be experimental and reach for more, but if you can’t hold the ground you’ve gained in the process, it defeats the purpose. Particularly as it relates to systems and processes, great leaders are never willing to compromise on the efficiency gains they’ve fought so hard for along the way.

Of course, there are many, many more traits of successful leaders, but these are the three I believe will put mid-market business decision makers in good stead given the unique situation they’re presented with in 2022.

Which ones do you exemplify, and which do you need to work on?

Perhaps 2022 is finally the year you move away from Excel timesheets in favour of online rostering, or take on remote staff to start servicing customers across multiple time zones? Maybe this year you’ll find better ways to integrate data across various sales channels, so you finally know exactly what stock you have on hand at any given time?

Whatever your personal goals in business look like this year, chances are you’ll need to revisit your tech strategy as a way to enable them.

Throughout my career, I’ve learnt that the best way forward is to start by defining a clear objective and investing in the right tools for the job, because that’s what will allow you to unleash your growth potential and outcompete others in the same space.

But, perhaps most importantly, seeking out and being uncompromising about the solutions you acquire for your business will enable your people to further their success.

After all, you wouldn’t want them left standing around on the warehouse floor as a result of a lack of leadership in decision-making.

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