Business practices are always changing and updating themselves as different socio-economic, political, and technological climates wax and wane with the changing world, but there are some traditions we were sure would be around forever. A stable corporate hierarchy, a regular workweek, using celebrities to help us market products. (This seemed like convention that would be around forever; tried and true and time-tested.) However, the way things are going, it seems even the celebrity will be joining the pencil-skirted secretaries and prized corner offices of yore. It used to be that a person picked a profession, joined a company, worked 45 years in that same company, collected the gold watch, and then retired, played golf, and vacationed with the wife (it usually was the man who did this, remember) until they died. To make sure your business isn’t a cliché, or stuck in the past, consider these five business practices that have become obsolete– seemingly overnight.
Separated work-life balance vs. Corporate culture
While a work-life balance is eminently important for most people’s general well-being, the days of the “9-to-5 grind” for much of the workforce has gradually become an antiquated idea. Some people work from 10 – 6, some people come and go from the office whenever they want as long as they get their work done; 34% of the American workforce work on a freelance basis and hardly have to go to the office at all. More and more, companies are realizing that a happier office is a more productive one, and they’re layering on the benefits to keep their employees smiling. Perks include a flexible vacation plan, healthy snacks in the office, gym memberships, opportunities for travel, happy hour, decent medical and dental insurance, and, in the case of Google, regular massages. Offices themselves are becoming more open, prioritizing team camaraderie over a chain-of-command. However, the more work-life blends with life-life, it’s important to remember to maintain a balance. Employees should be reminded to take vacations (even when the vacation policy is so open nobody talks about it), to leave the office at a reasonable hour (even when there’s no longer a set time, or even a clock, to punch out), and to spend some time unwinding at home, even when home is the office.
Corporate rank and file
Not too long ago, a job title defined the task of employees, and it was the sort of anchor on which one could determine the placement of their office or cubicle, the size of the number on their paycheck, and, at least in a professional capacity, their self-worth. While the CEO is still the CEO, and certain titles can still be self-explanatory in nature (like: “web developer”), some jobs no longer have the clear boundaries they once did. Some jobs have also expanded to encompass different areas (like: “Social Media Manager”). Some jobs just kind of seem made up, like In-House Philosopher, Chief Happiness Officer, and Entrepreneur-In-Residence. As a result of the lax titling practices at tech companies, as well as the broadening of corporate culture, companies put much less stock into chain of command and more into doing the work. That means that new hires can propose game-changing ideas, employees can move laterally into different roles if they’re passionate about the work, and upper management no longer needs to be seen as the inaccessible, insatiable suits.
Celebrity endorsements vs Influencers
Celebrity endorsements have traditionally been seen as a reliable moneymaker. In the ‘30s and ‘40s, tobacco companies paid out millions to movie studios in “crossover deals” to have celebs like Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and John Wayne endorse major cigarette brands -really even up to a young Tom Selleck. Even now, certain campaigns have been inextricable from the celebrities who endorse them: think Michael Jordan and Nike; L’Oreal and their gaggle of squeaky clean women; Pepsi, Britney Spears and the greatest commercials ever made. However, companies are recently wising up to the fact that celebrity endorsements are actually much less effective than they used to be. Unruly Media surveyed the ad shares from the 2014 Superbowl and found out that commercials starring Ellen Degeneres, the Muppets, Stephen Colbert and U2 were not close to touching the social shares inspired by Budweiser’s commercial about a puppy finding his way home. Beyond this, companies are finding more luck finding trusted industry influencers to spread the word about their products, at a much lower cost – and a bonus of higher learning, and more class in the industry overall.
Delivering safe reliability over curiosity
For better or for worse, our commodities now come with an expiration date. While products of yore promised life-time warranties and the kind of sturdiness that could be passed onto later generations, this age of manufacturing comes with unprecedented access to all kinds of items, and a culture of curiosity. That curiosity culture creates the perfect breeding ground of online shoppers, allowing software like Google Adwords to help businesses tailor-make advertising experience like never before. Fashion is fast, mobile phones are built to be obsolete in a matter of years, and the ease of online shopping grants us immediate gratification in finding the coolest, latest, and most innovative items around the world. Even Le Creuset, which specializes in generations-old cast iron casserole dishes, expanded their product line in the last 20 years to include stainless steel, stoneware, and silicon pots, pans, and woks. While this wealth of options is not without its own shortcomings – competition boosts creativity and curiosity: with so many manufacturers around the world scrambling to make the best products, and tech companies trying to out-disrupt each other, there’s some real opportunity to deliver goods and services that not only work, but progress technology, and this makes us all–just a little bit better all the time.
Selling luxury vs. selling access and quality
Some of the most successful companies in the world have been to the ones to sell a communal experience over a specific lifestyle. Apple made their mark by selling friendly and intuitive personal computers for home use (not high-powered business use); Facebook found a real way to capitalize on user-generated openness. Beyond that, new companies are sprouting up all over the world to deliver access to thousands of industries to the 2/3rds of Americans with smartphones (and everyone else who has access to the Internet). From personal travel concierges to customized health diet and fitness programs, there’s an app for nearly everything we can think up. While a small fragment of the population will still buy into exclusivity and luxury, outward ostentation has gradually lost its attractiveness since the 2008 recession and the Occupy movement. Shoppers of all income levels are now looking for demonstrated quality of goods, smart purchasing decisions, and democratizing the former gatekeepers of luxury.
For better or worse, this is the world that we live and work in today – a more open society, with an unprecedented amount of access and options available to the general population. While our business industries have become more creative and more prevalent in our lives (with smartphone-as-marketing tools literally in our back pockets, no less!), it’s important to maintain and pursue the values we care about. Perhaps the best thing to come out of this era of business and technology is the option to do so.
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Image by Dennis Skley.