What Makes a 21st Century Business Great

The characteristics of a 21st century business can be described through trends, quantitative analysis and qualitative research, but if you were to assess your organization and your role, what values would you discover bring that label to life? I’ve found that I notice three patterns frequently: 1. Value variety in people (CQ and EQ anyone?) 2. Communicate carefully in an information-overload era  3. Professional development improves company quality.

1. Culturally intelligent Management skills in a Diverse and Globalized workforce:

Let’s first look at these quotes from Chaiy,S.(2012) Doing Business with Koreans, p. 17.

“When people from multiple countries work together, the lack of cultural awareness may cause a stressful work environment.”

“While we can certainly reduce the language barrier by becoming multilingual or by using interpreters, if we fail to understand others’ unique cultural characteristics, we are bound for misunderstanding and conflict.”

Now, let’s self-assess by asking ourselves:

Can our business glide through differences in background of people around us and channel those different values into leadership ideas that impact multiple types of populations?

It is important to AVOID isolation towards only one representative population. When you want to reach a global impact, you need to have a globalized team. When you have a team diverse in experience, in background, in interests, it’s important that they contribute insight from their knowledge banks so that you can reach a wider scope of customers. (Remember, age groups, both generational and sub cultural values groups exist too!) So often, we fall into the trap of mainstreaming and assume that others will jump into our culture.

The world today is too full of information, movements, causes and debates for us to assume that people will value our option if it is not geared towards them. We want to make sure that we are a valuable choice that fits well into their world. To make gains towards a diverse impact, globalizing your teammates and listening to their various contributions is as important as listening to your customers’ unique preferences.

To read more on strong culturally diverse management and leadership, I recommend David Livermore, ph. D.’s Driven by Difference: How Great companies fuel innovation through diversity (2016).

2. Communication Skills

Professor Seoil Chaiy of Korea University’s School of Business and author of Doing Business with Koreans (2012) writes:

“Effective communication is critical for multinational companies. It is important that people of different cultures and languages strive to communicate accurately and mobilize towards a common goal in a timely manner while quickly adapting to changes.” (p.19)

Let’s breakdown this quote in our business self-assessment: Does your business “strive to”..

  • “Communicate accurately”:

I know that I have often had to double check my facts or apologize for misinformation. Being detailed and organized are important skills in today’s business world. A part of that organized style includes keeping up to date with new facts and statistics. For example, my cultural training might have a fact that suits one week, but by the next week, the fact is made irrelevant by new events. Credible sources can be discredited by other credible sources in the age of keyword internet searches so it helps to double check what we said and why we said it.  Caring about the accuracy of our information before we communicate it is important for credibility and competitive edge.

  • “Mobilize towards a common goal”:

Part of being accurate means that our teammates and colleagues are aware of the same information. Not only that, but how we communicate and what outcomes we are hoping for should be cohesive.  This can provoke more strategy meetings and reviewed standards of procedures which maintain professionalism and service in a safe, consistent format. I find myself drawing on teammates if I’m unsure of how to address a situation. We then put together a professionally positive, sincere yet replicable statement. This is not the time to have eloquent prose or over wordy excuses that get you tangled into an email chain of aimless fluff. This is the time to know what you need to say to achieve a unified goal and use language that anyone from your company can stand by.

  • ”In a timely manner”:

21st century impatience has got to be at one of the highest levels of all time. With the convenience of insta-everything, waiting on people can feel like a major inconvenience. We can even see read receipts and notice when people remove us from chats. All eyes on your communication at all times is a lot of pressure. We often find ourselves apologizing for delayed responses, setting up auto replies so people don’t give up on us when we can’t be reached, and yet still we brace for the fury of missing the expectations of others.

More than ever, we need to keep our pace up as much as we keep up with accuracy. Rush and panic helps no one with accuracy, that’s for sure! However, timeliness still remains a virtue whenever possible. I believe the greatest tool to combat panic is focus. Focus squelches fear, drives out distraction, and pulls together a strong, steady pace.  I happen to have a really helpful supervisor who says “take it one at a time”,  “get this one task off of your plate”,  and “keep the process moving”.  Phrases like that help me to focus an overwhelming task into quicker, achievable goals. Our manager alerts us of who we can support if a teammate is under a time crunch.  It takes extra effort to build timeline policies and get priorities organized, but in the long run, it strengthens a business in a fast-paced world.

  • “While quickly adapting to changes”:

I’ve come to notice that everywhere I have worked, things change suddenly.  It wasn’t until working for several different companies did I realize that it is my ability to adjust that needed to improve, not the sudden changes.

Companies that have met high resistance from employees might be gun-shy of implementing change at first, but slow changes are no better than quick ones. There will always be people who aren’t ready to make a shift. Thankfully, nowadays, there is less stigma to change because risk-taking and failure are badges of honor to prove one’s experience and enhance credibility.

With that in mind, employees might find that one month, they are working on a new strategy, only to have the strategy change the next month. Does it mean that time is wasted? No, it means that you’re moving towards a clearer, stronger self. Having tried, having done, having failed, having seen for oneself, these are now the qualities that make stronger companies and stronger employees.

When a conflict rises up in scheduling, a new process replaces an outdated one, or the vision changes for strategic projects, it is important to take these changes in stride.

Being ready to explore other options is the key to innovative, original problem-solving, and makes one appreciate success rather than feel entitled to success.  Learning new systems, accepting new waves, and becoming a highly skilled, upgraded professional while on the job fuels a twenty first century business’s competitive edge.

I recommend Dr. Chaiy’s book Doing business with Koreans (2012) for a refreshingly positive perspective on businesses today. While he shares how to be successful with Korean business partners, I feel that he writes for all of us in global industries and we can benefit.

3. Reflection into action:

One browse through Linked In, Harvard Business ReviewTechCo,  and you will notice the trends of businesses self-assessing and reflecting. Companies are now investing lots of time and money to their own employees’ professional development and personal adjustment to new roles.

Progress is evaluated with external variables considered, team dynamics analyzed for compatibility on personal and professional scales, open door policies provide listening and support. Twenty-first century businesses value quality checks not just for the customers, but also for their employees. In-house training, sponsorships to conferences, reading recommendations, discussion forums, and writing opportunities; these provide business employees with places to explore and gain more on their resume than just a job description fulfillment.

With that sort of 21st century company investment in an employee, there is a launching pad created for the employee to take an active role in enriching and equipping others. The employee can take ownership to contribute milestone goals, grasp the numbers’ language, and enhance quality processes. Getting equipped demands positivity and cooperation, and has no room for fear or vain conceit. But if those last two try to overtake the first two, 21st century employers will research and try new forms of support until they find what brings out the best in their employees.


In summary:

Businesses are full of resourceful problem-solvers working together, motivated by a variety of factors that collide and collaborate towards a successful outcome. Focus, finding a steady pace (takes time and effort to get organized), checking in with progress (both personally and professionally!), and reaching out to employers and a diverse team for help. These qualities will drive a business to be effective and impactful in the 21st century.


For further reading on this topic please check out these two articles:

Pat Hong of lindex.com’s 10 exceptional examples of brand communities(2015).  https://www.linkdex.com/en-us/inked/10-exceptional-examples-of-brand-communities/

Derek Irvine’s Why are 85% of German employees disengaged at work?(2015)  https://www.eremedia.com/tlnt/why-are-85-of-german-employees-disengaged-at-work/


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