Transforming a business is hard work. It requires a vision and a program. It means shifting and reallocating resources. It’s about asking hard questions and listening to the equally hard answers. Transformation is both strategic and tactical – and for many organizations, it is exhausting. The challenge of transformation, however, is not about arriving at your “transformation destination” – it’s about building resilience in your business so that change becomes part of your business DNA. Because the kicker here, is that change never ends.
But hasn’t this always been the way? Hasn’t change always been part of our business and professional lives?
When venture capitalist, Marc Andreesen suggested that “software is eating the world”, he brought a sharp focus to a movement that had been brewing for decades. Building on the learnings arising from the dotcom bubble, a new generation of internet companies are building “real, high-growth, high-margin, highly defensible businesses” – and the reason is that the technology finally works. And accordingly, software is revolutionizing not just the way that a company does business – software increasingly IS the business.
The fact is that almost every organization was designed to deal with a world that no longer exists.
… most organizations still rely on a way of working designed over 100 years ago for the challenges and opportunities of the industrial age. Team structures support routine and static jobs. Siloed, command and control systems enable senior leadership to drive efficiency and predictability at the expense of free information flow, rapid learning, and adaptability.
Software companies by their very nature, however, live in this new world. As Tom Goodwin explains:
Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.
Clearly, to remain successful – or more importantly, to remain relevant – we need a new way. The Responsive Organization has set forth a manifesto to challenge our sense of our own futures. It makes for a fascinating read – and focuses on emerging tensions between the “way things have always been done” and “future ways of working”. It breaks the challenges down into five key themes stretched across an “axis of predictability”.
More Predictable <-> Less Predictable
Profit <-> Purpose
Hierarchies <-> Networks
Controlling <-> Empowering
Planning <-> Experimentation
Privacy <-> Transparency
So what are we to do? Taking each of these themes, business leaders need to take a hard look at each of the following – and consider the power of software to supercharge innovation and opportunity:
- Empowerment: Who works closest with your customers? Are they empowered to delight your customers? Can they make decisions that will transform the customer relationship? Don’t change everything, but tweak responsibilities so that those at the edges nearest your customer can both be inspired and inspiring.
- Experiment: If we can’t predict the future because it remains uncertain, then the best chance we have is to experiment. Keep an eye on your long term strategy but consider where an approach like agile software development can play a role in changing your business. Run a crowdsourcing campaign. Hold a hackathon. Let your customers and the world know you mean business. Be willing to take risks in order to reap the rewards.
- Transparency: If we share our purpose, connect our networks, empower our stakeholders and experiment with opportunity, then it follows that transparency with stakeholders could yield benefits across the spectrum. Take a look at the way that Tesla Motors have open sourced their patents. This may be an extreme example, but there are many small steps a leader could make on this transparency journey. The challenge is to choose to take that first step.
Nina Nets It Out: The world is shifting under our feet. Leaders in the 21st century face a challenge – to respond or stand still. Those who stand still will find the world moving past them at a pace that will be impossible to catch up to. Those that move will need to address five parallel challenges. Luckily these challenges also represent the greatest opportunities of our time. The imperative is to act.