Agile for the C-Suite

agileIn a recent HBR article by Eric Garton and Andy Noble – both of Bain & Company – explain how senior leaders can adopt agile practices in an early first move to transitioning their organisation to becoming more agile. Something that takes time.

This helps set the stage for such a transition as it shows the leaders are walking their talk before asking others to do the same. Leaders will also learn some of the nuances along the way in regards to where these practices might work and where they likely won’t.

  1. Create a managed backlog of enterprise priorities:  See your leadership team as an agile Scrum that prioritizes the backlog based on importance, then tackles them in sequence until completed. Reprioritize your enterprise backlog when new initiatives are added.
  2. Create small, talent-rich teams working outside the hierarchy to address your most important priorities: These teams are given permission to use Agile methods and processes and to work outside of the often energy-draining and slower-moving traditional processes and decision hierarchies. Self-managed teams with limited hierarchy and bureaucracy are explicit features of such organizational models.
  3. Time-box your work and make extensive use of test-and-learn techniques: Working in smaller increments of focused time, typically one to four weeks, also accelerates decision velocity and the overall corporate metabolism. Using test-and-learn techniques with both customers and internal stakeholders allows companies to take minimum viable solutions and iterate on them quickly, abandoning weaker solutions for better ones.

Agile, and the resulting decision velocity, starts at the top of the house. Senior leadership teams that lead in an agile manner and make high-velocity decisions will see these behaviors mimicked at lower levels in the organization.

You can read the full article here.

 

Board of ‘Digital’ Directors

digitalA recent HBR article by Tuck Rickards and Rhys Grossman, explains that as companies start to realize the Digital does in fact mean a total transformation of a business and not just modernizing parts of it, its important to have Board Directors that have Digital acumen to help facilitate such holistic transformations.

The pair articulate four types of Digital Directors:

  • Digital thinker. The director has had little direct interaction with digital as an operator but conceptually understands the digital environment. They have been a board director or adviser in a digital business but are not a digital native.
  • Digital disruptor. The director has been deeply embedded in digital, often with experience from a pure-play company. This type of leader typically has less general management breadth.
  • Digital leader. The director has had substantial experience running a traditional business that leverages digital in a significant way (retail or media, for example). It’s likely that this person has less hands-on digital experience but has managed disruption as a general manager.
  • Digital transformer. The director has led or participated in a transformation of a traditional business. Typically the person does not have the seniority of a digital leader but is more digitally astute.

The appointment of directors from the fourth category is increasing and encouraged by Rickards and Grossman, although they recognise that the distinction between a ‘Digital’ Director and a ‘non-Digital’ Director is blurring.

Your can read their full article here.

The 4 Types of Innovation

4-types-innovation

In a recent HBR article, Greg Satell, articulates there are four basic types of innovation depending on the problem that needs solving. In turn there are various techniques that are best leveraged depending on the situation.

  1. Sustaining Innovation: Where most innovation occurs as we are simply trying to improve what we are already doing. The problem and the domain skill sets are fairly clear
  2. Breakthrough Innovation: Where the problem is well understood but it’s a very tricky one to solve and the skill sets required to solve it are not clear cut.
  3. Disruptive Innovation: When innovating your products or services further won’t help and you need to innovate your business model as the marketplace has changed.
  4. Basic Research: When neither the problem nor the domain skill sets required to solve it are well defined. A base level of research needs to be conducted to gather more data.

You can read Satell’s complete article here, including how a bag of clams saved a microchip manufacturer hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Change your thinking before you change your strategy

3-way-pieIn another recent HBR articleMark Bonchek and Barry Libert, argue that organisations wanting to undertake a transformation are in need of a new mental model and new measurement model just as much as a new business model.

You have to change how you think before you can change what you do, and then change what you measure to close the loop.

The authors cite examples of companies trying to copy the business model of another and failing as they had not change the way they thought or measured results. The primary example given is the Southwest Airlines business model and the attempts to copy it by Continental Lite, Ted by United, and Song by Delta which all failed. Whereas JetBlue, which has emulated all three models, has succeeded.

Southwest cofounder Herb ‘Kelleher is known for saying: “I tell my employees that we’re in the service business, and it’s incidental that we fly airplanes.” Other carriers fly airplanes that carry people. Southwest serves people using airplanes.”

“Traditional carriers were still thinking about their business as flying planes rather than thinking about serving people, still worrying about capturing share rather than growing the market, and still measuring success based on how well they utilized planes rather than how well they served passengers.”

“In contrast, companies like JetBlue decided to emulate Southwest’s entire system: mental model, business model, and measurement model. Like Southwest, JetBlue focuses on people over planes, with a mission to “bring humanity back to air travel.” Beyond the usual financial metrics, JetBlue also measures the strength of its culture and the quality of its experience.”

You can read the full article here.

 

 

Aussie and example of Australian companies that ‘get it’

aussieIt was good to see at a panel discussion at this year’s annual CMO, CIO and ADMA Executive Connections breakfast event, evidence that some Australian companies are really starting to get what it means to be customer centric.

Particularly Aussie, an Australian retail financial services group,  where Aussie Home Loans’ general manager of customer experience and technology, Richard Burns explained he saw a danger in appointing a chief customer officer. “Debates around who owns the customer, I think, are a waste of time,” he said.

“Debates around who owns the customer, I think, are a waste of time.”

“It shows there are some tensions in the culture, which have to be worked through. Because if everyone in the organisation is not passionate about the customer, you will spend a lot of useless time debating what you should be doing.

“Originally my title was general manager, customer, and I changed that because I didn’t want people in the organisation thinking, ‘well you can take care of the customer’. Part of my role is making sure we are all passionate about the customer – that’s part of the ongoing challenge I have. But to say there is one person, I think is very risky.”

At Aussie Home Loans, a number of operational procedures are taking shape in a bid to break down the siloed approach, according to Burns, such as activity-based working.

“If you came into the studio where my team sits, you wouldn’t be able to tell who’s in technology and who’s in marketing,”

“If you came into the studio where my team sits, you wouldn’t be able to tell who’s in technology and who’s in marketing,” he said. “We have also adopted agile right across the business. That started in technology, but now literally every single team, with every single initiative we undertake, is cross-functional. Right through to executive level, everyone can see what the main priorities are, what we are doing and why.”

Read the full recap here.

Why Poor Management Practices are like Viruses

Now we’ve all worked for companies that exhibit poor or bad management practices. Many of us find these practices a great source of frustration. But why do these practices exist? Why do the managers and executives that purport these practices not only continue to survive but thrive?

In this short YouTube video, London Business School Professor, Freek Vermeulen, outlines why bad management practices continue to thrive rather than die out with competitive pressure and ‘progress’.

Interestingly the reasons are similar to the continuance of viruses in nature and therefore Vermeulen calls these bad management practices, corporate viruses.

The three conditions that allow them to continue to exist are:

  1. There are short term benefits and therefore they are associated with success;
  2. The gestation period may be many years and there is an inability to understand the relationship between cause and effect; and
  3. The practice is easy to imitate and therefore spreads faster than it kills.

There is however one thing companies, particularly those in homogeneous industries, can do to aid innovation and increase the competitive advantage – stop doing things that don’t work or in other words “stop doing stupid things”.

 

The Top Five Characteristics of Innovative Leaders

innovate-leaders-top-5A recent HBR article highlighted a study by XBInsight that exposed the top 5 characteristics innovative company leaders have in common and score considerably higher in than other non-innovative leaders.

Risk management – “Innovative leaders scored 25% higher than their non-innovative counterparts on managing risk.”

Curiosity – “They exhibit an underlying curiosity and desire to know more.”

Courage – “They turn tough circumstances into prime opportunities to demonstrate their decisive capabilities and take responsibility for difficult decision making.”

Seize opportunity – “They are proactive and take initiative and ownership for success.”

Maintain a Strategic Business Perspective – “These leaders demonstrate a keen understanding of industry trends and their implications for the organization.”

And there is one characteristic where innovative leaders collectively score lower than their peers – maintaining order and accuracy.

The “data also suggested that a strong customer orientation is a starting point for building a strategic marketplace perspective in leaders.”

You can read the full article here.

 

New Organisational Models

networkI recently came across an article by Josh Bersin, whom is linked to Deloitte, discussing the results of a worldwide Deloitte survey into organisational design and the changes afoot in companies worldwide.

The conclusion reached by the report “is that today’s digital world of work has shaken the foundation of organizational structure, shifting from the traditional functional hierarchy to one we call a “network of teams.” This new model of work is forcing us to change job roles and job descriptions; rethink careers and internal mobility; emphasize skills and learning as keys to performance; redesign how we set goals and reward people; and change the role of leaders.

Surprisingly, at least to me, was that only 38% of companies claim to be organised along functional lines. Many respondents believe they are already working in a “network of teams” – at least from a day-to-day perspective – but I think some of those have considered the informal networks that inevitably exist across functional domains to get things done, as evidence that they are working in a team-based model as opposed to a functional one.

Of course working in a formal network of teams where functional silos no longer exist brings with it its own challenges. As articulated by Bersin, the problem becomes “how we coordinate and align these teams, how we get them to share information and work together, and how we move people and reward people in a company that no longer promotes “upward mobility” and “power by position” in leadership.

Bersin believes there are four key ingredients to success for a ‘network of teams’ model:

  1. Shared values and culture: As people operate in geographically dispersed teams which are closer to customers, they need guidelines and value systems to help them decide what to do, how to make decisions, and what is acceptable behavior.
  2. Transparent goals and projects: People operating in teams and small groups have to work with other teams, and they can’t do this unless goals are clear, overall financial objectives are well communicated, and people know what other people are working on.
  3. Feedback and a free flow of information: As teams operate and customers interact with the company, we must share information about what’s working, what isn’t working, what’s selling, and what problems we have to address. While local management and team leadership (i.e. a plant manager or sales leader) should take immediate responsibility for errors, others need to know what problems are taking place, so they can respond to support the team. This takes place today in digital information centers, analytics dashboards, and free flowing feedback systems that have replaced annual engagement surveys and performance reviews.
  4. People are rewarded for skills and contribution, not position: Finally, the network of teams rewards people for their contribution, not their “position.”The days of “positional leadership” are going away (i.e. “I’m the boss so you do what I say.”) to be replaced by growth and career progression based on your skills, alignment with values, followership, and contribution to the company as a whole.

Organisations based on purely functional lines are being replaced. So too are those early attempts to break down those silos with “matrix organisations” that were essentially a ‘paper over’ or band-aid and not an adequate response to the problem, Bersin explains…

Many of us remember the old fashioned “matrix organizations” which were popular in the 1980s. Well today the “matrix” makes a company look more like a series of Hollywood movies, where people take their skills and functional expertise, they work on a “project” or “team” or “program” to get work done, and as they learn and the company adapts, they move into another team over time.

As Bersin articulates, its not as though executive positions disappear – although no doubt many middle management ones would – but their roles are also changing.

While there are still senior executives in the company, leadership now becomes a “team sport,” where leaders must inspire and align the team, but also be good at connecting teams together and sharing information.

You can read the full blog post here, including links to the research.

Want an example of a “network of teams” model already implemented in a corporate environment? If so, then check out this interview with two executives – one current, one former – from ING banking group in the Netherlands, on its transformation to an ‘agile’ way of working.

Education on Trial

In a previous post of mine titled A New Education System, I collated a number of videos from Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk, ‘Build a School in the Cloud’, to an animated video of a talk ‘Changing Education Paradigms’, given by Sir Ken Robinson, explaining how education systems are not student centric and essentially “educate” our creative capacity out of us and another by American Author and Marketer, Seth Godin.

Well here is yet another video that puts today’s education systems “on trial”, literally.

 

Unlearning old ways

In a recent HBR article, Why the problem with learning is unlearning, Mark Bonchek contends that in this age of Digital disruption, companies have been too focused on learning new ways of doing things and have not paid enough attention to unlearning the ways of the past.

In every aspect of business, we are operating with mental models that have grown outdated or obsolete, from strategy to marketing to organization to leadership. To embrace the new logic of value creation, we have to unlearn the old one.

Boncheck clarifies that its not about forgetting what has been learnt in the past, but acquiring the ability to re-frame the situation and use a different mental model.

He gives the example of Porter’s Five forces and the essence behind the model that limits or boundaries must be set and then argues the likes of Google, Uber, Faebook and AirBnB don’t subscribe to this notion of setting limits.

They look beyond controlling the pipe that delivers a product and instead build platforms that enable others to create value. They look to create network effects through ecosystems of customers, suppliers, and partners.

Boncheck also articulates the core problem with modern marketing is the existing “one-to-many mindset” where we pretend “everything is linear and transaction”…

  • We segment into discrete buckets even though people are multidimensional.
  • We treat customers as consumers even when they want to be cocreators.
  • We target buyers and run campaigns that push messages through channels even though real engagement increasingly happens through shared experiences.
  • We move people through a pipeline that goes in one direction even though the customer journey is nonlinear.

He then asserts that “instead of using relationships to drive transactions, we could be building brand orbits and embedding transactions in relationships. Instead of customers being consumers, we could have relationships with them in a variety of roles and social facets. Beyond delivering a value proposition, we could be fulfilling a shared purpose.”

“In the area of organizational design, we are seeing an evolution from formal hierarchies to fluid networks. But this requires a substantial amount of unlearning. Our instincts are to think of an organization as an org chart. We automatically escalate decisions to the boss. I often hear executives talk about being “more networked,” but what they really mean is collaborating across the silos. To truly become a networked organization, you need decision principles that create both alignment and autonomy. But this requires unlearning in the areas of management, leadership, and governance.”

The good news, Bonchek contends, is we can practice unlearning. So get started today!

Read the full article here.

 

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