Leader’s role in enabling organisational competitiveness

How well is your organisation responding to rapid change and uncertainty?

In responding to change, as a leader, how are you engaging individuals across your organisation?  

How are you enabling organisational learning in order to enable organisation competitiveness?  

These are crucial questions that will be discussed in this talk. 

We’ll discuss the principles for nurturing and promoting continuous transformation. A transformation that is respectful of legacy, recognises established success and is accommodating to each individual’s growth journey. 

Supported by the speaker’s experience, the talk will help leaders use the following approaches to foster exploration and emergence – prerequisites for organisation competitiveness:

  1. Leaders supporting individuals to test assumptions
  2. Leaders acting as grand conductors
  3. Leaders creating a safe-to-learn environment
  4. Leaders forming and protecting an adaptive space for innovators and operators

Come along to this talk if you are a leader facing the challenge and opportunity of inclusive organisational change.

Slides from a previous delivery

A TEKsystems Global Services talk created and delivered by Dean Latchana

Social symbolism and attached meaning of shared objects

I know, I keep banging on about the importance of co-location, and on what we’re losing when working remotely.

Here’s another lose I’d like to share: “Deep social problem-solving with the aid of physical material”

Let’s relate this to research that reveals tool-use as an extension of our body.

“When we do something as apparently simple as picking up a screwdriver, our brain automatically adjusts what it considers body to include the tool. We can literally feel things with the end of the screwdriver.”

12 Rules for Life (Jordan B Peterson)

I speculate that tool-use (including physical material) doesn’t only extend our physical perception of self. We also attach symbolism and meaning. Think of children personifying and creating stories with a crude rag doll.

When objects are used socially, such as during a collaboration workshop, the symbolism and attached meaning have unspoken shared significance.

Does the digital and remote world in which we now operate offer the same potential as the placemaking of a shared physical environment? Does it equate to the emergent symbolism, attached meaning and collective perception that arises when collaborating with physical material?


Related reading

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Reflections on The Startup Way – Part 2

The Startup Way: How Entrepreneurial Management Transforms Culture and  Drives Growth: Amazon.co.uk: Ries, Eric: 9780241197264: Books
The Startup Way: How Modern Companies Use Entrepreneurial Management to Transform Culture and Drive Long-Term Growth. By Eric Ries

In his The Startup Way book, Eric Ries reveals how entrepreneurial principles can be used by businesses to take advantage of enormous opportunities and overcome challenges resulting from our connected economy.

In this series of posts, I’ll share my key takeaways, and relate those to my own experiences and reflections. In the last article, I explored how organisations corner themselves by becoming over-reliant on their successes. In this article, I’ll introduce and reflect upon the missing organisational capabilities for entrepreneurialism and new growth.

Ries describes these capabilities as:

  • Create space for experiments with appropriate liability constraints
  • Fund projects without knowing the return-on-investment (ROI) in advance
  • Create appropriate milestones for teams that are operating autonomously

In my experience, successful innovation occurs when entrepreneurs’ autonomy is bounded within a governance process which selectively and incrementally invests in strategies that are demonstrating early success. If innovators cannot demonstrate early signs of ROI then they either pivot to a different strategy, or they receive no further funding.

This approach enables appropriate liability constraints, operational autonomy and funding without knowing the ROI upfront. It protects innovations teams from over-committing, and it protects the business from over-investing in strategies which haven’t proven themselves.

The team is liable because they have the responsibility to achieve what’s been agreed. The leaders are also liable in that they must remove organisational impediments and protect the team from the status quo that may hamper the innovation team.

Freedom is constrained to ensure the team and leaders focus on what specifically needs to be learnt at a sustainable pace. The constraints should be both time and funding; for example 4-weeks and $25,000.

Yet, this approach doesn’t mean innovation teams are micromanaged; it’s quite the opposite. Once an innovation team has agreed on the measures of success, gained the support of leaders and received the funding, they have the freedom to explore how to achieve their goals within the agreed constraints.

Couple Buying Meat at a Supermarket
The innovation team relied on the leaders’ support, protection and network to work with store managers who were open to testing the benefits of the Scan and Go app.

Photo by Jack Sparrow from Pexels

An example of where I’ve supported a retail client achieve this is with their Scan and Go service they were developing. The team wanted if store operations could support customers purchasing items by scanning and purchasing them using smartphones, and then immediately leaving the store. This allowed customers to avoid the checkout queues and put less pressure on the checkout staff.

There was natural concern that there would an increase in theft (known as shrink in the retail industry). To contain risk the innovation team had liability constraints of 2-weeks when they could test a prototype in two stores which were closely monitored. The types of items which could be purchased were also limited.

Assorted Bottles and Cans in Commercial Coolers
To create safe-to-learn constraints, types of items were excluded from the Scan and Go experiments. For example beers, wines and spirits which are high-value items.

Photo by junjie xu from Pexels

No one knew the ROI upfront. How much would it cost to build and operate? How would it impact sales and shrink? How would store security respond? To find out the team worked with the leaders to agree on measures of success and thresholds.

Within a limited timebox, budget and range of items, the innovation team chose to develop and conduct experiments in a way they felt appropriate. The leaders were on hand to use their social network to identify the rare store managers who were open to partnering with the team.

Without prompting, tentative signs of success were shared between store managers. The excitement of collaborative discovery created interest from area managers. This buzz created a larger opening for the next scale of experimentation. Changed was never pushed onto store and area managers.

This unprompted exchange of stories between different groups shows that innovation is as much a social phenomenon as a technological one.

This example of experimentation with liability constraints, funding without knowing the ROI upfront and allowing teams to operate with autonomy, became an exemplar of entrepreneurialism for my client.

Remember from the last article, that entrepreneurialism is vital to ensure organisations don’t become over-dependent on past successes.

In my next article, I’ll reflect upon my next takeaway for The Startup Way, which will be on scaling the innovators’ successes with the resources of the parent organisation.

Reflections on The Startup Way – Part 1

The Startup Way: How Entrepreneurial Management Transforms Culture and  Drives Growth: Amazon.co.uk: Ries, Eric: 9780241197264: Books
The Startup Way: How Modern Companies Use Entrepreneurial Management to Transform Culture and Drive Long-Term Growth. By Eric Ries

The Startup Way is a 2017 book by Eric Ries, which is a follow-up to his blockbuster Lean Startup.

In The Startup Way, Ries reveals how entrepreneurial principles can be used by businesses to take advantage of enormous opportunities and overcome challenges resulting from our connected economy.

In this series of posts, I’ll share my key takeaways, and relate those to my own experiences and reflections. Let’s start off by exploring how organisations corner themselves by becoming over-reliant on their successes.

Kodak has become the go-to case study of an organisation that became myopic and over-committed to its past successes.

Ries states that if an organisation is constrained by capacity, they’d typically endeavour to acquire more, in a bid to gain greater market share. New products tend to be variations of existing product lines. Firms compete primarily on price, quality, variety and distribution. Barriers to entry are high, and growth is slow.

In my view, if exploited for too long, what Ries describes can result in dangerous consequences. It can create a difficult-to-reverse dependence on legacy successes. Repeating and scaling an organisation’s previous successes can become its unspoken raison d’etre. In an increasingly fast-moving market, this can be disastrous.

The over-reliance on existing successes also develops an expectation that stifles the emergence of innovation within organisations. Success leads to criteria that promote the fine-tuning of existing products, processes and behaviours. This makes it difficult to accommodate internal disruption, vulnerability and relearning – qualities necessary for innovation.

Organisations scale success by developing a highly tuned operational system. This is often at the detriment to their capacity to innovate.

I believe this ties into Apex Predator Theory developed by Dave Snowden. Organisations will eventually fail as they become competent and too wedded to the current operations and market offerings.

Apex Predator Overlapping S-Curves | AGLX Consulting
Apex Predator Overlapping S-Curves. Illustrated by aglx.consulting

My next article reflects on another takeaway from The Startup Way – the missing capability that enables organisations to overcome their over-dependence on past successes.

Patterns for Strategic Execution

I’m often asked by leaders to support their organisation to execute their strategies. So over the years, I’ve come to recognise common anti-patterns which hamper organisations from delivering upon their strategies.

In my last article, I shared those anti-patterns to strategic execution. In this article, I’ll share the patterns which support the mindset, ways of working and conditions for effective strategic execution.

But first, let’s remind ourselves of what is a strategy and how it relates to organisational transformation?

Strategy and Organisational Transformation

“A strategy is something which gives consistency over time and contains the essence of how you’re going to be different”

Gary Hamel

An organisation is likely to be employing multiple strategies. Each strategy is a vehicle for organisational transformation and value creation. They can fall into these categories:

  • BusinessIn a rapidly changing world, what’s right for the business and the colleagues? Yesterday’s success may not be tomorrow’s.
  • Competitive marketHow should the company differentiate itself? What privileged insights or capabilities does it want to bring to bear?
  • Customers/stakeholders – What new or existing wants, needs and desires does the company want to address? Which ones should it stop serving?

Uncertainty means an organisation should test & learn which strategies will fit the organisation’s vision. A vision describes what the organisation wants to become; it’s an aspirational and motivational indeterminate future goal.

To move with velocity to drive profitable growth and become an even better McDonald’s serving more customers delicious food each day around the world.

McDonald’s Vision Statement

Now, onto the common patterns which I’ve come to recognise as conducive to strategic execution…

Patterns for Strategic Execution

Shared Vision

Co-develop a unifying vision statement which is both aspirational and motivational for leaders, innovators and the wider business. This serves as a North Star which all strategies coherently work towards, judged by a common set of success criteria.

Strategies as hypotheses

Create a safe-to-learn environment. Then rapidly test which strategies fit the organisation’s vision. Use MVPs to test a strategy’s worthiness where the minimum is done to maximise learning. If you haven’t nailed it, don’t scale it.

Protect Innovators

Appoint a leader who creates time and support for innovators to test, learn and recover from failure without being impeded by the status quo. Leaders must free-up their own time to remove organisational impediments and understand when to encourage teams to push on.

Metered Finance

Like venture capital investment, metered finance is the incremental release of funding judged on the evidence of successful outcomes. Such governance helps innovators know when to persevere, pivot or pull-the-plug on their strategies.

High ambiguity

Handpick individuals to form highly supported innovation teams. Such individuals are able to deal with constant change and novelty. They can cope well with failure, experimentation and can rapidly test their gut feelings.

Social Capital

Once they’ve found early success, innovators will need the support of operators. Operators have the access to capital and scale. Support individuals who have, as Mary Uhl-Bien describes, the Social Capital to bring those two worlds together.