As a leader, you might sense that all the easiest days of your career are behind you.
The challenge of organisational transformation makes a leader’s life tougher each day. It’s like having a heart-lung transplant while running a marathon, or jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on the way down.
The task is clear: Deliver against quarterly earnings targets and day-to-day customer expectations, while charting your customer’s future needs and evolving your business and operating model to meet them. Implement the change fast and lift the pace of your transformation efforts every year.
Tired or despondent already? There is one way to achieve the almost superhuman level of ongoing transformational change without the benefit of super powers or a fancy costume.
Leaders must build deep organisational intelligence rather than persist with outdated command and control structures that have insulated them from changing market requirements.
3 pillars of organisational intelligence:
1. Know thy customer (and their customers)
In the age of the customer, the goalposts of success are being shifted relentlessly. Relying on a ‘make and sell’ model doesn’t work any more. Customer expectations ramp higher, competitors deliver improvements earlier and new technologies can render your value proposition and operational capability obsolete.
Invest in research and data gathering that enables you to understand in real time what your customers are thinking, saying, doing and feeling about the world in which you operate. Work in partnership with customers to ‘act and learn’ about their needs, adapting your value proposition to enable their success. Often cited for other strengths, this customer-centricity is core to the success of a company like Atlassian.
Technology can help here, for example advanced analytics that enable us to glean social media for real-time feedback and trends in customer sentiment to make this job much more doable.
2. Unleash the collective intelligence of your people
People thrive on the freedom to act, rather than being compelled to comply. There is precious little value to be gained from unthinking obedience reinforced by ‘command and control’ structures. Liberate your people to work intelligently for each other and their customers, focusing on cultural guidelines that simply and clearly articulate what good looks like.
Amazon’s approach is a great case in point. As they say, “Our Leadership Principles aren’t just a pretty inspirational wall hanging. These Principles work hard, just like we do. Amazonians use them, every day, whether they’re discussing ideas for new projects, deciding on the best solution for a customer’s problem, or interviewing candidates. It’s just one of the things that makes Amazon peculiar.”
This willingness to be ‘peculiar’ means giving people the freedom to be curious, to ask new questions from fresh angles to reveal different ways to create value in partnership with customers. You also need to manage people and teams against business outcomes, not merely tasks and deliverables. Google’s OKR (Objectives and Key Results) approach—originating from Intel and now adopted by other adaptive companies like Airbnb—is a great way to combine focus and freedom so that people can perform.
3. Invest in sense and respond capability
You cannot rely upon strategy alone to stay ahead of changing market requirements. Strategy is always built upon certain historical market and competitive data and assumptions, which are frequently being upended in an era of digital transformation.
However, you can leverage technology to create ‘sense and respond’ capability from the edge of your organisation right through to core operational systems and up to the executive round table. This is the real promise of the ‘Internet of Things’ and artificial intelligence, both of which are now quickly becoming operational reality.
These technologies are enabling companies like Toll, DHL and Qantas to magnify the intelligence of their own people. They are supported by smart systems that create situational awareness, tracking and predictive capabilities to deliver added value in a volatile and uncertain world.
Lead for the next 25 years
Building deep organisational intelligence is not easy. There are challenges in showing likely return on investment and addressing privacy, security and compliance concerns. It might seem better to focus on aggressively pushing your existing business model harder, while quietly leaving the organisation’s future success for someone else to solve.
But doing the hard work now can mean that, eventually, easier days will be ahead of you; days where you collaborate with your customers and colleagues on building new ideas for the future, rather than fighting operational fires of today.
Getting the whole organisation engaged in the transformation task, and harnessing the power of technology to enable rapid learning and decision support, can unleash your organisation’s collective intelligence, giving you the space and time to lead for the next quarter-century.