Guest Blog by Rohit Talwar, CEO, Fast Future Research
The next 20 years will be characterised by fundamental shifts in the global economy, uneven growth, environmental concerns and rethinking of the purpose, design and organisation of business. At the personal level we can expect major advances in human health and wellbeing. Research breakthrough are creating the possibilities of radical life extension and the augmentation of humans by chemical, genetic and electro-mechanical means. Scientific advances also promise the potential of shape-shifting materials, uploading our brains to the web, driverless vehicles and artificially intelligent robots doing everything from serving our drinks to delivering babies and presiding over court cases. All of these factors will shape the operating environment, expectations, strategies and services of tomorrow’s organisation.
Many have begun to realise that competing in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ad hoc (VUCA) environment requires a fundamental rethink of their business. It is no longer enough to change what we are doing or ‘tinker at the margins’. Those embracing the future are seeing the need to rethink what they are doing and to go deeper and reimagine what they are being – their purpose, values and core beliefs. Summarised below are some key lessons arising out of our recent research on best practices on delivering this type of genuine transformation.
- Things must get Messy – Transformation means changing what you are being as well as what you are doing. So if everything feels comfortable, if there is no disruption, if managers feel they can keep doing things the way they always have done and you never face internal or external conflicts – then you probably aren’t delivering true transformation.
- Start with Tomorrow – Big businesses struggle to change a winning formula. ‘The system’ and those who have succeeded in it will keep trying to pull you back to that tried and trusted success recipe that served them so well in the past – even if the signs are clear that it is no longer so effective. To challenge current assumptions, is essential to develop a clear, deep and compelling view of the future factors (forces, trends, developments, ideas and weak signals) driving the need for change.
- Competition – An understanding of what rivals are doing and the resulting threats can act as a powerful motivator for change.
- Unwavering Vision – However you craft it, the top team need to own a clear vision of ‘the future we want to create’ and emphasise constantly how it differs from the current model.
- Leaders don’t Follow – If you are genuine leaders that you can’t get to a truly differentiated and defendable brand positioning by following the rules that others play by – change the game itself and then let it play you.
- Express your Desires – Be clear with your entire ecosystem about where you see yourselves in the future, how you plan to get there and the stakeholder relationships you want to nurture. Engage them in the conversation about how to realise those desires in a manner that truly benefits them as stakeholders.
- Depart Before your Ready – Don’t wait until everything is perfectly resolved and ready before announcing or starting the journey. Take early and massive action to move things forward. Act fast with changes or commitments that really indicate how things could be different for staff, customers and other key stakeholders.
- Change the Language and Style of Conversation – Most discussions about transformational change, innovation and new technologies start with an outpouring of all the potential barriers and problems. Don’t celebrate the problems. Start by identifying the potential opportunities and benefits and then focus on how to overcome the barriers to achieve the desired outcomes.
- Encourage Innovation – Be open, support and reward curiosity and experimentation, celebrate and reward innovation and entrepreneurship.
- Clear Change Drivers – Focus on applying innovation and new technologies for real business reasons, problems and opportunities. These have to create tangible or intangible benefits for customers, partners and / or internally. Do not adopt new ideas or technologies for the sake of it or because they are the latest thing.
- Fail Fast and Cheap – The future cannot be created in a single pass. Experiments will be required with a range of possible solutions. Conduct pilots and evaluations quickly to assess the potential of innovations and new technology developments – real learning comes from action not talk. These pilots should focus on maximising the learning, and on early testing of new ideas on those who they might impact e.g., customers, staff or other stakeholders.
- See Me, Know Me, Help Me – Staff need to believe that the organisation cares about them at a personal level and that the transformation will actually make their life better.
- The Power of One – Grand transformations are often derailed by internal challenges – particularly those related to IT systems. If the internal conversation is dominated by negative conversations about why ‘we can’t do that’ because of IT related issues, then radical surgery is required. The solution is adopting one platform for each core activity from sales and distribution to HR and finance and then flatly refusing to allow people to develop their own parallel systems.
- Master your Data or Die Trying – Genuine expertise is required in the management and exploitation of big data and predictive analytics. This can help drive short term decision-making and release additional value in key areas such as marketing and sales. Those that can’t unlock the potential are sowing the seeds of their own destruction.
- Create Magic – Customers, staff and partners need ‘manifestations of magic’ in their experience of you to stand out from the pack. Who are they telling stories about over lunch, in the bar and in the social media?
- Act Fast on the Naysayers – Some in key roles may simply not understand or buy into the vision. Making them part of the core transformation team can help turn them into evangelists. If they really cannot change or do not want to – then them help them leave quickly and with respect for what they’ve done in the past – acknowledging that it’s best for both of you if they go.
- The Revolution can be Televised – The true signs of change and the momentum to push it forward will come in numerous small examples of people internalising the vision and translating it into real action. Have them capture and share these stories in whatever way they want – blog posts and video are popular tools.
- Find an Orchestra Conductor – A central programme director is critical to co-ordinate the many parallel work streams in a genuine transformation programme. A key challenge will come when transformation initiatives butt up against current customer facing activity and require changes which the customer may not initially appreciate. The answer is always to resolve these conflicts in a consistent manner that honours the vision.
- Think Business Model – Many projects within a transformation die because of high perceived costs of acquisition and implementation. Applying innovative thinking can shift the focus from capex to operational revenues. E.g. airports are now asking suppliers to provide the equipment for free and say how much revenue they will generate if they win the contract to supply WiFi connectivity – rather than how much it would have cost to implement.
- Window on Tomorrow – There is a natural temptation to look inwards once a transformation process starts and for leadership to focus all their attention on delivering the changes and keeping today’s customers happy. The challenge here is to make sure that short term and urgent issues don’t drive out the focus on the important long term factors that will drive tomorrow’s business. Maintain a continuous external horizon scanning effort to ensure that you are abreast of developments that could impact you over the next 1, 3 and 4-10 years.
Competing for the future is journey not a task. Transformation to create the future is also a never-ending process. The ideas presented here can provide a checklist for those who genuinely want to embark on a fundamental rethink of their organisations. We welcome your feedback.
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist and CEO of the think tank Fast Future Research. He advises clients around the world on how to anticipate, respond to and create the forces shaping the future.
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