Digital adoption is disrupting businesses. As consumer, market and technology changes spread across industries they’re challenging organisations’ very right to exist. The threat is clear: adapt or disappear.
As a result, successful companies are embracing approaches once seen as radical. They’re flattening and empowering, moving decision-making to the edges of the business and replacing long-cycle planning processes with Agile and Speed. They’re becoming comfortable with uncertainty. The management process evolves into a network, replacing outdated slow command-and-control structures.
Who are you?
Effectively letting go of command-and-control structures and formal approvals requires a new way to make sure the organisation remains focused and leaders remain at the helm. This requires the introduction of new ways to lead and manage.
Purpose, values, goals, conversations
Communication is key in a decentralised enterprise. However, communication is useless without a strong message and clear principles. What do you communicate, and how do you go about it?
A purpose is your guiding light. Everyone in the organisation must understand and embrace the company’s purpose. Why do you exist? What value do you bring to your customers’ lives, and to society? A clearly articulated purpose helps ensure that every decision made all over the company is grounded on the same values, principles and ethics; aimed at reaching the same set of shared goals.
In order to be effective, communication must be heard. Posters on walls, articles on the intranet and regular emails all help, but the most important mechanism by which your purpose and values will be embedded is daily social interaction.
A deliberate method
Agile methodologies emphasise ceremonies such as daily standups, frequent retrospectives and regular show-and-tells. These force people from different departments and all levels of seniority into the same space, to have a focused conversation where everyone is invited to take part equally. Unlike a casual conversation around a water cooler, these ceremonies are business-focused and have a clear mission. A deliberate social interaction rhythm is key to keep a decentralised organisation operating effectively and united.
Another deliberate choice of Agile organisations is the structure of teams. Functional teams made up of people who share the same specialism are replaced by interdisciplinary teams, aligned to an outcome and made up of people from all functions of the organisation.
Working together, each team member brings their own particular set of skills, cultural background and experience to the achievement of the common goal. These teams tend to be ephemeral – the force themselves to work in short cycles (sprints) to reduce complexity and accelerate ROI. When the outcome is achieved or the time box exhausted, people join other multidisciplinary teams in order to tackle a new challenge. This constant renewal of teams creates strong, long-lasting social bonds across functional boundaries and ensures decisions and actions can be made quickly by removing the need to go outside the team to procure them.
Great, empowered people
One of the biggest reasons Agile projects fail at large organisations is that teams are only given a very narrow decision-making scope. Decisions that need escalation slow down progress, increase costs and demotivate everyone – teams and leaders alike.
You must allow teams the autonomy to make their own decisions, replacing arm’s-length control with participation, communication and constant professional and personal development.
Developing talent is key
If you can’t check that people are doing quality work by signing it off at key stage-gates, how do you know the work is good? Because you’ve got great people, and they know exactly what’s expected of them. In a networked organisation, talent is key. Leaders must ensure they recruit the best possible talent – people who have solid skills and unimpeachable while at the same time contribute to increasing diversity.
As these exceptional individuals join, the leadership team’s main role is to invest in their development, helping them embrace the company’s purpose, understand its goals, and continue to improve their skills and acquire new capabilities and tools. When everyone in the organisation is skilled, have access to all the tools and information they need, and understand implicitly the company’s mission and values, control is ensured without the need to interrupt their flow.
An interesting corollary of adopting a networked model and empowering talent is that, while the company’s purpose will be enduring, its strategy will become emergent. Teams of talented individuals will reach their goals in unexpected ways, and external changes such as consumer behaviour will quickly influence the strategy.
If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.
In top-down traditional organisations, strategy is often an obstacle. Once the direction of travel is set, the whole company sets off on a journey, regardless of whether the predestined destination continues to be the best place to head to. Emergent strategy changes that, while honouring the really important elements of a company’s mission: its purpose, values and goals.
Embracing a completely new organisational model requires leaders to fundamentally change the way they manage their organisation. This is never easy, particularly when the new model requires them to let go of formal controls. But the price of putting it off is too great – from underperformance to losing your best talent to eventual irrelevance.
The time to take the leap is now. Your business needs you to, and I’m here if you need help.