What's the killer stalking your organisation? It isn't disruption.

The first blog post in a new series to accompany our latest research topic of 'Design for Speed'.

Change and disruption are as likely to be opportunities as they are threats.  Which of the two they are depends on how – and most importantly how fast – you respond to them. Help us crowd-source the best ways to respond fast.

Most organisations aren’t designed in a way that supports strategic speed.  Instead, most are designed to optimise the balance between cost and control, with the organisation’s strategic response speed determined by what’s left over. 

However, the big threat to your organisation isn’t that its costs are too high, or that it’s controls aren’t 100%.  The big threat is that the world changes faster than you can respond, so you become increasingly irrelevant (at which point costs do become an issue, and control weaknesses do come to the fore).

Instead of seeking to optimise cost and control, an alternative is to set reasonable constraints on cost and control, and then within them to design your organisation for speed.

Such a major organisational change would only make sense if your ability to respond wasn’t quick enough. Chances are that it isn’t.  Organisational design for strategic speed is a very new area, so most organisations won’t know how fast they are, nor have anyone responsible for it.  Equally, most organisations aren’t moving as fast as they would like, nor as fast as they need to be.  But, there are things you can and should do. 

We first started thinking about this topic a few months ago in response to an inquiry from a potential client who wanted to know how they could change their organisation structure to increase the speed of their change projects.  Naturally, we developed some suggestions for them – but we also researched to see what others are doing about this.

We found very little on the topic, beyond lots on “agility” (which is a related but somewhat more limited concept).  So, we’ve decided to organise an “open source” effort to learn more about “Design for Speed” – and to share what we learn.  Here are the sorts of questions we are looking to answer:

  • Who should be responsible for organisational performance? Who tends to be today – even if  informally?
  • How can we tell if an organisation isn’t responding fast enough? What are the warning signs?
  • How can we usefully measure speed of strategic response? (We have an approach, but we want to see how generally applicable it is.)
  • What do we know already about approaches to increasing organisational speed? Are there “tweaks” that can be made that have a big impact on speed, or is a fundamental rebuilding needed?
  • Is there a reliable process for redesigning an organisation for speed? 

If you are interested in this topic, here are some ways we would love to have you involved:

  1. Join the Linked In group.
  2. Participate in one or more of our “Design for Speed” roundtable discussions to explore this in more depth.
  3. Share what your organisation is doing to improve organisational (strategic) speed – or any of the components of the strategic response cycle.
  4. Point us towards good examples of what others are saying about Design for Speed (or other related topics).
  5. Ask to attend one of our breakfast seminars where we share a bit more about the Design for Speed idea, and you have a chance to discuss it will other business leaders.
  6. Introduce us to the person in your organisation who has responsibility for (or should be interested in) organisational speed.
  7. Let us know you are interested and would like to be part of activities (yet to be defined) in future.

And, please do feel free to share these thoughts and ideas with others you know who might find them of interest.

Until next time!

Meaning or measurement

A recent Wharton article focuses on the topic of how to measure employee performance in a world where output volume is no longer an effective measure. A good topic, but a decade or more out of date. The shift away from “production line” approaches – in manufacturing as well as services – started at least as long ago as the introduction of desktop computers.  They provided a way to bring information together quickly to respond to customer requirements faster, but more importantly more flexibly.  This, along with other changes in business models, created customer expectations around service, speed, and innovation that many businesses are still struggling to fully respond to.

Of course, the professors at Wharton know this.  They describe the problems that can come from a “more output for less input” mentality, and sensible steps that can be taken to move away from that.  But, underlying the various difficulties and solutions they discuss is the question: “what leads some employees to be more productive and others less so?”. Forget how you measure it, how do you increase it?

An interesting angle on this comes from an experiment discussed by Dan Ariely in a recent TED talk.  (BTW, I’m a big TED fan. A great source of inspiration, information, and innovation.) The result of the experiment was that people would work 50% harder – for less money on average – if there was even a small amount of meaning or purpose to their work.  50%.  Given the size of that increase, it’s worth considering how much time and effort you spend on creating meaning at work, rather than measurement of work.

What's really holding you back?

Frustrated with results, but not entirely sure what the problem is?  Here’s a checklist to start diagnosing what’s really holding you back:

  1. Are you thinking about – and talking about – your situation productively?  What’s the balance between “we have to…” and “we want to…”? ("Want to" tends to be more productive.)
  2. How big is your definition of “we”, as in “we want to…”?
  3. What’s the level of energy, courage and confidence in the organisation? If it's low, why?
  4. How clear is the purpose of your business?  Is it only about shareholder returns, or are there aspects of your purpose that will appeal broadly?
  5. Are the values and accepted behaviours in the organisation supportive of working quickly in collaboration?
  6. Do you have reliable, fast-cycle management processes for information sharing and co-ordination of action?
  7. Is there a written set of goals, timelined plans with clear accountabilities, and measures of progress?
  8. Do you have an written, shared model of how your business works today?
  9. Do people across the business have visibility to external developments that might impact them?
  10. 10. Do you have a rich and fresh flow of analysis, insights, and intuition about the business? Could you be missing key aspects of your situation?

Both could work - how do you make your leadership choice?

My good friend Francois Gall tipped me off to a really great letter to shareholders from Amazon. There's a lot in it to think about: the link they see between their customer-driven focus and their unending quest to improve, their frank recognition that to make progress you have to accept you'll make mistakes, the consistency of their direction over time. But, the thing that struck me the most was that they admit there are at least two approaches to maximising business success.  One (customer focus) which they've chosen and one (competitor focus) which they haven't. If the data and analysis tells you there's one best option, there's really no choice.  In my experience, business  isn't often like that.  Usually, there are at least two sensible options (sometimes more) and all the analysis in the world can't show you which is best.  When there are multiple directions that could lead to the results you want, then it's down to a real choice - and that's where leadership starts.  When both could work, how do you make your leadership choice?

Are fishermen always liars?

We all know about the stories fishermen tell of the one that got away. I'm wondering if fishermen aren't liars in a different sense. To catch a fish, they offer something: a worm, a fake bug, something. But, it's not what it appears to be. It's a hook disguised as something tasty (at least to a fish). In essence, it's a lie. It only works because the fish can't tell the difference. It's not a fair exchange, it's basically theft.

Maybe that's ok if you're lying to is a fish. But what about lying to people? How many businesses only work because they know more than their customers, because their customers can't tell the difference? However many, the truth is they aren't creating any real value, they're just lying, cheating, and stealing.

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