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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Leopards need to change their spots too

We associate Leopards with being fast, agile, and adaptive – something many businesses would love to aspire to or believe they have already achieved. However, think about that Leopard for a moment lacking the ability to maintain a sustainable pace, using up all of its energy in a very short period of time and spending a lot of its time resting to conserve energy.  Now doesn’t that sound more like many organisations you know of, expending large amounts of energy but finding that sustainable pace in a market of change?
In our work environment we increasingly find organisations that need to adapt to the changing market around them. But, I would propose that it is the constant adaption, customisation and “tinkering” of applications and systems that really restrict a business’s ability to do just that.
Consider for a moment how many changes you requested from your supplier to ensure your application or system would operate effectively based on your current ways of working. And now consider how frustrated you were at the supplier’s lack of understanding of your business needs. 
Next, consider what your company did when looking to adapt to market changes or a shift in strategy.  I am guessing – as tends to be the case – you invited in your suppliers and told them there would be a number of change requests required as updates to your applications and systems were needed to ensure they evolved with the needs of your business. What happens next is the response you receive from your suppliers is an extensive program of system changes, which are significantly more expensive than what you had expected. At this point the inevitable happens and we introduce that word that every strategy leader hates … compromise. You are then entering a phase of your business change where you need to balance the necessity of change with the market need to change against the cost. The end result is that the costs continue to increase, you don’t receive the changes you were hoping for and you ultimately end up setting up the business to fail, not fast mind you, just a slow and painful death.
I share this with you because, given the world we live and work in, there is a need for a fresh approach to business.  An approach which actually requires an organisation to change, a change in the way it works and not necessarily by overhauling existing systems and tools. As strange as it may sound it is increasingly crucial for businesses to avoid customisation as much as possible so they can adapt to the market quickly and avoid expensive system overhauls. Of course people will say “well hang on Nathan we need to customise those systems if the market is changing.” Well, I would challenge that there are two approaches businesses need to be taking to ensure sustainable growth in today’s market.
The first is by moving to standard components and interfaces.  With this, you are then able to consider vendor replacements. By forcing the use of API’s, or application interfaces, you can replace components much more easily without the need of a potential full rip and replace of all systems supporting a process.  This equally ensures your business can regularly validate the latest capability from CRM systems to Billing systems and even, dare I say, communication systems. How often have you found yourself frustrated just after launching a new platform, application or system that a capability had just been added that would have benefited your organisation?  Need I say more?
The second key approach is to look in the mirror more often.  Instead of the levers you seek to adjust being limited to third party components, look into your business at the people, processes and ultimately ways of working that you have established and ask yourself, how often have these actually changed over the years?  I am not talking about rearranging the deck chairs, I am referring to real changes in ways of working to ensure 1. that a business can maximise the opportunities that change can bring; 2. to ensure that sustainable growth is understood as the journey.
The first approach is strengthened by the introduction of cloud based architectures, which means you can consume what you need, and equally adjust to new market developments quickly. I appreciate some elements are more difficult to change than others but, by starting with a view that everything can be changed, this will ultimately create the right environment for success. Cloud capabilities have created new avenues for businesses to feel more in control of the risks their business chooses to take and equally the opportunity to leverage the latest technology at each step of the way.
The second approach is a lot more difficult because no one likes change.  Change can cause a stall in business performance and ultimately comes with its own risks. However, people will accept and equally embrace change, as long as you can articulate the benefit to the business. Whatever those change may be, understanding the business need first is the most important element.

Speed and agility are crucial business elements, but without simplifying the tools and ensuring the business adapts to the market change, all that an organisation will achieve is declining profitability and increasingly demoralised employee engagement. I am always intrigued by business leaders who share how confident they are about their business, but it is those businesses who recognise that being as agile as a leopard is not enough. Sometimes you need to change yourself in order to succeed and the tools round you may enable part of that change, but unless you are willing to change your own spots you may find that the speed you have is only enough to spin your wheels  and not to deliver the continued momentum.

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