The word “Disruption” has become a powerful concept of many executives across all industries today as they seek to lead their businesses to growth in what is an increasingly competitive and ever-changing market for us all. However, what is interesting is that for many businesses it tends to be about the outward facing disruption – to disrupt key competitors with innovative services or commercial models, introducing new technologies particularly with a focus on digital.
As such, many businesses can be left frustrated because in their attempt to disrupt the market they can actually have hit the “destruct button” on themselves. Let me explain why….Disruption just sounds exciting right? Think about your next meeting and starting with, “Okay team, we need to disrupt the market to drive our next phase of growth!” I sincerely doubt there will be one person who will tell you that it sounds like a bad idea. Compare this with the concept of an alternative start to a conversation – “Okay team, we need to run some efficiency programs to cut costs and drive our next phase of growth!” Now if you are managing that team you may have people worried about being the target of that efficiency and, as such, you may end up with only a few murmurs of support.
Being disruptive relies on our employees
So why not turn that disruption initiative to be internally focused to drive employee satisfaction, business efficiency, margin improvements and who knows perhaps even customer growth? We tend to forget sometimes that it is the people of our organizations that actually makes it a business, who determine the culture of the way we work and most importantly, represent the business to our customers. If they cannot be positive about their place of work and products or services they offer, then what chance does your business have in seeing sustainable growth?
We are in an era of rapid innovation, where many aspects of our business can be digital in the way we work whether that is for collaboration, building products or solving customer problems. Many people look at their path to digitisation as simply being the next step of the evolution of their business, build an application, put more documents online, provide collaboration tools to staff and customers. However, these elements are more like the partial ingredients of a cake, and if the ingredients are not complete nor added with the right measures, the resulting changes can actually prove to be of detriment to the business.
A shift in how we operate
The path to digitisation within a business therefore needs to be looked at from a business disruption perspective, what will be the impact on people, processes and existing systems? A disruption in fact is where the digitisation can be the agent of change, but actually represents a fundamental shift in how the business operates. A disruption agenda in the market seeks to drive competitors to figure out how they will adapt to catch up with this change and the same can be said for an internal disruption – however positive it may be. Leaders will need to consider the broader impacts of this change on the way a business operates today and how digitisation will require a change in the way teams work as well.
This is where I believe it will be smaller businesses that will succeed at internal disruption faster as part of their path towards digitisation. The reason being is that smaller businesses can’t afford to customise, request developers to change their software or build something from scratch that fits their needs. Smaller businesses need to leverage available functionality and if that means a change in a process or the way a business operates then so be it. Smaller businesses are like speed boats. They may not have the scale to impact an industry as much as large businesses can, but it is a lot easier to change speed, direction and possibly even the shape of their business.
A large business on the other hand is more like an oil tanker as any decision taken will have an impact on the waters around that vessel and the wake it leaves can result in faraway beaches being impacted by unexpected waves. However the time it takes for decisions to actually have an impact can be a lot longer and therefore much like an oil tanker the route needs to be planned, impacts understood and the action plan to realise that outcome.
Digitisation of a business is no different and like an oil tanker many large businesses will believe they can simply use their weight to push for outcomes they are looking for so that the digital components they select work within their existing business model. This is much like asking a ship engine provider to simply strap the new engine into place where the old one used to be. We already know it wouldn’t work as the new engine will probably have different controls, interfaces, locking mechanisms and so on. Asking an engine provider to change all of these elements to simply fit in with the needs of the ship will most likely result in the engine not delivering the same output as was originally hoped and could actually mean the ship is worse off. You will therefore have simply paid for an expensive piece of hardware with no benefit to the business. Digitisation is very much the same, there are some exciting capabilities out there, but the more a business forces changes of the tools it uses the lesser the benefit that it will bring.
Digital disruption requires organisational change
Digital disruption can be a powerful tool for a business, as long as it is considered simply as that - a tool – the broader change within the business needs people to engage in changing the processes, ways of working and evolving the culture of an organisation.
If your vision is delivering customer excellence that of course doesn’t change, but your goals as to how that is achieved may need to evolve. There are many partners that a business can work with in driving its own digital disruption, but I would recommend you consider for a moment that the functionality they are developing is based on understanding the needs of many businesses across our increasingly connected world. As such, if there is a feature or functionality that you are looking for that doesn’t exist, consider first if it is the way you are running your business that needs to change BEFORE trying to customise the software thousands of other companies have been able to work with as is.
Now of course if we follow this journey on its natural course many will say “well, that’s all fine and good Nathan, but actually you have just found another name for business efficiency”. Efficiency which will still result in roles being lost or teams being made redundant. Of course this can always happen, but I believe this can actually be reduced, by digitising the workforce.
A shift to digital
A shift to digital doesn’t mean roles simply disappear, it means different types of roles are required, I am sure there will always be some roles that are made redundant, but that isn’t about becoming digital those are more to do with efficiencies within a business that most likely already needed to be changed. We live in a world where we have three unique working generations; those for whom email and mobile was the biggest development of their time, those for whom social media was a significant change and our youngest workforce where the perceived challenges are more about reverse integration into a business that doesn’t seem as technology driven as their personal lives.
Collaborating with different generations
I view these different generations as an exciting time because it will require all three groups to make any digital disruption possible, for the moment one of these groups doesn’t embrace the change then the disruption is doomed to fail. We need to ensure that we have diverse groups helping to define and evolve the digital capabilities of a business so as they are usable by all, for both internal and external customers. We need these groups to aid in the coaching and guiding of others in how to make the change from a user’s perspective and lastly we need to ensure we have the cross-functional engagement that no one is left behind. For this reason I view that more roles will be created and with training and encouragement it becomes more a change of role than an outright “your job has been replaced by a computer!”
Disruption remains an exciting concept and I believe when brought into the business and adopted as part of a change vehicle on the path to digitisation, it can drive significant business value. We tend to associate disruption with something that can have a market impact, which it definitely can, however having a business that can disrupt itself into driving change, that will lead to sustainable growth will ultimately establish a business that is then set to disrupt the market with a business able to support. This will be executed through creating a culture of collaboration, understanding and most importantly employee pride, because an organization that sees the value in the disruption it brings to itself will quickly become your biggest sales and marketing engine when it comes to disrupting beyond your businesses home.