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Thursday, 15 February 2018

When failure takes too long

In a digital world, new ways of working are becoming increasingly common. One of these is Agile, which broadly refers to how we deliver solutions in an iterative and incremental manner, through collaboration between self-organising, cross-functional teams.
This can seem very exciting – an opportunity for rapid development, co-creation and evolving requirements, as the business adapts to learning's and change.
With Agile fast becoming mainstream, this may not be new for those of us already on-board. Nonetheless, where businesses tend to struggle with the introduction of this new way of working is the cultural change that it needs to represent as well.

Now, when I talk about culture here, I’m referring to our fear of failure. In a society that celebrates success, it’s human nature for us to not want to fail.  Failure suggests we didn’t plan, didn’t consider the options and ultimately let down our colleagues, managers, customers or even family.
Consider for a moment the last time you failed, what did that feel like? How much were you willing to share that failure with others? Announce it to the world?

Some brave souls would have stood up straight away and said, “Well got that one wrong, let’s have another go!” Now, think about the idea of failing on a regular basis. No – I don’t mean every day, but how you may have to keep changing directions while working on a project, as you become more knowledgeable on the pertinent challenges, to meet a projects objectives. How long would it take before your manager or even other senior leaders start to question what you’re doing, and wonder whether you’re the right person to be leading the project?
I’ve had some spectacular failures in my career as we sought to try new ways of working, introducing new capabilities or launching new offerings into the market place. However, I’ve also been fortunate enough to have some amazing support from my managers as I sought to pivot, recover or simply stop what we were trying to do and take a different approach (You know who you are and thank you for your belief!).

The biggest thing I have learned from these failures is simply to find my courage and highlight the risk or failure early, however uncomfortable this is, and no matter what the consequence might be. Unfortunately, not everyone has been as fortunate as I have in having some amazing managers – who understand that in the pursuit of some exciting goals, sometimes we get it completely right and other times spectacularly wrong!
It’s not uncommon that when a risk emerges within the business, an early view may be to classify it as “Amber” or even “Green” on the wishful basis that it will probably sort itself out before it becomes an issue. Unfortunately, it’s equally likely that with the passage of time, that initiative may not recover and in fact results in the risk becoming compounded due to collateral impacts.
These compounded risks can reach the point that they start to jeopardise the entire project. Given people’s natural tendency to want to show a project is performing well in its early stage, flagging this as an issue can make many folks nervous. Then one of two things will happen: either they will call out the bigger risk and wait for the bombshell of a response, with everything put on hold while a post-mortem takes place; or break down the main risk into smaller components, with the goal to resolve them individually and show that it is being managed.

I’m sure many managers who read this will say that they’re always supportive of their teams – and that all the team needs to do is raise the concern for the manager to help them solve it.
Now put yourself in your team’s shoe: when you wanted to be successful and prove that you could solve things on your own, how willing were you to call out issues on a regular basis without being seen as incapable of delivering on the outcomes?

At this point, I can anticipate the question many will be asking: what in the world does this have to do with Agile ways of working? Simply put, failure is a core aspect of Agile. In fact, you will meet many Agile coaches who say that the Agile methodology cannot be truly successful without failure.
Agile methodologies can let you achieve outcomes faster, by breaking deliverables down to their smallest component or feature you’re looking to develop. The Agile way of working requires teams to be empowered to define what they should prioritise to build first, to realise new and exciting outcomes without being encumbered by a fear of failure.
Two words leap off the page for me now – empower and failure.  Both are important and intrinsically linked to each other. What level of decision making would you be prepared to cede to someone in your team, who is leading a development project? How often would you insist on them checking in with you?

Insisting that failure is necessary for Agile to work doesn’t mean we simply sit back and watch teams continuously fail. Sometimes, intervention or a change of team member is required. Even as we empower our teams, it’s equally important that they know the standards expected of them –  whether it’s the performance of individuals or the overall team.
In setting the expectations and standards while providing the right coaching, we enable the teams to grow in the direction the business needs. I like to refer to these as the guardrails – giving people the reassurance and sense of security they need in the early days of Agile, that early failure is acceptable in the development of new capabilities. As those teams mature, these guardrails become less necessary as the team knows what is expected, and more importantly start to set their own expectations of the business as well.

To be clear though, giving greater flexibility and autonomy to teams doesn’t mean development paths look more like a bowl of spaghetti, with new capabilities created all over the place. Development teams still work to a roadmap and continue to have a prioritised view of what the sequence should be in the development of features. This lets them achieve an end goal, whether it is a new offer to market, a new system deployment or even customer deployments.
In a nutshell, Agile can be an exciting path for businesses to embark on, but it is merely a set of instructions for business leaders to follow. Simply following the said instructions doesn’t always translate to the desired business changes or accelerated outcome. For this way of working to thrive, it is imperative for business leaders to change their culture by providing the bandwidth for teams to learn, iterate and grow, without the fear of failure.

We need to recognise that without taking on the responsibility ourselves in driving this change in business culture, we will be left with teams that have been asked to embrace a new way of working that will ultimately lead to failure. This comes about when teams try to manage every risk scenario themselves, avoid the “bad news” conversation and try to be all things to all stakeholders. The result?  A workplace fixated on risk avoidance, which eventually leads to demotivated teams, increased cost of change and missed objectives – all because failure took too long.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Surviving a Digital Transformation

So let’s cover off the first question; “Why would I say surviving?” Let me put it as simply as this. Anyone that has experienced a digital transformation, or started to build digital capability within a business, will know that realising transformation through a digital lens is like operating on a patient to replace their heart and lungs while they run a marathon at the same time. (There is a building a plane while flying it too but I prefer the marathon analogy!).

Now, anyone in their right mind is going to say “Why on earth would you want to do that?” Again, simply put, it is out of necessity. No one transforms their business simply because they woke up in the morning and thought it was a good idea. It is born from an urgent need to evolve their business either from cost, competition or changing market dynamics.

Likewise, I am intrigued by the fact that many leaders feel going digital is as easy as building a new app or making a website interactive. However, when their shift to digital commences, they quickly realise it is a lot more than this, and actually that shift to digital is more about their own business’ way of working, instead of the technology they decide to deploy.

This is why a digital transformation makes sense. The move to a digital way of working, combined with the need to transform, makes for a common foundation because to realise either goal requires a business to actually change. However, if a business is not willing to change and make the proverbial “leap” into the new world, then the change that a business is embarking on will simply fail. It is irrelevant how much a CEO or business head is eager to change or evolve their business as it will always be the weakest link which will ultimately determine the degree of success. The weakest link could be a business leader who doesn’t support the change, a legacy supplier seeking to latch on worried they will lose their business, or it could also be the business setting guide rails so tight that it gives the program no chance to fail.

Yes that’s right – fail. In my experience, if you don’t fail you won’t learn what works for your business. It doesn’t matter how well you have planned your strategy for digital transformation, part of the excitement is trying new ways of working and new ways of serving customers. Some will work and others won’t, but this is all about designing your business for the future. At this point, there will be many senior executives who are reading this and say “Ah yes Nathan, learning is fine but my business can’t afford to fail. We need to grow and, as such, we will seek to leverage the expertise of consultants and System Integrator’s as they will already have gone through these learnings with other businesses and then my business will simply leverage from those … right”?

Naturally, there are many organisations out there offering to help businesses realise this digital change, with amazing stories on how they can realise the change and all of the places where they have seen it or, for the lucky ones, realised it for another business. Hence, it is an option for you to have someone transform your business and receive the end product, but as any digital native business will tell you, it will come down to your ability to not only go through one transformation, but to actually realise a greater degree of business agility and hence an ability to evolve your organisation to adapt to the true constant in our business world today, change.

It is very hard for any organisation to simply say we will do this on our own, change our way of working, retrain teams, create a new structure and introduce a whole new suite of technology and platforms. Hence, it is reasonable to be asking partners, integrator's and even software partners for support in realising the digital transformation outcome. The important word here is “support”, because the challenging aspect in this transformation is back to the business change that it is targeted to realise.

So what am I saying? Basically when you are embarking on your digital transformation, a) make sure you have identified the leaders in your business who are going to own this change, b) identify partners who can help you make that transition with a clear goal of having the ability to continue on with your transformation, independent of any partner as you establish a greater degree of maturity in the business. The objectives of a transformation will take time to realise. Putting a specific timeline on the deliverable can result in assuming a business has changed, but with a trail of destruction behind and a long tail of capability still in the old world. It’s like having had the heart and lung transplant and thinking everything is fine, but then realising you are bleeding internally which can lead to a slow painful demise.

However, by ensuring you build the capability within your business, the pace of that change can be constant, holistic and ensure no-one and no capability is left behind. Most importantly, that new internal capability will bring you a greater degree of agility as your business and/or the market continue to evolve. Hence, while you go through that heart and lung transplant, it won’t matter if that marathon evolves into a steeple chase or a cross country ski race, you and your business will have the confidence to front into that change, knowing the team has evolved to a new skill set. When I say skill, I am not referring to a digital skill, but an agility skill. To the point at which you may cause other businesses to look at their own heart and lung transplant as you go from being disrupted and merely surviving a transformation, to becoming the disruptor and ultimately start leading the marathon!

Friday, 9 December 2016

One million reasons to do business in Indonesia

No, this isn’t going to be a list of the one million things, but as my time in Indonesia comes to an end, I thought I would sit down and provide my perspective as to what it has been like working in the Indonesian market. Well put simply, it has been an amazing experience. Well of course I can’t just leave it at that! It has been an amazing journey and learning experience from both a personal and business perspective, learnings that I expect I will carry with me for some time.

Indonesia is an incredible place with high growth potential both for local businesses, as well as businesses and individuals from overseas looking to invest into Indonesia. There is so much happening in Indonesia and for the joint venture that Telkom and Telstra have established, we have had our own journey in navigating the business environment in this market. Like everything else, (including the traffic), establishing the joint venture in Indonesia was very much a journey, and to understand how best to navigate your path to maximise the opportunity, you need to first understand the market itself.

Indonesia is going through a significant growth phase at the moment, and Indonesia’s demographics are a great starting point to suggest they will continue to see this growth continue through a digital lens. With a population of more than 250 million people, and the average age being 28[i], there is a rapidly growing and eager young working population.

As such, this also means a growing desire to leverage new found purchasing power to determine lifestyles. This has been best represented by the penetration of mobile phones into Indonesia standing at 121%[ii] and Smartphones accounting for almost 1 in 4 of those. Indonesia, as of 2014, was the third largest “Twitting” nation and the second largest Facebook nation[iii]. This to me demonstrates a population that is highly connected and, with only a 21% Internet penetration rate, there is clearly further opportunity for Indonesia to expand the digital aspect of their lives for both public and business services.

The reason why I view these figures as important is that, as for any market to achieve success in our digital era, it needs to be connected and have a population which is digital savvy. Indonesia is clearly rapidly moving in that direction. With the fourth largest GDP in Asia (closing quickly on Japan),[iv] combined with a Government under President Jokowi, which is clearly striving to create a market open to investment and value creation, Indonesia is on its way in positioning itself as a growth centre for many years to come.

So Indonesia is a growth market and becoming highly digital, well pack your bags and head over, right? … Ok, well glad it sounds exciting but before you do head for the airport let me share my journey with you so as hopefully you can realise that success you seeking. Prior to moving to Indonesia, I had travelled to Indonesia many times - and no not just Bali before you ask – I believed I had experience in knowing what Indonesia would be like, the culture, what it meant to do business, and managing the joyous travel times between meetings. I was clearly only scratching the service when it came to understanding what it means to work in Indonesia.

Well one of my first learnings is that “jetting” in to visit and experience the working environment is simply not enough from which to draw experiences.  In fact it comes down to the actual experience of living and breathing the market, and connecting with the people to understand the real opportunity and likewise the challenges faced by the teams on the ground.

In establishing our business in Indonesia we knew there would be challenges, but we had underestimated the breadth of these challenges, as well as the amount we would need to adapt to ensure we established a path for success. As we landed on the ground to establish our business we quickly realized what we had hoped would be a few bumps in the road ended up being some obstacles in the road that would need to be navigated:

      1.       As we were working with the largest telecom provider in Indonesia, doing business would be easier. Of course we all knew it would be different to other markets, but that was why we were there to enter new markets and create new value. Shortly after we arrived however there was a change in Government, which led to a change in our partners’ leadership. This was apparently the norm given it’s a state-owned business.
      2.       The supply chain we were familiar with from Australia, or other parts of the world, would already be in place in Indonesia, with the recognition we would need to adjust some terms regarding language and local terms and conditions. The supply chain proved to be very different to our expectations, with vendors engaging with their distributors differently. In addition, the responsibility of managing the hardware supply chain proved to be very much the providers’ responsibility, especially given the proactive service that we were seeking to provide our customers.
      3.       Given we already had the support of our joint ventures partners executives, it would simply be a matter of being open for business would immediately start to drive the opportunity. Of course, given we were going to a new element of the partner’s business, there would always be some people not totally happy with our approach but that was ok as “they would simply adapt to us”.  We soon realised as the new kid on the block it was up to us to build those local relationships, establish trust and ultimately demonstrate our value to our partners and customers to encourage those partners to collaborate with us instead of seeing us as a new threat to their existing business models.
      4.       Business engagement would be transparent as it would be the same as many other places in Asia. It would simply be a matter of re connecting with the local representatives of our global partners and we would be ready to go. We quickly learned that many of our technology partners already had their own local partnerships established with in country System Integrators and telecom divisions, and in matter of fact, we were disrupting a model that was believed to already be working well.

      Now with all of this said the path to securing our business license took longer than we had expected, but this ended up being a hidden benefit in as it gave us the time to understand these challenges and many others as we were establishing this business. That proved invaluable as the time we gained gave us the window to understand how we could set ourselves up for success. Whether it was building one of the largest stakeholder management maps I have ever seen, or establishing a supply chain across a nation from zero, through to redefining the localised product set we would need to demonstrate relevance, all of these developments helped to shape what our business is today. Through these learnings, and the business’ ability to adapt to them, we have realised the results that I have previously shared in earlier blogs.

      The message I hope you take away from this blog is that there are a few key critical considerations when establishing your business in Indonesia:
      1)       Ensure you have a clear target and plan – don’t assume you know what it is as soon as you step off the plane but make sure you understand the environment you are looking to operate in and then start to shape your plan.
      2)      Make sure you have a solid partner you can work with who understands the market you are seeking to address and more importantly is able to help you navigate through the challenges, and equally help you to identify new opportunities you may not have originally identified in your plan.
      3)      Be agile. Things won’t work out the way you expect them to, so you can sit there and get frustrated, or actually look at what you can do differently to navigate the challenge or incorporate the new challenge into your plans and make it part of the goals you are looking to address.
      4)      Lastly, - and in my view this was one of the hardest things I had to do personally - be patient. There is a different sense of urgency in Indonesia, what I learned was that whilst I can get frustrated that things weren’t moving fast enough. I needed to find a different approach, share the goal that I was trying to achieve, and leverage the local team around us to understand how we can best reach that outcome in the fastest time possible without the traditional voice like the kid in the back seat of a car, “Are we ready yet?”
      I am sure other people who have worked in Indonesia will share other challenges from their experiences in Indonesia and ultimately some of their own critical considerations but for me this is what gave me increased confidence in our ability to succeed. With these considerations in mind, I believe businesses have a great chance to realise the opportunity that is Indonesia. An opportunity that has over one million registered businesses of different sizes, an opportunity that if approached with eyes open can result in businesses being part of an exciting growth market, all of which surely must be enough of a reason to want to do business in Indonesia … right?

[i] Source:
[ii]  GSMA Intelligence
[iii] Sating Silang & BBh Asia Pacific
[iv] CIA Factbook 2015

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Telkomtelstra - We are One!

It’s official. This little joint venture that went live in 2015 is now one year old! The day that we opened our doors to prospective customers, shared with them the immersive experience that they would have using our managed services through our Customer Experience Centre - and activated our first customer, is a day that will stay with me for a long time.

To have reached our launch day, it had already been an amazing journey from sitting in the basement of a hotel with a group of Telkom and Telstra folks asking ourselves what exactly this joint venture should look like. From those humble beginnings to get to where we are now is simply amazing.  It’s exciting to consider that since that first activation a year ago we have now contracted over 50 customers, recruited over one hundred employees and developed a suite of services across Managed Networks, Cloud Infrastructure and SaaS. All of this being built on a solely cloud enabled architecture across the operations and business systems, providing us with the ability to scale. However, equally important, was to ensure systems could be integrated and thus avoiding unnecessary rework or risk of inaccurate data.

I remain excited for the customer experience that we have been able to provide and the ongoing self-awareness that we can never stop improving our customer experience. We must always ensure that we hear the voice of our customers clearly.  The introduction of the telkomtelstra Infinity Portal has provided our customers with the first end-to-end view of the real time performance of their ICT services, in the form of an easy access web platform. I look forward to the day where we can leverage the value of Artificial Intelligence to inform customers, in a business language, of proposed actions, that seeks to continually improve their services. This means responding at a pace that will ensure ICT remains a business enabler for companies in an every changing economic landscape.

I am very proud to have been part of this team to establish a culture of collaboration, accelerated innovation and customer centricity. I am excited to see what the future holds for this joint venture – one which has overcome start-up challenges, sought to address customer challenges and provide both of its parents with a view into the possible, when it comes to Managed Services in Indonesia. I look forward to seeing telkomtelstra continue to set the standard on what managed services should be in a growth market like Indonesia. The validation of that is seen in the voice of our customers who remain our best advocates!

As a 1 year old, we have now learned to walk, we have had a few stumbles but we are on our feet. Now we are starting to show what we can do in a dynamic market like Indonesia and hopefully prove our value to both parents. My personal hope is that as managed services in markets like Indonesia over the years to come become more common, the market will continue to look to the likes of telkomtelstra as to what the next evolution of managed services could look like in these rapidly growing markets. So with that, I wish telkomtelstra a Happy Birthday and look forward to seeing it celebrate many more to come.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A Bridge Too Far

If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a classic and although the film is about a group of soldiers being dropped at a bridge further than they are supposed to, the part I relate most to business these days is the scene when they are asking what is on the other side of that bridge. No one knows, but someone is going to have to go over there. Of course no one wants to, but eventually a brave soul takes the steps to cross the bridge ready to try and blow up the bridge but fully expecting to be shot before they get there so he goes in with guns blazing. You will now be asking what does that have to do with people and technology. Put simply, the way we work can sometimes feel like that bridge too far.

In my own journey, I have worked in sales functions, led products and marketing teams and most recently, headed up operations – all disciplines that have a unique view on the business that they are tasked with supporting. From my time in sales, we focused on ensuring we could get the deal done and ask the products team to figure out how we build a product around it. In a products and marketing capacity, our focus was very much on understanding how we could best define the product and throw it over the wall to operations who will figure out how to build it. And in operations, it is the task of figuring out what has been requested and how this is going to actually work with the systems, tools and people a business currently uses. When an operations team then hands it back to sales – proud that they have been able to deliver the customer requirement with a marvelous “Ta-da it’s ready” to which sales may responds with a “That’s not what we asked for”. This is kind of like playing Chinese Whispers as a kid and giggling at how the message became so fragmented when it reached the start of the circle again. But in business we don’t tend to giggle – well not as much anyway!

For those of you familiar with the film “A bridge too far”, and equally familiar with these functions, you may be thinking a bridge crossing a river doesn’t do these differences justice. I would agree in fact that we sometimes view these as worlds apart instead of merely crossing a river. So let’s extrapolate this analogy. You aren’t merely trying to cross a bridge between functions, but actually we are asking people to don a spacesuit, board a rocket and cross a space bridge not knowing how they will be received on the other side or even if they will understand us. But don’t worry we are armed and dangerous with our own knowledge of how things should work in the business in order for us to do our job, right?

Start-up businesses provide a great learning for established businesses, in start-ups you simply don’t have a choice. You have to cross that bridge or otherwise see your start-up fail. And often in start-ups, it requires people who are working across functions in order to keep the business moving at pace. If the business loses momentum, market confidence can rapidly decline and in turn customers may be lost, resulting in a negative position for the business. Employees of a start-up have no fear because there is simply no time to be fearful or worry about how requirements will be misinterpreted. A start-up ensures these worlds overlap so as decisions are made quickly and together to ensure the business is on board with the outcome we are looking for.

I am sure there will be many of you out there thinking, but a start-up is easier they don’t have the scale we do, they don’t have the complexity of services and systems. Well who put that complexity there, or the systems that you are using? What if we could sit together and redefine what that way of working could look like? Forget who was the person who made the decision or who created the complexity, imagine a world where you could change the business model you work in, below are a few of my suggestions on how you can improve that collaboration.

Stop focusing on the customer and think about the one element you have in common no matter what your function is – the customer. It doesn’t matter if you are the lawyer, IT manager, finance manager, marketing manager or sales manager, this is the one aspect that any function will have in common. I would challenge anyone to identify a function that doesn’t impact a customer directly or indirectly. If you are going to say janitor then my answer is first impressions are everything – what if your customer visited a messy office or overflowing bins? What would that perception mean for your initial conversation?

Take a walk in the other team’s shoes – I will always remember a quote from my coach (you know who you are). In any discussion, no matter how much we disagree there will always be at least 10% truth in what the other person is saying. Pause for a moment and reflect on that concept, what could be that 10% from the other function, once you start there you may quickly find there is more truth or more importantly more alignment between your functions you are merely looking from different lenses toward the customer.

Define what is truly important. I am always amazed at the resolute stand we can make between functions to say we can’t change this or this is a deal breaker, with people left scratching their heads wondering where did that come from? Consider as a cross functional team what are key factors for success as well as failure for any activity undertaken. Agreeing these as a group provides guidance to a business and encourages ideation to be brought into a forum seeking to help realise the benefit vs. attending an episode of Dragons Den (Don’t know what it is … watch some of the video’s gulp!)
These are just a few examples based on my experience and I am sure there are many more suggestions from people out there, but the purpose of these examples is to get you thinking, looking out beyond your realm of influence and seize the opportunity.

What I am saying is this is a call for volunteers, volunteers to cross the bridge, unarmed, vulnerable and open to helping the other-side achieve their outcome with the knowledge of not what your world needs but what your world can provide. Take the leap and move to a role where you can challenge yourself to help another function succeed based on your diverse skills. In time, this bridge crossing will be two ways so when you are volunteering you will need to encourage others to follow your example and cross the bridge the other way. This mindset of adding value to encourage collaboration and ultimately drive the outcome the business is looking for namely sustainable growth and serving your customer, all of this resulting in a business realising that no bridge is too far. 

Monday, 5 September 2016

There be gold in them hills!

A new gold mine has been established, okay not a traditional one, but it is yellow at least! “Pokemon Go” has started a global craze similar to what we saw with games like “Angry Birds” and “Candy Crush”. It’s not uncommon to see people randomly walking around the streets or parks with their phones held up looking for monsters! So where is the gold in that you ask? Well how about the 200 million USD of Net Income that Nintendo saw from the game in just the month of July and this was even before the game opened up into some of the biggest gaming markets like China and Korea!

But this blog is not about Nintendo’s success – that is pretty evident. What I am more interested in is the amazing appearance of the ecosystem around “Pokemon Go”, which is very similar to the pop- up towns that appeared at a new gold rush location. The game itself has been running for roughly three months and, in that time, we now have dating applications so as you can hunt monsters with that someone special (seriously!), or get access to maps showing key locations where monsters hang out and even go to online stores where you can buy Pokemon clothing so you stand out when hunting for monsters. I didn’t realise until my kids were running around an airport that apparently Pokemon monsters are trying to now even board planes! 

We have truly moved into a digital era, one where entrepreneurial individuals are ready to respond to the latest craze and set up their own version of a bar, tailor, supply store or even more mature entertainment. Our world has clearly shifted from the physical to the virtual and these pop up ecosystems are testament to that. What is interesting though is that unlike the gold mining towns of old, these digital pop-up ecosystems will disappear faster and leave almost no evidence that they even existed. This is because the technology of our era has caught up with our childlike behaviour when it comes to our digital lives.

I think Bill Connolly said it best with “I want it now, I want it yesterday and stay awake because I will change what I want tomorrow!” We have always wanted immediacy and, as adults, we grow to accept and understand we can’t always have what we want. However, the digital world changed that with information, collaboration, games and shopping. Hence businesses have always been keen on capturing this market, but much like a child, our interests tend to be brief before we will move on with something else (don’t believe me? Well did you know the average use of an application you download is only 4-5 days? – brief indeed).

For businesses to be able to leverage this opportunity they need infrastructure to be available to spin up and spin down. They also need access to high speed connectivity to ensure their temporary services are always accessible and lastly they need to access both of these elements all over the world in order to ensure they benefit from the breadth of interest these opportunities bring albeit briefly.
Fortunately, our word has never been more connected and as such these pop up businesses can thrive profitably for short periods of time and then quickly pull back on the throttle when interest starts to wane. Of course there is no guarantee of success with these pop up businesses, but because of the elastic availability and pay-as-you-use commercial engagements, they can afford to fail and that confidence can help to increase a willingness to experiment with different types of services. Imagine if you tried to do that in a gold rush town – how many unused buildings or wasted supplies thrown out the back of the building as they tried to forget what hadn’t worked!

In today’s day and age it is all about the here and the now, and I believe it will become increasingly common to see businesses where there purpose is to build capability akin to running a short term project. Their success will also be determined by how long they can ride the coat tails of disruptive market developments by being agile and relevant and equally how many of these initiatives they can run in parallel before scale becomes a burden to their agility. The digital boom town has arrived and I am sure it won’t be long before we start seeing a map of the digital gold mines that exist in our newly created digital world to provide budding entrepreneurs with directions on how to find the nearest pop up town and set up their own shop. Ultimately, where there is gold, there is business to be done – albeit in the virtual hills!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Disruption Starts at Home

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.