8 Areas of Leadership Focus In Times Of Ongoing Disruption

In July last year I published a research and later and an eBook called REIGNITE! From Crisis To Opportunity In A COVID World. In light of a recent lockdown where I live (Guernsey) I thought it worth reflecting on what I wrote back then. To help I’ve pasted an infographic containing 8 areas where leaders should focus to rebuild their organisations.

Six months on and most (if not all) recommendations still remain, from prioritising digital investments, pushing ahead with smarter working policies, and leading with empathy. Whether or not organisations have implemented some or all of these is likely to be another story.

How To Create Winning Strategies That Reignite Human Potential, Adaptability and Creativity

Yesterday I gave a presentation to a NED Forum event sponsored by Investec. It covers a topic that I think is one of the most important issues for CEOs and Boards today who continue to grapple with the challenges of COVID.

The 3 key objectives for the presentation were to:

  1. Better understand what are some of the key and complex forces at play in organisations due to COVID
  2. How organisations can be more adaptable and resilient to future disruptive change
  3. And how to do this with more humanity using some best practices of a growing new breed of organisations out there

You can view the presentation here or below including the REIGNITE! 2020 Report:

The REIGNITE! 2020 Report

For those interested on more detail, below I have pasted in snippets of the talk including the Introduction.

Enjoy!

——

Hello and welcome everyone. Thank you to The NED Forum and Investec for the opportunity to speak here today. My name is Andrew Essa, and today I’m going to cover a topic that I think is one of the most important, if not THE most important, issues for CEOs and Boards today.

And that is:

Not just about turning this COVID crisis into an opportunity

Not just about where CEOs should focus, or where to invest

And not just about what winning strategies to implement to outmanouevure the competition

But more about HOW to do all of this in a way that is also more humane, more trusting and less bureaucratic, and in a way that can unleash the potential and creativity of people to have more impact and more fulfilling work lives

So we will aim to do 3 things here today:

  1. Better understand what are some of the key and complex forces at play in organisations
  2. How organisations can be more adaptable and resilient to future disruptive change
  3. And how to do this with more humanity using some best practices of a growing new breed of organisations out there

Slide 2 – Gary Hamel quote

  • So to bring this quote which I love and also my ‘fascination’ with this topic – I’ll tell you a quick story about ABC Learning Company, based here in Gsy. 
  • Obviously that is not their real name but I came across them in some research I did during Q2 and lockdown. 
  • In the research which later became the REIGNITE 2020 Report – which I’ll introduce shortly – there was so much devastation across sectors including travel, hospitality, retail, construction, manufacturing, and so on. 
  • In fact 50% of the 439 leaders surveyed were in total despair, in terms of closures, restructuring, uncertainty and so on. 
  • However…there was a glimmer of hope!
  • About 10% of businesses were doing extraordinary things. They were using the crisis as an opportunity to reset, rethink, and reinvent. They were pivoting, quickly using technology to launch new offerings, testing new business models, and at the same time becoming more efficient, productive and reducing costs.
  • In terms of ABC Learning, it was a typical lifestyle business providing high school tutors, owned by one person with 5 tutors on the payroll. No online presence, web-site or anything. Business stopped overnight with lockdown, but by rethinking things quickly and using simple online and digital tools – google spreadsheets for CRM and bookings, zoom for delivery of live sessions, stripe for online or over the phone payments, the owner was not only able to quickly survive but doubled revenue during lockdown, hired 10 more tutors on contracts, and created a scalable solution which allowed for recorded training on-demand on popular topics. So better CX, more revenue and profits.
  • So what is interesting here is the combination of human psychology and business strategy during a crisis: so how did the leader reinvent whilst everyone was retreating, what can we learn, and how can we emulate this for our own contexts
  • This is what underpins today’s talk and certainly the REIGNITE 2020 Report which I’ll introduce shortly.

Slide 5 – The Modern Org is Under Attack

  • So the modern organisation is clearly under attack from so many angles. 
  • The pace of change now is exponential and only will increase as further technological convergence happens through digital, AI, automation, analytics and so on
  • Today’s orgs look and feel very similar to how they have always been – command-control, top-down consistency, coordination and standardisation- which is the classic bureaucracy 
  • In US 1983-2019 the bureaucratic workforce – managers and overhead – has doubled in that time-frame VS growth of 50% in all other job categories
  • At same time productivity per OECD has gone down since them
  • Mental health, burnout, anxiety, stress, bullying, politics, discrimiation, harassment etc has skyrocketed 
  • Do we know anyone who is a leader, manager or worker and genuinely feels inspired, trusted, valued and engaged by their organisation every day??
  • We can’t afford it anymore!
  • So the question becomes, is it possible to build organisations that are big and fast, disciplined and empowering, responsive to market shifts yet resilient, efficient and entrepreneurial, and bold and prudent?
  • Many examples of new breeds of organisations successfully operating with 1/2 of bureaucratic load of traditional org
  • Case study – Buurtzorg (page xi)
    • Dutch firm Birdszaard home-health employers 16,000 nurses and home-carers with 2 line managers with a span of control of 1-8000!
    • They do this with dividing into small teams, give them the data they need to be self-managing, connect with a social platform to collaborate to solve problems and collaborate and share best practices, hold deeply accountable with P&Ls
    • Gives all the advantages of bureaucracy with control, consistency and coordination with no drag or overhead

On Digital Business:

  • Speed and scale: Digital and cloud has enabled adaptability at speed and scale;
    • The crisis has shown that rapid change at speed and scale is possible using digital and cloud in the short-term.
  • Increased adoption: Increased adoption of back-end cloud and front-end productivity tools, from e-signature to VC to MS365 to Dropbox etc
  • Effectiveness and benefits: Focus now on what is working, what isn’t, benefits realisation, productivity, efficiency, training, 
  • Complexity: So much going on…..managing capacity, cybersec, managing the complexity of the new IT estate, ensuring greater resource allocation with 2021 budgets, investments and leadership commitment to that 
  • Scaling and Transformation: The best firms – probably not many – are:
    •  firmly putting digital at the centre of corporate strategy
    • looking whether to build vs buy
    • aligning leaders on digital acumen so every CXO is a Chief Digital Officer for their function
    •  looking at wider opportunities for upskilling and digital adoption across the firm – so beyond infrastructure into more advanced worker productivity tools – automation, AI, analytics, superior Customer Experiences, New Business Models and Products/Services, Ecosystem Collaborations/Ventures
    • As well as more strategically, how to better organise and transform to become a digital business
  • Caution! Digital laggards will get left behind due to external forces and competitive intensity

On Trust + Safety:

  • So this is such a critical, complex and often overlooked dimension, mainly as it requires leaders to be empathetic and emotionally intelligent, and unfortunately many aren’t  
  • The BIG opportunity is that for the firms who get these complex dynamics right, will differentiate themselves from a talent retention and hiring perspective and become the new employers/brands of choice 2021+
  • But first we need to look at the state of play before COVID
  • In a nut-shell, there is very little trust, just need to look at amount of oversight, rules, policies, rule-choked processes and employees get this and know they aren’t trusted and even that their managers don’t think they are very capable
  • UK amount of discretion people have in jobs has been going down in last 20years
  • Only 1 out of 5 believe their opinions matter at work
  • Only 1 in 10 have the freedom to experiment with new solutions and methods
  • Most people can buy a car or house but same people in organisations can’t order a better £150 work chair without going through crazy internal hoops and hurdles
  • The way organisations are organised it is a caste system of managers and employees of thinkers/doers which causes disengagement of people from their work
  • Gallup surveys show only 20% of those highly engaged in their work – this is ALARMING so something needs to change
  • So against that backdrop you introduce a health and economic crisis of proportions never seen before, which impacts the human psyche in many different ways, and for most orgs you have a widening trust gap
  • Key impacts:
    • The “psychological contract” between employer/employee has also shifted for many
    • Traditional work assumptions have been challenged, firms must now not assume ‘old’ practices were the right ones
    • Acceleration of complex issues around safety, mental health, inclusivity, belonging, empathy, EQ, culture and behaviour, power dynamics, and expectations on leadership styles

Digital Playbook: How And Where to Focus to Maximise Opportunities In a COVID World

In summary, this article provides:

  • An 8-point playbook of strategies which leaders can use to focus time and resources to build digital capabilities and navigate business change
  • A useful framework to compare or evaluate existing digital investment and innovation initiatives to improve quality and impact
  • A useful article to share or use for internal discussions with non-digitally native executives, Board members and cross-functional teams
  • A set of practical strategies to guide implementation following on from the key insight and findings in the REIGNITE 2020 Report authored by Andrew Essa
  • A playbook to evaluate your digital progress and help plan for the future. Get in touch with any questions, comments or help to implement these perspectives here andrew@rocketandcommerce.com or at ROCKET + COMMERCE

The 8 strategies include:

  1. Understand current digital usage, productivity, value and benefits
  2. Diagnose and benchmark digital performance and opportunities
  3. Scale digital capacity for increasing demand but manage complexity
  4. Review and upgrade cybersecurity measures
  5. Move from ‘good’ to ‘great’ across 4 key areas
  6. Prioritise resource reallocation to digital initiatives (with a crisis mindset)
  7. Improve the digital acumen of the Board (and workforce)
  8. Organise to build digital capabilities

8 Strategies For Leaders to Navigate Digital Acceleration

Although some organisations are thriving on the back of tailwinds in this environment, many more are struggling. In many cases, the difference between the former and the latter is an organisation’s ability to rapidly adapt and chart a sustainable and differentiated path forward, especially through maximising Digital opportunities across areas including Customer Experience, Growth Strategy, Workforce Productivity, and Organisational Adaptability (I posted recently here about the 3 Big Digital Opportunities for Organisations)

Below are 8 playbook strategies for leaders to now consider:

#1 Understand productivity, value and benefits 

For most organisations, the critical first step has been to safeguard employees by enabling them to work remotely using the full suit of available tools (see below). 

hub---digital-workplace

As this continues alongside partial or even full reintegrations, firms should continuously engage or ‘pulse check’ with workers, customers and key stakeholders. It is critical to evaluate what is working well (e.g. feedback, analytics, usage), what is missing (e.g. cybersecurity, training, IT hardware), lessons learned, and where low-hanging fruit is for further digitisation opportunities and benefits (e.g. customer service and experience).

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A challenge to overcome is that most firms typically fail to realise the full value from their technology investments for a variety of reasons (e.g. budgets, skills, governance, change, training etc). What tends to happen is some efficiency and cost reduction, but limited revenue generation, improved customer experiences and new products/services. The firms who out-perform their peers are the ones who prioritise and maximise the full potential of digital and are laser-focused on benefits realisation across the organisation. 

“The crisis has sped up the utilisation of tools such as Microsoft Teams for meetings, e-signature software and other tech which will assist both with internal and external customers moving forward. Typically face to face meetings or travel has been a big part of how we’ve conducted business particularly in my role in the past – Client Director, Private Investment Bank (interviewed in the REIGNITE! 2020 Report)

#2 Diagnose digital performance and opportunities 

For some SMEs, the current state of digital maturity involves a combination of accelerated back-end cloud, front-end software tools (e.g. MS 365), and new ways of working. Other larger, established firms however continue to have core (or hybrid) infrastructure set-ups based on outdated tools, processes, and assumptions combined poor digital acumen at leadership level and limited workforce training or up skilling.

This makes it increasingly difficult to adapt to new challenges (e.g. remote work, new services, cybersecurity), manage complexity, and properly reap the benefits of digital technologies. In some cases, the lack of agility will drag down the business which might be fighting to to rescue declining margins, compete, or even survive.

The challenge for leaders is to build on the momentum of change (‘it can be done!’) and increased adoption by leveraging the potential of digital across the entire organisation (not merely in pockets) for improved efficiency, productivity, customer experiences and new products/services.

To get started, leaders need to know what they are dealing with today.  If strategic planning around digital opportunities are to be robust and there is leadership intent to focus time and resources on the digital agenda, data and insight about the current digital state of the organisation will be needed.

Diagnostic surveys tools and assessments can help to evaluate an organisation’s digital and analytics maturity to discover digital growth, operational  improvement and worker productivity opportunities now, with recommendations on where to focus efforts for longer-term growth, change or productivity. 

At ROCKET + COMMERCE our Digital Performance Index (DPI) focuses on areas including Strategy, Customers, Analytics, Technology, Operations, Marketing, Offerings, People, Culture, and Automation. This data-driven, diagnostic approach helps CxOs and functional leadership teams to shape, refresh and align around a common vision and strategy across key digital and innovation dimensions.

We also critically incorporate human-centric approaches (see below) to our diagnostic tools which also provides people-focused data of digital change on users, customers, experiences, productivity, collaboration, skills, behaviours, trust, safety, belonging, health and well-being. 

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Read these brief case studies on how  at ROCKET + COMMERCE we have helped organisations do this and find new ways to go-to-market, become more customer-centric, launch new ventures, or pilot new up skilling programmes

This exercise also allows leaders to identify gaps between current capabilities and those of digital leaders (or the desired future state of the organisation), and plan a prioritised road map of tactical improvements or new strategic initiatives. This data-driven, diagnostic approach can also help CxOs and functional leadership teams align around a common vision and strategy across key digital dimensions. 

DMM_Model_Overview_2020

#3 Scale digital capacity for increasing demand but manage complexity 

Many IT teams are now grappling with providing sufficient capacity to serve the increased (and varying) volumes of traffic flowing through digital channels. One respondent to the survey (a provider of web-based collaboration tools), experienced a surge in demand from all of the newly remote workers and had to rapidly build out new infrastructure capacity to ensure availability.

This transition to digital channels will likely continue beyond the current health crisis as customers and organisations adopt fundamentally different ways of working. Recent research from Gartner indicates that about 41% of employees are likely to work remotely for some of the time post-pandemic. 

RemoteWorkStatisticsSource: Blackfog

The accelerated capacity build-out in H1 2020 has taken many forms beyond physical infrastructure deployment. In many cases, it has pushed organisations to adopt different architectural solutions for expansion, such as cloud bursting and augmenting on-premises deployments with virtual appliances and software-based deployments in the public cloud.

According to Mike Pelliccia, head of worldwide financial services technology solutions at Amazon Web Services (AWS), on-premises infrastructure no longer meets the business needs of today:

On-premises data infrastructures do not scale to meet variable and increasing volumes of data. Multiple disconnected data silos with inconsistent formats obscure data lineage and prevent a consolidated view of activity. Rigid data schemas prevent access to source data and limit the use of advanced analytics and machine learning. The high costs of legacy data warehouses also limit access to historical data.

The cloud helps organisations to harness the value of their data and aggregate it at speed and scale so that they can achieve their business goals. Traditional data solutions cannot keep up with the volumes and variety of data that is being collected today by financial players.

Pelliccia adds that a cloud-based data lake allows organisations – from banks to SMEs – to store all data in one central repository where it can be more readily available for the application of other technologies such as machine learning, “to support security and compliance priorities, realise cost efficiencies, perform forecasts, execute risk assessments, improve understanding of customer behaviour, and drive innovation.”

This enables organisations to maintain a holistic view of their business, while identifying risks and opportunities. For instance, analyses can help to detect fraud, surface market trends and mine for deeper customer insights to deliver tailored products and personalised experiences.

#4 Review and upgrade cybersecurity measures

Whilst many organisations will have robust cybersecurity processes and culture, for many others this will represent a new capability and massive learning curve. What was good just a few months or weeks ago may not be adequate today.

The urgency and impact of the shift away from office working will mean most organisations may have introduced new levels and types of cybersecurity risk not previously seen before at this scale (see below for leading causes of cyber risks).

bakerhostetler-causes-graph

Source: PropertyCasualty360

While allowing the workforce to be flexible is only a small part of digital transformation, it carries with it the need to ensure that new hardware (laptops, home printers, smartphones) and services have been, and continue to be, implemented securely (e.g. full disk encryption, enabling strong multi-factor authentication, and using VPN      technology).  

 #5 Move from ‘good’ to ‘great’ across 4 key areas 

Once solutions to immediate workforce and business priorities are in-flight, organisations should accelerate the exploring of different ways to use digital to work and operate, deliver innovative customer experiences, and create value in the new normal. For example, restaurants enabling entirely new in-home dining experiences, telemedicine becoming more of a norm, and different ways to shop with ubiquitous curb-side pick-up.

According to McKinsey, whilst many B2B companies have a general sense of what they need to do to become more digitally-enabled, it is the best B2B leaders who move beyond “accepted wisdom” to focus on being ‘great’ at 3 main differentiators of digital success:

  • Customer Insights
  • Process Improvement
  • Capability Building

To this list, I add a critical 4th dimension: Business Models 

The below provides further explanation:

Customer insights

  • Good: Focus on understanding their customer preferences and demographics.
  • Great: Ability to quickly translate into the most relevant value-creation strategies. Pick one or two high-value customer segments, then map decision journeys front-to-back to understand how customers buy, what channels they use, what turns them on—and off. More than 90 percent of B2B buyers use a mobile device at least once during the decision process, yet fewer than 10 percent of the B2B companies in the survey indicated that they have a compelling mobile strategy.

Process improvement

  • Good: Relentlessly improve existing processes.
  • Great: Use agile development techniques, automation, and design thinking to reengineer or reinvent supporting processes. Effective pre-sales activities—the steps that lead to qualifying, bidding on, winning, and renewing a deal—can help B2B companies achieve consistent win rates of 40 to 50 percent in new business and 80 to 90 percent in renewals. Incorporating agile techniques forces product development, marketing, sales, and IT to come together and use digital design practices, such as launching minimally viable products (MVP). That can ramp up the cultural changes needed as well.

Capability building

  • Good: Build important capabilities for digital initiatives
  • Great: Identify and augment the capabilities critical to achieving scale. B2B leaders create an organisational structure that supports their digital transformation. That involves identifying which skills need to be reallocated, what data and analytics resources are needed, and which customer opportunities require capabilities that need to be built, hired, or acquired. Systematic performance tracking needs to be in place to keep the efforts on track and make sure they having the desired impact (only one in five B2B companies systematically tracks digital performance indicators).

Business Models

  • Good: Optimise existing business model by digitising their traditional products, interfaces and distribution channels. 
  • Great: Take advantage of platform models and thinking leveraging network effects, intelligent AI-powered solutions, developer/API enablement and ecosystems, and customer-centric orchestration. As every sector digitises – accelerated by the COVID crisis – the imperative to incorporate new digital business models becomes more urgent. This underpins the ‘great’ executors. 

According to digital platforms expert Simon Torrence:

Platform thinking is about taking advantage of flexible software and digital  infrastructure to leverage, at scale, other economic actors (complementary third parties and/or developers) to create new value for customers and markets.Rather than trying to design and build everything yourself – which is the default for most companies today – platform thinking encourages you to act as a coordinator or enabling intermediary between the needs of your customers, your own expertise and the expertise of others.

Simon goes on to say that:

Incumbent leaders admire and fear the big tech giants, and would love to emulate or incorporate some of their ‘secret sauce’ into their own businesses, but don’t know how. They have been happy to invest large sums to digitise their existing business model and fund experiments, pilots and CVC investments in new areas, but have found it difficult to fully embrace the types of digital business models that work best in a hyper-connected world and to take bold steps in re-allocating meaningful levels of capital and resources towards them.

In summary, a commitment to “great” is really what allows companies to reap the rewards from digital and build digital and supporting capabilities. Without it, organisations will find their improvements provide only modest benefits that cannot be scaled.

#6 Prioritise resource reallocation to digital initiatives (with a crisis mindset)

As outlined above, the COVID crisis will accelerate the gap between digital laggards and transforming leaders requiring firms to now evaluate investments, baseline ‘digital maturity’, and in the short-term, secure a stronger, repositioned role for digital investments in 2021. 

In fact, in 2019 McKinsey believed a ‘crisis mindset’ was required. And that was before COVID….

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This is likely to require an urgent reallocation of resources. Although most senior executives understand the importance of strategically shifting resources (according to McKinsey research, 83 percent identify it as the top management lever for spurring growth— more important than operational excellence or M&A), only a third of companies surveyed reallocate a measly 1 percent of their capital from year to year; the average is 8 percent. 

This is a huge missed opportunity because the value-creation gap between dynamic and drowsy reallocators can be staggering. A company that actively reallocates delivers, on average, a 10 percent return to shareholders, versus 6 percent for a sluggish reallocator. Within 20 years, the dynamic reallocator will be worth twice as much as its less agile counterpart—a divide likely to increase as accelerating COVID impacts, digital disruptions, and growing geopolitical uncertainty boost the importance of nimble reallocation. 

The disconnect tends to be because managers struggle to figure out (and agree) where they should reallocate, how much they should reallocate, and how to execute successful reallocation. Additionally, disappointment with earlier reallocation efforts can push the issue off top management’s agenda.

Although these challenges can be overcome, feedback and data from employees, customers, and the maturity benchmarking should help to align senior management commitment to prioritising the short-term digital investment requirements, and at the same time laying the foundation for more detailed discussions and analysis for longer-term strategic planning. 

#7 Improve the digital acumen of the Board (and workforce)

 A UK government report published in 2016 found that the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP. Similarly, a report from Amrop, a global executive search firm, reveals that just 5% of board members in non-tech organisations have digital competencies, and that the figure has barely moved in the last two years.

In the new COVID world requiring adaptability and digital adoption at a scale never seen before, boards must get to work in reassessing competencies, adopting new ways of working (e.g. continuous strategic planning, collaborating internally and with the wider ecosystem), and being open to hiring diverse backgrounds if needed. 

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In addition, since many new digital directors may have atypical perspectives (e.g. deep technical vs product vs strategy vs HR), companies must make sure that they have strong on-boarding processes in place, to capture and maximise the impact of their new board members.

A critical first step is to ensure a consistent understanding of what digital and innovation means amongst leaders and boards, what are the best practices of leading tech and non-tech organisations, and what are the big opportunities for digital (and threats) in a COVID world. As part of this, improving the board’s understanding of the external environment and how it is shifting, and how the big trends and signals might impact the immediate and longer-term future. 

In many cases, firms will need outside help across recruitment (e.g. diversity), training and education (e.g. research and insight, best practices, benchmarking), advisory, and briefings from experts, entrepreneurs, academics, and other ecosystem players. 

Once the above happens (which in theory can happen quickly with committed leadership), this should provide the intent and focus to refresh strategic plans and budgets, and then roll-out or accelerate digital and innovation upskilling throughout the wider workforce as a strategic priority.  

#8 Organise to build digital capabilities  

Put simply, digital capability can be defined as doing everything it takes to develop an organisation and workforce able to:

  • Maximise the potential of technology, data and talent to address business challenges; and
  • Ability to respond quickly to continual shifts in consumer behaviour and external environment in a fast-changing connected world.

According to recent study by Deloitte involving interviews with industry leaders, achieving this is not easy as the survey had a multi-faceted response. However, organisations that have successfully adapted to this new environment typically make delighting the customer their #1 priority, set bold goals to achieve factors of 10x impact, and challenge the status quo by looking for new ideas to solve.

3 core critical success factors to building digital capabilities:

Leadership:

In these times of significant change, leaders must understand, collaborate, and champion the exciting potential of technology from the very top of the organisation.

However, understanding the full suite of digital opportunities (e.g. API-based BaaS platforms) are often new and alien to leaders of incumbent firms. Teams and advisers need to help them to understand how digital can work, and the options in terms of where to play and how to win. This is critical to getting commitment to re-allocating sufficient capital and resources from other initiatives to support this market opportunity in a meaningful way.

Organisational Structure and Operating Models:

Organisations need to embed and build the right structures and models that allows them to drive digital change and execute in an agile way.  This requires clarity on the firm’s approach to digital strategy (e.g. build vs buy vs partner) as the implementation approaches to build digital capabilities will differ.

For example, many established firms will embark on dual-transformation or innovation portfolio approaches by

(i) executing process improvement and cultural change in the main firm (see ‘A’ below)

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(ii) creating separate legal entities, JVs and alliances to tackle new markets, exploit new business models, sometimes at the risk of cannibalising the main business (see ‘B’ above or ‘Exploit’ below)

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Source: Strategyzer

PingAn has pursued the above approaches to become one of the best-performing transformer of the past decade (and become a much sough-after MBA case study subject). It typically kick-starts new ventures with partners as part of the ‘explore’ portfolio which is one of the most effective approaches to reducing risk and increasing chances of success.

Typically these are best managed away from the core in an ‘explore’ portfolio of businesses within a new organisational structure and P&L. 

Talent, Skills, Culture and Data:

Maximising digital opportunities require radically different skills, technologies, ways of working, and metrics. Organisations need to empower people to be creative, test and learn and challenge existing ways of working. They also need to cultivate diversity and a lifelong learning mindset, recognising that many will resist change. This was highlighted in PwC’s recent Skills Report.

In addition, whilst the focus of the ‘future workforce’ tends to focus on the technical and ‘hard’ skills (e.g. engineering, analytics, coding etc) it is the soft skills and humanities expertise which will gain increasing importance.

Screen Shot 2020-08-21 at 10.56.33

According to billionaire tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban:

“Twenty years from now, if you are a coder, you might be out of a job,” Cuban predicted. “Because it’s just math and so, whatever we’re defining the A.I. to do, someone’s got to know the topic. If you’re doing an A.I. to emulate Shakespeare, somebody better know Shakespeare.” Cuban acknowledged the importance of coding as a short-term opportunity. Long-term, however, the Shark Tank investor pointed out that A.I. is only as good as the data it’s given–meaning the highest-skilled workers in the future will be the ones who can identify “what is right and what is wrong and where biases are.”

Already today design thinking and human-centred design is a new differentiator in digital which complement technical mobile, cloud, AI, and other more technical digital skills.

“Creativity, collaboration, communication skills: Those things are super important and are going to be the difference between make or break” – Mark Cuban

In terms of data (the new ‘oil’) organisations need to capture, track, protect, analyse and maximise the business value of their data, as along with people, this is the most valuable asset.

Some further tactics might include:

  • Senior executive and board training, commitment and refreshed digital strategies 
  • Centralising digital business expertise (e.g. Centre of Excellence) using hub-and-spoke engagement model 
  • Hiring a Chief Digital Officer and team/function
  • New talent and up skilling (e.g. analytics, user experience)
  • Hiring external, flexible talent e.g. freelancers
  • Cross-functional governance
  • New incentives and behaviours
  • Collaborating with wider industry and ecosystem partners
  • Training will be integral which will also enable every C-level executive to be their own ‘Chief Digital and Innovation Officer’ for their functions.

Accenture summarise this using an 8 step ‘playbook’ below:

Accenture-Change-Leader-Digital-Economy-ThumbnailWhat’s next?

To better understand these issues further or explore our range of digital business advisory offerings, get in touch here andrew@rocketandcommerce.com or at ROCKET + COMMERCE

3 Big Digital Priorities for Leaders

After analysing the data of over 439 senior leaders at global organisations in the recent REIGNITE! 2020 Report, it was clear that the use of technology for 95% of the majority had been to maintain business operations, whether that was survival or business continuity in facilitating remote work. 

This is not surprising per se in response to a major emergency. Before the tectonic shifts caused by COVID-19, some organisations were executing on multi-year digital transformation plans, with others focused on fighting other fires with digital not even on the radar. 

The ongoing pandemic, economic, social and health crises continues to raise the stakes for leaders on digital priorities, underscored by three major opportunities:

#1 Increased digital adoption enables adaptability at speed and scale

For many firms this has involved a combination of accelerated back-end cloud, front-end software tools, and new ways of working. Many of those digital initiatives quickly became make or break—for example restaurants, cafes, and retailers enabling digital orders and connecting seamlessly with delivery services. 

Other firms however continue to have core (or hybrid) infrastructure set-ups based on outdated tools, processes, and assumptions which need to be re-envisioned for the evolving landscape, continuing remote workforce requirements and leadership appetite to maximise the full potential of digital across the firm.

The focus for leaders should be to build on the momentum of change the crisis has caused (‘it can be done!’) and adoption by moving beyond ‘getting back to business’ and understanding the full set of digital opportunities for customers, internal processes, workers, and organisational capabilities. 

#2 Digital acceleration increases the widening gap between the ‘laggards’ and transforming leaders 

COVID-19 has accelerated this trend and has firmly planted digital and innovation at the top of most CEO’s (and CXO’s) agenda. Whilst many of the worlds large and small companies went into tailspin or survival mode once the pandemic took hold, a handful of digital-powered and platform-enabled companies have instead added billions to their market capitalisation and top-line revenues. And they won’t stop (even likely break-up by the US government will not slow them down). 

In other words, if COVID crisis hasn’t shown you the burning platform (i.e. how fast change is moving, and how digital can help you adapt), then nothing will.

Here are the 3 rough categories of organisations today:

The Leaders: 

A business or brand, which has invested heavily (monetarily and otherwise) into a digital transformation strategy that goes far beyond ‘remote work facilitation’. Integrating key technologies and talent (up skilling existing and augmenting with external expertise) to elevate customer experiences, exploit new business models and ventures, and optimise business processes. Not to be confused with those who have attempted digital transformation, only to implement a new email system and hang up their hats.

The Laggards: 

Those who, for whatever reason, have failed to incorporate new technologies and/or invest in up skilling their talent, leaving their business to rely solely on manual or traditional forms of operations, business models, go-to-market, and communications. While you may be inclined to think of this group as pure traditionalists, grasping on to their old standards, assumptions and ways of working, this group has grown to include a much broader range of organisations. 

In talking with many leaders and employees across the world, it is surprising how many leaders have gone straight back to this way of working after Q2 2020 lockdown. In some cases, they have retreated even further. 

The Middle-Ground Mavens:

This may be the point in which you find yourself asking, but what about those in middle? Not quite a leader, but definitely not a laggard. In our post-COVID world and given the pace of change, the space taken up by these ‘middle ground mavens’ you could argue is increasingly dwindling, giving way to a landscape in which we can only find ourselves as laggards or leaders. Those who have mastered the art of transformation and innovation, and those who have not. 

(NB This is obviously hugely simplified and far from black or white, but the sentiment remains).

For non-tech large incumbents with some tailwinds and the appetite to transform, there is significant opportunity to use the scale and resources to digitise processes for efficiency, and at the same time, investing in future growth and innovation portfolios, new business models, and up skilling. PingAn’s transformation is a brilliant case in point. 

Whilst this is not easy and requires the right leadership, the alternative is arguably worse: a slow death-march toward extinction or significant value-destruction. 

 #3 Digital acceleration enables more advanced and integrated human and digital combinations

In other words, digital adoption will enable the workforce of today and tomorrow (e.g. remote, virtual, distributed, agile, flexible, gig etc) to become more productive, effective and efficient (‘smarter’) utilising automated workflows (enabled by cloud, analytics, AI, automation, software) of both repetitive and higher-order tasks.

The Boston Consulting Group call this the ‘Bionic Organisation’ which at its core will combine more advanced and integrated human/software combinations (see below):

The-Bionic-Company-of-the-Future_Exhibit_tcm-233419-1024x829

According to BCG, what the company of the future will look like is becoming clearer. At the centre is purpose and strategy: the reasons it is in business and how it brings those reasons to life. Four enablers allow companies to operate as bionic organizations: two have to do with technology and data, while the other two address talent and organisation.

What’s next?

To better understand these issues further or explore our range of digital business advisory offerings, get in touch here andrew@rocketandcommerce.com or at ROCKET + COMMERCE