As we near the end of 2020, it’s safe to say that it has been a year defined by disruption and transformation.
How, as business leaders, do we take this uncertainty in our stride and use it to make our organisations better?
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a transformative impact on our organisations. In fact, it’s been a pretty extreme version of a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, imposing rapid changes on organisations that they wouldn’t undertake in normal circumstances.
Clayton Christensen explains in “The Innovator’s Dilemma” that often the behaviours that companies use to be successful also stop them adapting and innovating. This is because the ‘safe’ way is usually the most profitable way. Companies act in their best interests by focusing their resources on activities that make money. This prevents them from innovating or trying out new technologies that are promising but not yet mature enough to be taken seriously. They’re afraid that their customers may not have the patience to stick with them as they try new innovations and possibly fail.
The Covid-19 pandemic turned this on its head, with its lockdowns and social distancing restrictions giving many businesses no choice but to adapt and fast. Restaurants, for example, had to pivot to provide takeaways.
Change comes with risks. How can organisations transform successfully making the most of what they are great at but being in a position to make the most of new opportunities? Here are seven ways that they can respond to moments of uncertainty with agility.
1. Communicate, communicate and communicate.
Communication is critical, especially in times of change. So be clear on the why, find the purpose and make sure that this is clear to everyone within the organisation. Use a multichannel approach and repeat, repeat, repeat. In the absence of understanding, people fear the worst.
2. Look through the customer lens.
Start the transformation one slice at a time. You mustn’t approach this in individual teams but across the organisation as a whole, cutting through silos with a shared vision. Take the customer lens how they see and interact with you, not how you are structured and use it to determine how all your teams can work together to create the best possible customer journey. There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than being told: “Oh that’s not my responsibility, let me transfer you to another team.”
3. Make sure you’re working as a team.
Bring the whole team together, map the customer journey and make sure that everyone understands the vision and mission. The risk person, the legal person, the product person and the technology person all need to work together to deliver for the customer and, when it goes wrong, they should all feel the pain.
4. It's not about command and control.
Leaders don’t need to have all the answers; they’re there to support the team and unblock issues. They’re not directors; they’re conductors. The best ideas aren’t born, they’re built by allowing people with different perspectives to have their say. Leaders need to create psychologically safe places for every team member to contribute, so that people feel that their ideas are valued and empowered to make suggestions regardless of their job level or area of expertise.
5. Be clear on outcomes.
Rewards need to be team-based and dependent on customer outcomes. If the password reset process has only reduced customers’ requests for password resets by 60%, keep going the outcome wasn’t to deliver a password reset functionality, it was to improve the process for customers so that they didn’t need to sit in the call waiting queue for 20 minutes.
6. Don’t be afraid to test beta solutions.
Allow the team to test and learn, limit the risk and let the customer feedback and data guide your development pipeline. Definitely don’t let the highest paid person make all the decisions: when was the last time your C-suite director was a customer?
7. Constantly evolve.
As the process or product is improved, bring in more processes and products. Scale by rolling in more volume, not by trying to push it out. Expand the team to the next customer journey, learn the lessons from the previous journey and let the teams teach each other. Business change and transformation should be as delightful as personal transformation. Your colleagues just need to understand why they are doing it and how they contribute. It’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as all that agile jargon makes it seem.