It’s not uncommon these days to see a company go from top performer to bankrupt. You miss a few weeks of news and everything changes. The speed at which these changes happen can be breathtaking.
How do companies compete in this digital era? What are the best practices we can learn from others?
Peter A. High, president of the digital business advisory firm Metis Strategy, advises numerous companies and executives on how to compete in the digital era. His book, Getting to Nimble: How to transform your company into a digital leader answers these questions even as it shares compelling stories from organizations who have made the transformational leap required.
What is the Peter High definition of “nimble”?
An organization that is nimble has the modernized and matured their practices related to people, processes, technologies, ecosystems, and strategy such that they can seize opportunities as they present themselves and stave off issues that present themselves more readily, as each will be presented more quickly than in the past. Without modernizing practices related to these five themes and 27 sub-themes that I identify in my book, technology and digital divisions of companies are likely to become the boat anchors, holding the ship that is their enterprise back rather than being the engine and rudder, steering toward safety and opportunity and away from danger.
You share stories of companies who have shifted into the digital era. What are a few of the key takeaways from your study?
First, it is critical to make change a core competence. The only constant is change, as has been said. The long-time CIO of Google, Ben Fried, indicated that the way in which that company has maintained its entrepreneurial spirit despite growing into a behemoth has been its ability to attract and retain people who are comfortable with and even drive change, even if it means cannibalizing what has worked in the past.
Second, those companies that are able to build talent factories, growing junior team members into senior team members, each imbued in the culture of the company while always pushing that culture to modernize are the companies that will thrive and continue to reinvent themselves.
Third, digital transformation requires adoption of digital processes (e.g., agile development, DevOps) and modern technology practices (e.g., cloud, microservices, APIs, and the like).
Fourth, competition is no longer company-to-company; it is ecosystem-to-ecosystem. Curating an ecosystem (including customers, peers, venture capitalists, executive recruiters, and strategic vendor partners) to be source of insight and inspiration is the fastest path to broader innovation.
Lastly, strategy is as important as ever. Identifying a true north at the enterprise level, at the tech/digital level, and translating that into a broader data strategy, as that topic rises to levels of criticality in business success, is critical.
“Strategy helps your team know where to focus and where not to focus. It also plays a critical role in ensuring that everyone is pushing in the same direction.” -Peter A. High
You identify five areas that require transformation: people practices, process, technology, ecosystem, and strategy. Is there one area that is more problematic for most than others?
People are the foundation of this success. Identifying who your best people are, giving them a reason to stay in your company for the long-haul, providing them with the tools and training necessary to continue to upgrade their skills, and ensure that they teach others along the way separates good companies from great ones. You can have best in class versions of the other four themes (processes, technology, ecosystems, and strategy), and you will achieve underwhelming results at best without a great team.
How do companies who are only at the beginning of this journey best start? What are some of the best practices that help increase the odds of success?
My book includes a dashboard to assess the five themes and 27 sub-themes introduced in my book. Whether you choose to use my take at a comprehensive view of the modern technology and digital organization or use something of your own creation, it is important to assess how mature your organization is relative to each. This warts-and-all assessment may be best done by an external party to remove biases. It will help you understand where you are doing well and where do you need to focus your attention for the next several waves of improvement.
I also include metrics to gauge improvements or lack thereof relative to each of the 27 sub-themes. That which gets measured gets done, after all, so monitoring improvements is also a critical way to ensure that sustainable excellent performance can be achieved.
“Where many new executives get things wrong is in defining culture as though it begins with their arrival.” -Peter A. High
When we consider Covid-19 and its global impact, what are the most successful organizations doing to prepare for the future?
It was interesting to start writing my book during the longest bull market in American history and then to finish it during the one of the worst economic and health crises in history. Though I would prefer that the ideas not be tested in such a crucible as we have experienced in the past 14 or 15 months, it underscored that those organizations that were set up for nimbleness were the ones that were most resilient.
The pandemic and economic downturn meant that companies needed to have better means of collaborating digitally, of securing the enterprise at a time when the threat landscape pushed out to employees’ homes in many cases, of driving revenues through digital channels in new ways or with greater emphasis. The pandemic also required better methods of collaborating digitally, of monitoring the health and safety of our employees while also monitoring productivity of the operation. Technology and digital executives were, in so many cases, the heroes of companies, fostering nimbleness required to survive and, in some cases, thrive during these most uncertain times. Those who had transformed themselves in the ways noted in my book earliest are likely to be the ones who will exit the current downturn with the greatest velocity, separating themselves to a greater degree from their competitors.
As we are a site dedicated to leaders and transformation, I would love you to tell us more about strategic adaptability and strategic nimbleness: how to develop and achieve it.
There are those who say that strategy is less important at a time when change happens so fast, but I argue that strategy is all the more important in this environment. It is true that a ten-year plan cannot be set with an expectation to be delivered against without changes. That said, setting near, medium, and long-term plans remain essential to focus the company such that everyone is pushing in the same direction. That unified effort serves those companies who achieve remarkably well.
It means testing the hypotheses upon which the strategies are based regularly and course correcting along the way. There should be time based and event-based reviews of strategy, as well. Events such as a pandemic or economic downturn to say nothing of an acquisition or divestiture should lead to material changes to strategies. Absent something not obvious, a regular time-based cadence to these reviews is important as well, as some aspects of the plan are bound to be accomplished or rendered less relevant with the passage of time.
For more information, see Getting to Nimble: How to transform your company into a digital leader.
Image Credit: Christopher Burns