September 16, 2015

The art of working with what you have

Pace can well be slow, but has to be significant to generate real corporate learning. It has to start well in time before the actual impact of the digital disruption hits hard. It has to involve Chief Officers on a deep level—for learning, for believing, for wanting. And in the end for taking a stand.

This is my final blog post on my thoughts on the Digital disruption after joining the Bubble session. If you want to catch up, read the previous blog posts about True leadership and Timing. My last key point that I would like to elaborate around what the pace means for the digitalization.

Before we had the discussion in the Bubble session, I heard Kimmo Alkio say something in the line of: ‘Short term effects of digital disruption is often highly overestimated, and long term effects highly underestimated.’ What I write in this piece boils down to this phrase!

If you get in late on the game

If you hesitate and get in late in the digital disruption game, it’s just a little harder. You simply have to get in and try, with higher pace. The upside is that competitors have started to move, and you can learn from them.

The option of not getting in on the game

There is always the option of staying out of the new game—and it may not be that bad. Actually, this is what many operations do, unconsciously and with lots of negative energy in the loosing battle of growth rather than transformation.

If you do decide to stay out of transformation, what you do is to keep margins up for as long as possible and plan for downsizing. Meantime, you find a match who will incorporate you. And you are out. The other way around does not work. If you lack Chief Officer Leadership for transformation, absorption of an operation geared towards the new game will not work.

To summarize, there is no Silver Bullet

If you want your operation to rise with the wave of digital disruption, you have to work with what you have—mainly getting deep involvement from Chief Officers. What you expect is qualities such as:

  • embracing uncertainties
  • cooperation rather than funneling
  • deep dialogues and learning
  • letting go of personal prestige
  • expressing belief and want  

So, to sum this up, there are some typical setups for going operations facing Digital Disruption. I believe your company is falling into one of the four categories below. Each one of them has its particular challenges and opportunities. Now it's up to you what you what you want to do with this! 

Early phase: Digital disruption is on the top management radar, but business is good and incitements are low for seriously exploring the new upcoming digital opportunity. 

Game is changing-I: Margins have been dropping for some years. The organization is slimmed, sometime to the bones. New competition starts getting momentum, geared towards the new digital opportunity and without old game legacy.

Game is changing-II: Same as above, but no actor finds a working business model. Typically we see structural merges between businesses, bankruptcy, significant downsizing, etc. in a race to the bottom struggle.

Highly regulated: Any of the above in combination with strong industrial and governmental regulations.

The awareness of the digital disruption most likely will come from the floor, but ownership in the end must shift to the group of Chief Officers, becoming One true sustainable leadership force. Any group certainly can accomplish this. But it takes lots of hard work. Success stories are few, both from modern digital times and from other transformative periods in history. Transformation is difficult; because changing behavior is more difficult than one might think!

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