Everyone’s doing it; rushing to digitise every aspect of their business. But why… why is this happening?
Well, after giving it some serious thought, I can’t think of a single reason for this phenomenon – so I’ve come up with three…
In a word: Yes. Here’s why I believe so strongly in digital…
Price comparison sites have effectively commoditised most staple products and services. At the same time, traditional enterprises have come under relentless attack from eCommerce. Businesses such as Amazon and Airbnb have stolen massive chunks of market share by providing screen-to-door convenience and by dramatically cutting prices. Indeed, it is now widely accepted that future commercial survival rests on a company’s ability to deliver a superior customer experience, time and time again. Today’s fickle, intolerant, unforgiving and utterly self-obsessed consumers demand tailored products and services; not mass-market offerings.
This quantum shift is not good news for the business establishment. They cannot start out with a blank sheet. They have legacy systems that hamper efforts to digitise. They have complex processes, unbending bureaucracies and shuttered mindsets. Unlike their agile competitors many are arthritic and ponderous – unable to move fast or to implement wholescale change. And, to compound the problem, their business leaders often suffer from management myopia – they simply cannot see the need for change. There is no sense of urgency. No burning platform.
The challenge of leading a company on a complex and difficult journey is certainly not a new one. 3,600 years ago (give or take a century), Moses wrestled with precisely the same problem. And although I’m a card-holding agnostic, I am fascinated by this heady mix of faith and folklore – especially since it has so many modern-day parallels and commercial lessons…
The story starts with Moses quietly minding his own business (or to be more precise, his flock of sheep) when he received a message from top management. Out of a burning bush, came the voice of God telling Moses that he had been picked and promoted to lead his people out of slavery to the ‘Promised Land’. (Footnote: we need more burning bushes – so much more attention-grabbing than the average management briefing).
Anyway, Moses accepted the new role and immediately set to work. But with little early success. Breakaway discussions with the Egyptian slave masters quickly broke down. They were in no mood to consider a split from the parent group. But, after a series of reputation and brand-damaging plagues, the Egyptians finally relented. Moses and his people were free to leave.
And that’s when things became really challenging. Moses found himself leading a disparate group of people on a 40-year journey to an unspecified destination. (Many innovation leaders will instantly empathise with this daunting prospect). Moses also faced a serious crisis of confidence. Some of his followers were passionate believers in the ‘Promised Land’; others were grumbling sceptics who doubted the existence of a fabled ‘land of milk and honey’.
Moses silenced these dissenters with a series of stunning miracles. The modern business equivalent would be if Apple silenced critics tomorrow by launching a truly awesome 6G iPhone. But Moses also knew that miracles alone were not enough. Like all savvy leaders, he had to win hearts and minds. He needed people to sign up to his vision and openly commit to the innovation journey. So, Moses climbed Mount Sinai and returned, 40 days later, clutching two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The message was clear: buy in or butt out!
In hindsight, it would have been wiser to have everyone sign up to those Commandments before embarking on this journey. But, in truth, I suspect that most of us are equally impulsive. How many CDOs stop to get full management and budgetary approval before taking their first steps down the innovation trail?
So, better late than never, I thought it might be helpful to share my Ten Commandments to a successful innovation journey:
Define the end goal for your journey. Leaders must start with a clear vision of the ultimate destination… but also appreciate that this may well change during the course of the journey. Our world is constantly shifting and this will undoubtedly impact your priorities. So, remain vigilant, flexible and agile. Also, check that your destination will deliver a totally friction-free experience for your customers, employees and suppliers.
Moses – with his aggressive ultimatum approach – is not my recommended role-model. However, securing the skills and support to deliver your change programme remains absolutely critical. And, if you are sourcing talent internally, make sure you provide the upskill training necessary for the innovation journey. Digital training methods can now play a key part in delivering this training.
Your journey needs to be completed quickly and efficiently. It must also involve all of the interested parties at all stages of the journey. Agile working methods are a ‘no brainer’ – they are the only swift and seamless way to engage with all of the affected parties, all of the time.
Involve your customers and front-line staff in the process. Identify pain and pinch points – then make it your first priority to eradicate them. Removing pain is a primary human instinct – more important even than the pursuit of pleasure.
“No battle plan ever survives beyond first contact with the enemy”. Helmuth von Moltke – military strategist and head of the Prussian army – wrote these words in the mid-19thcentury. They remain as true today as they were 170 years ago. It is virtually impossible to create an accurate route map that will survive your entire journey. Instead, create a map showing potential stopping-off points – like the chain of islands in an archipelago. Each one is a milestone on the critical path to your ultimate goal. You may miss a few of them, but the integrity of your overall plan will still remain intact.
Another military saying with a profound relevance to modern business. Alexander Suvorov was a brilliant Russian commander and diplomat in the mid-18thcentury. His words summarise the strategic importance of meticulous ‘what if’ planning and preparation in delivering victory. Every logistical challenge has to be identified, assessed and resolved to achieve success.
Before you start, you may well need to repair, replace or modify parts of your infrastructure to ensure a smoother, faster journey. An example of this would be the use of middleware in front of any legacy system. Any new digital system should interface with the middleware – isolating it from frail legacy systems that can fail or fall over without warning.
Pathfinder teams are the advance forces that identify and alert you to possible roadblocks… help you to navigate around them… or, better still, destroy or dismantle any obstacles before you reach them. You need to have at least one team dedicated to this task on a full-time basis.
This is going to be a long and sometimes arduous journey. By all means, celebrate your arrival at each new island/stopping off point. But your first priority must be to learn from your mistakes. Discuss what you could have done differently in a ‘kaizen’ approach to constant improvement.
Watch your competition. Monitor every technology development. Distil the best of thinking and exploit every opportunity to improve. Constantly scan the horizon and focus on the future.
Good luck and enjoy the journey.
“If you are steering, you don’t look back.”