As a leader within an SMB or a large public group, reading the latest WSJ or books from Seth, Bill Taylor, Hugh MacLeod, Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, you might believe the world has changed forever. Add crazy valuations like $60Bn for a social network site and you might be thinking it’s all over. There is no way my 10/20/30 years in business are relevant. I’m a dinosaur. Steady!
These were all inspirational pieces of work in different ways. They will absolutely make you think about the way you do business. But good old fashioned business thinking never goes out of fashion. Here is a little bridge piece to link some of the inspirational ideas in these books with more traditional business thinking.
There is a new form of personal accountability – a need for individuals to take control of their career strategy, a need to own their personal contribution to their organization (one man band to 150,000 behemoth), a need to get engaged with the conversations shaping their lives. These books highlight the need for humanity to be built into organizations, a need to look around you at new ideas outside your narrow marketplace, the reality that people want to be lead and leaders are needed everywhere within an organization.
Of course the why now is answered partly by 2 big factors – demographics and technology. Gen X and Y (born 1960 onwards) want ownership of their projects, they want accountability and secondly the technology is now instantly available to connect, to lead, to collaborate and it’s free and frictionless.
Inhale and consume the case studies in these books if you are in any doubt that these trends are generating exceptional success. Frankly there are smaller private companies under the radar that are also embracing these ideas in for example. metal manufacturing, mCommerce, web governance and niche consulting and achieving unreasonable success.
So how do these ideas translate into actions for your business?
It is true that the old command and control structure is struggling. Witness even Google’s move to appoint Larry Page as CEO to inject a little bit of agility into the execution. Witness the lost decade of the Pharma world where acquisitions failed to deliver the innovation promised. We now see smaller R&D cells being set up in large organizations to inject a little bit of entrepreneurial magic. Little tribes that can feel ownership of their projects. Look inside IBM and you will see dozens of small teams working on innovative ideas to come to market. The command and control is still needed but we need to structure in terms of Projects. We need to give ownership to talented managers to complete these projects, in the process managing more senior people to them. Companies need to be project driven not department driven. eg how many tech companies are driven by the need to get product to market whether the market has shown any appetite for that need!
Stop acting as if shipping product is a developer lead or manufacturing led problem. Think DSMO. Development -Sales -Marketing – Operations all in unison.
Think parallel lines that cross the finishing line simultaneously on the ship date. Development, Sales, Marketing and Operations ALL need to get their act together. Those big problems the product is solving needs to be trapped in a compelling marketing story in plain English that sounds authentic and real. Sales scripts need to be test driven in the market with real customers to ensure your team are grounded in reality. The Ops team need to be crystal clear on billing, support, bug fixing long before the products are used in anger on a client’s site. Of course you will need to ensure the project manager handling the launch can handle the talented prima donnas and artists that exist in each silo. There are many ownership roles but the overall project manager of a launch – that’s a special one reserved for the best and brightest. That role demands leading very senior people with an iron fist. Flat structures – project driven. Egos left at the door.
Cold calling is not dead but the window to attract someones attention – to push yourself on them – is fast closing. Customers are getting hundreds of calls per day, dozens of emails all seeking their attention. Attention is the rarity in the market. A more human behaviour is taking hold, a more comfortable way of influencing action – the inward bound marketing movement. Your story, collateral, thought leadership papers are now front and center. You need journalists, wordsmiths on the payroll. You need people who can tell a good story of how your products and services connect with real people’s lives. Remember companies don’t buy products, people buy products and these people are seeking out, discovering what they need.
Both at a macro level and a micro level companies are succeeding by looking outside their company outside their industry even outside commerce at NGOs, government departments to find inspirational innovative ideas. The middle of the road is a dangerous place both personally (dispensable commodity) and at a corporate level (uncompetitive, unremarkable, me-too solutions).
Bill’s book Practically Radical highlights a Police Department deploying, social services, ex-cons, police officers, clergymen all in one room every Tuesday at 8.30 in Rhode Island solving problems.
Or Umpqua Bank in Portland, Oregon where the new CEO looked outside of the boring banking industry to reshape his company. He dared to ask: why should customers come to us instead of the competition. He transformed the way the bank looked, smelled, tasted and interacted with their local community!
We are seeing an incredible amount of change around us. Looking at the past is important but we need to recalibrate for the new rules. We need to understand how to structure and motivate our teams to win in this environment. The quicker we start the faster we will master these new skills.
Sorry this post is longer than normal. Blame these great new books for getting me started.