Businesses are changing and so is the way we manage them. A traditional view of an organisation is that everything flows neatly through a process that starts with the supplier and ends with the customer. Each step is measured and optimised like the first assembly lines, which made mass production possible.
In this rose-tinted view of the world, increasing digitisation of business simply means that more data is available to be exploited, and the business will be more successful as more people access to the insight gleaned from the data.
But, businesses are starting to recognise that this data is at best a fragile window into the complex and dynamic ecosystem that makes up the modern business – it will never be a complete or accurate picture of the business, or signpost where value is being created, even with the ever-increasing amount of data available to manage.
To compound the problem, a wider-than-ever range of people need to be operating across this ecosystem – constantly making choices across the business about what to do and how to do it. And they can’t all be part-time data scientists. The challenge facing companies is how do you help individuals to make the right decisions in this kind of world? How do you get people on the same page with what is happening across the business, and give people visibility on the potential impact their activities are having? We think there are three things that should be top of mind for managers across all kinds of businesses:
Outcomes: Clarity on what needs to be achieved
By 2020, millennials will form 50 per cent of the global workplace, and the millennial traits of needing to see their purpose within the organisation and to work in a collaborative way, will be mainstream. Innovative employers like Google and Netflix have already moved to help staff make the most of their skills and to be clear about the areas of the business they can best contribute to.
Soon, companies of all kinds will need to figure out that the greater autonomy given to employees, the greater the volume of decisions that will be taking place within the organisation. These decisions aren’t taken in isolation but amongst other choices made by many other people and IT systems – making the business work better is a different kind of problem to that of optimising steady state processes – meaning it’s all about providing clarity to people on what needs to be achieved.
Causality: Incremental transformation based on understanding what is driving outcomes
This clarity is also essential to how business go about trying to get better at what they do. In this new world, transformation is no longer about redefining business processes, but about understanding how best to arrange everything that influences the desired outcomes.
Without that clarity there’s a good chance that the attempts to change won’t be successful. Teams working on very complex projects need to be trained to think outcome not project management and have the technology needed to help them see if what they’re doing actively contributes to the outcome the business needs.
This often requires a cultural change to adapt to a new way of doing things – cultivating the sort of lean and agile environment usually associated with start-ups, by focusing on, and making explicit, the cause and effect in play across the business, not just reporting on the transactional processing that is occurring.
An agreed, authoritative Business Landscape: Exploiting data, rather than being blinded by data
Making sense of the torrent of data now available and turning it into information that provides insight and knowledge that staff can use is a key challenge for businesses. It’s a challenge they need to address if they’re going to steal a march on their competitors and, despite the current enthusiasm for self-serve BI, is a challenge that can’t be addressed just by enabling data warehousing and data visualisation across the business.
There needs to be real agreement on the overall business landscape, and analytics run transparently at that level, not at the level of a particular cut of data. Don’t tell me that our helpdesk system is reporting a 15 per cent rise in incidents – let me understand what that means in terms of the impact on people using those services, and what else is implicated in this.
Businesses, are providing the technology and the know-how to help organisations achieve clarity on their business landscape. Those organisations might be trying to manage how the services being provided to them come together to make a difference. They might themselves be a service provider making the case for the ROI on what they do. Or, there might simply be a need for people in the business to be surface issues with what’s happening and course-correct their way to the right answer.
Common to all of these organisations is the need for a team to be focused on the same goals, establishing a shared vision and investing in the technology to help bring that life, and becoming agile enough and prepared for the challenge that new start-up competition will pose.
Soon, this won’t be an optional way of looking at and running businesses. Becoming aware of how the business fits together, and how things in and around your organisation could derail you, will become vital for survival.
Simon Smith, CTO at MooD International
Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee