From Surviving to Thriving: People, Digital & Agile

These last weeks have shown us that the world is hurtling forward, with many contextual challenges and uncertainties that each new day seems to bring. But it has also revealed a startling number of businesses which are simply not prepared for the world we live in and for the future ahead.

Despite the commonality of all companies experiencing the same crisis, we see the levels of impact are varying wildly. In one of our blogs we mentioned that “when the world of business shakes, the future belongs to those who have anticipated the change”. Today, those words resonate more than ever.

Some courageous and pioneer companies started their experiments for finding ways to prepare for an uncertain future, more than ten years ago. It required them to do sacrifices, take tough decisions and have the willingness to give up and change fundamental aspects of who they are and how they used to work. What is more, they did it with no guarantee of success. Today, those companies have proven to the rest, the investment of having a business strategy to become future-fit, really pays off. Great examples are companies like ING, Unilever or IBM. These companies began their Digital and Agile transformations, or better said, their re-configuration journeys (since their essence has not change) years ago, and since then they have been gaining the speed, dynamism and customer-centricity critical to upfront challenges of our volatile and unpredictable world.

Changes in business strategy, has never been easy. Same as there are great success stories like the ones we have just mentioned, history is also littered with many examples of failed transformation efforts. Nevertheless, even in those cases of failure, companies learned and now are better prepared to survive than those who never even started. Unfortunately, the reality is most business leaders are probably regretting not taking the opportunity, making the investments required or prioritizing effectively in those initiatives that sounded crazy or extravagant. It is only in moments like this that the impact of having or not having the digital technologies, agile processes or flexible structures, is really felt. What may have been an unnecessary luxury just a month ago, is now critical for many to surviving.

Now, let’s stop there because it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that new technology or processes is what will save us all. In fact, according to a Korn Ferry survey in 2016, as many as two-thirds of CEOs believe technology will create more value in the future than people.

But, is it really all about technology?

Looking closely at what is happening today, the primary concerns of most companies are becoming less about technology and more about humans. If you ask any business leader, their main priority right now is to make sure people are safe, and quite rightly so. But as time passes companies will increasingly begin to look at their own individual crisis. How can we keep our people motivated and performing well under this context? People are the most important asset of any company and without their hearts and minds it will be impossible to survive. It is only then when the importance of people behaviors, human connections, collaboration and leadership will become truly self-evident.

To embrace the opportunities ahead of us we will need to completely change our perspective and work consciously with a new mindset. It will require a new way of thinking about work, life, business and leadership. But in order to do that companies will need to reset their priorities and re-configure their businesses. We are still in the middle of this crisis and each day that passes makes the future that much harder to predict. But the only thing that we can be sure of is that change is not going to stop. The parameters of normality are up in the air and constantly moving. This could be the last chance for us to think of how we can move from surviving to thriving.

Here are what we believe should be the three non-negotiables for all business to invest and focus on in order to becoming future-fit:

1. People – Prioritize investments in building models focused on improving the employee experience. Only by unleashing people’s potential through performance development, engagement and wellness can they ever really achieve their potential. Yes, what we used to think or refer to as “soft” needs to be accepted as the “core” today.

2. Digital – Place bets on the creation of business platforms to solidify competitive advantage and differentiation. Invest in AI, blockchain, automation, IoT, 5G, edge computing and other exponential technologies. Yes, getting licences for Zoom is a good start, but digital potential goes much further.

3. Agile – Invest in the re-configuration of operating models to create agility. In flatter structures, self-empowered teams and agile ways of working. Agile organizations mobilize quickly, remain nimble, and are structured in such a way that employees feel empowered to act. Yes, co-working spaces and working from home is a start, but again agility is way broader than that.

Nevertheless again, the success of these two last, Digital and Agile remains a quintessentially human endeavour. Adopting new technology, changing structures or re-designing processes will not be enough to save some companies or to make theme thrive, but those humans, with all their flaws and fears, but also with their passion and drive, just might.

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