Business leaders, quite understandably, put a lot of thought into how they want the future of their businesses to look. This often involves creating a compelling vision for the future and boiling this down to an actionable set of strategies, tactics and granular objectives. It might involve assessing the external business environment, understanding opportunities and diagnosing problems within an organisation. In a well led organisation, everyone will be pulling in the same direction, towards the same aspirations – albeit with individual stakeholders having slightly different worldviews.
However, when aiming to execute these strategies and achieve those granular objectives, organisations are rarely starting from scratch. Whether the organisation is small, mid-size or global, there is already something there. The existing business has resources including people, intellectual property, money etc. What exists is likely to be a complex organisation with a range of processes, systems, people, capabilities, and so on. Plus, the organisation will be made up of people with varying skills, attitudes and viewpoints.
The question is: how can the organisation best arrange itself to achieve the vision?
Mind the gap: Know what “Now” looks like.
When progressing change through an organisation, understanding what “now” looks like is vital. For example, if there’s the opportunity to launch into a new market, it’s essential to ask what needs to change compared to what exists in the organisation now? What processes, systems, etc need to change? What needs to change organisationally? What is the culture like – and how might this enable or hinder the change? Rather than just jumping on a new, shiny looking idea or solution, it’s important to assess and size the gap and put concrete actions in place to bridge the gap.
It’s important to understand the current business processes and systems (“warts and all”) to understand how they will scale or how they will need to change to move towards the new vision. Plus it’s important to understand how the organisation is structured and how it interfaces with its partners, its suppliers and so on.
Improving a business situation often relies on a good understanding of data. A real danger exists for businesses that don’t truly understand how their business is currently performing. Traditional management dashboards can be misleading, and sometimes organisations measure and incentivise the wrong behaviour. I recently had cause to complain to one organisation who initially tried to acknowledge my correspondence as an “enquiry” (not a complaint). I can only assume they were doing this to gently ‘massage’ the complaint figures downward…
Factors for understanding the “Now”
Understanding “Now” boils down to understanding factors including:
- Process: How does your business currently operate? What works well? What is on fire and needs urgent attention? What is smouldering and will require attention in 6 or 12 months’ time?
- Measures: How is performance measured, where do you get the data, and is the data accurate? What analytic capabilities do you have or need?
- Systems: How do your business systems integrate? What does your IT estate look like? Is it an enabler, or is it hindering your ability to scale and grow (if so, perhaps focus should be put on this area).
- People & Organisation: What skills and capabilities do they have, and how does this fit into the longer term vision? How is the organisation structured – will this enable the vision or hinder it?
- Interfaces and Sourcing: Technical and non-technical. What work is insourced? What is outsourced? What manual handovers happen? What automatic interfaces exist?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the disciplines of business analysis and business architecture give us a lot more to think about here. Analytic capabilities become indispensable for benchmarking and ensuring that improvements are achieved.
Large scale change is rarely easy, but we can make it easier by analysing and understanding the “now”. This leads to better quality decision making. We may still choose to make significant and even disruptive changes, but by having access to the right information, we’re able to consider the impact in advance!
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This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions