Business strategists have been recalculating the formula for achieving competitive advantage for quite some time. Product differentiation is getting harder to achieve and in any case is not sustainable; instead it’s the experience that businesses create for their customers that has them coming back for more.
We can see this hypothesis born out in the non-proprietary business models that have arisen in recent years. Airbnb, Etsy, Amazon and Uber — these platform-based success stories, formed upon collaborative partnerships, are outranking their competition by delivering a seamless user experience.
We know that the transformational power of digital and data allows us to deliver a better experience for the customer, but it’s only one part of the equation. To maximise this power, we need to change the way we execute our strategy — and this requires a new style of leadership championing agility, performance and sensitivity to talent.
Bringing the outside in
In this epoch of disruption, prosperous organisations will be those that can change their organisational structure at the drop of a hat.
The inner workings of an organisation need to reflect and adapt to the external environment in much the same way as a scrum team operates — pivoting, reorganising, experimenting and adapting. So, leaders will first need to become adept at quickly assembling disparate yet skilled individuals from among their talent pool, then continually dispersing and reassembling them to suit changing business (or rather customer) priorities.
Second, leaders will need to rethink how they measure performance. Successful businesses will be those that will think beyond customer collaboration and adopt their customers’ problems as their own. There has to be complete alignment: your customers’ KPIs need to be your KPIs. Apply a customer lens to all aspects of your business.
And third, as a leader, you need to get the best out of your talent pool to deliver on these KPIs effectively. These days it’s less about employing a “command and control” approach and more about giving people the necessary freedom to test and learn. Because the reality is, there’s no longer an existing blueprint for success. If we’re aligning ourselves with our customers and learning as we go, we must be open to failure — something leaders were not comfortable with even a few years ago.
This scenario calls for a more conceptual style of leadership communication to encourage people to deal with the unknown. Making room for failure requires a mindset and behavioural shift, combined with the ability to recover quickly. If we aren’t able to achieve our outcome, we need to quickly understand why. What did we learn? What can we do differently?
It’s a more fluid way of working than we’ve been typically used to and it requires a cultural shift with agility at its heart — something that the younger cohort in today’s workforce will welcome. They are looking for a diverse richness in their career path that can best be experienced by working across silos and being part of an agile organisation. And this has positive ramifications for the individual, the business and our customers.
In this digital, data-rich environment, technical skill and awareness are important; however, the real metamorphosis from which business success will emerge will come from agile, customer-centred and people-focused leadership.