In a high frequency competitive socio economic environment, at the heart of any organization’s performance will be its leadership’s ability to commit to evolving a set of cultural attributes, which will define an organization’s ability to continually renew itself to stay in tune with, if not stay ahead of the changing industry landscape. In order to attain such a state it will require organizations to adopt and continually refine five key functions:
- High speed sensing and learning function: In an accelerating knowledge intensive environment, which is vulnerable to sudden disruptions, an important function an organization must continually develop is its ability to sense and learn from the emerging trends; in large extent increasingly an organization’s capacity to win competitive games will be determined by how sharper and smarter is this function relative to its competitors. In turn corporate leaderships should aspire to cultivate a culture of intellectual ferment that is enduring and self-energizing, and truly celebrates “the spirit of inquiry” and cultivate the courage for “imaginative leaps”.
- Integration function: Organizational mechanisms, both formal and informal, that enable cross-pollination and/or cross fertilization of new trends/thought streams in turn enable germination of ideas within an organization, across business units and the corporate center, will need to be established. Integration mechanisms should also facilitate collaboration with the innovation centers external to the enterprise such as technology vendors, partners and academia/national labs there by enhancing an organization’s ability to drive new strategic advances.
- Distributed leadership function: An organization’s ability to develop and empower executives to make bold decisions and to inspire teams close to day to day operations, will determine how speedily it responds to rapidly evolving opportunities and/or competitive threats. CEOs must pay considerable attention to cultivating a leadership culture that (i) ensures everyone in the company feels genuinely responsible for their domain of influence – from immediate areas of interest to the widely accepted precepts of protecting the natural environment and meeting social obligations, (ii) engenders a high degree of commitment to performance, so that everyone across the value chain at all levels of the organizational hierarchy naturally manage their individual and collective performance with a Kaizen spirit (continuous improvement) – to continually seek higher levels (benchmarks) of productivity of assets and resources (hard and soft) worldwide, (iii) goes beyond incremental improvements and searches for and implements big game-changing shifts with the potential to revolutionize the industry.
- Activist function: It represents a discipline that will provide an organization with the ability to challenge status quo and move out of comfort zones to find and define new sweet spots. This function must help executives challenge current value creation thesis and business model in structuring new choices and accordingly organize myriad of ideas/conceptual breakthroughs into discrete, new and meaningful innovation platforms. Executives responsible for such a function should, as a matter of course, assess outcomes from a range of experimental perspectives, while ensuring that specific micro and/or mega forces that are triggering and driving the trends in the environment are continually examined in relation to the current business model at work.
- Adaptive function: This function must be embedded in organizational units so that both corporate center and business units have the “resiliency” to make rapid organizational adjustments in terms of how resources are mobilized and how the reporting lines are rewired; so that when required a company has the ability to switch from one game plan to another game plan in navigating through an increasingly turbulent competitive environment. Particularly in those industries where rapid convergence of technologies are increasing the likelihood of unforeseen outcomes leading to sudden disruptions, the adaptive function must keep the innovation process alive, in turn often serendipitously expand the possibility of specific outcomes.
As a result, leadership of companies must examine alterative ways an organization could (i) advance a multiplicity of organizational attributes which will together determine an enterprise’s ability to regenerate itself in the process seed and nurture new possibilities, (ii) develop the capacity to evaluate uncertainties and to design options and (iii) cultivate the courage, not to avoid but navigate through risks.
For businesses to achieve their “full potential” they will need to shift from a mechanistic command-and-control model to a self-enriching, adaptive biological model (exhibit below). It is important that the CEOs and their leadership teams help their immediate environment invent new organizational mechanisms which “involve and inspire”, are “knowledge enriching” centric, and not “command & control” and/or “ego-centric”.
Future Organization: Orchestra of dynamic functionalities/skills
In order to make the biological model with the necessary critical functions of the future become active, organizations will need to sync two fundamentally different initiatives:
- Short-term “quick win” initiatives: to do more with less, and reconfigure and improve value propositions from the past for future use.
- Longer-term “change” initiatives that will enable the development of new pathways to value capture/creation and economic advance.
The “Double Helix” organizational construct (exhibit below) will enable the evolution of two kinds of independent thought-flows and workflows. The strand 1 shows how the five functions can be best configured to achieve Operational Excellence (OX) for current business models. The strand 2 focuses on Renewal Excellence (RX) to leverage the same five functions to pursue transformational game changing opportunities.
Double Helix Organizational Construct
What is important is that leadership of organizations on one hand support the independent development of both strands to the fullest extent, while on the other hand ensure that there is a natural rhythm in the working dynamics between the two.
Partha Ghosh insists, that “for organizations to define and sustain their relevance, parallel to the day-to-day initiatives aimed at achieving performance excellence, they must increasingly develop a culture that makes sense of and engages with creative, un-tested opportunities ahead of their strongest rivals”. Corporate leaderships have to find ways to explore the frontier trends by developing and fusing new skill sets with conventional wisdom that they have learned over decades, if not centuries of experience, to drive the next era advancement of the industry. There are no best practices that we could talk of for nurturing innovation, it is unique to every situation. "Leadership of a company must create an environment that will cultivate internal structures/processes and encourage leadership styles that will make the double-helix organizational dynamic a reality."
Partha Ghosh works with leaders of businesses to help them develop biological organizational models that are more adaptive to changing environment, and more creative to drive innovation.