Three Truths on Trends in Organizational Strategy
Solomon, King of the early Federation of Israel in 950 bce made the proclamation that there was nothing new under the sun: what has been, will be again. While some may see this statement as a rather skeptical view of the world of innovation and progress, I must admit that there is a bit of truth to it; in fact, there are 3 bits of truth. The first truth is that Solomon was right – there is nothing new. The second truth is that cycles exist in our business lives and they are in fact, predictable. The third truth is that these cycles are identifiable providing you’re seeing what’s before you with the correct lens.
The Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev in the early 1920’s identified cycles and conditions in business and agriculture, so precise and so correlated that it eventually landed him in a gulag for propagating “anti-state” thought. A subsequent economist, Joseph Schumpeter taught us that these cycles contained differing and predictable organizational behaviors that could be observed in that business wave evolution. Both Kondratiev and Schumpeter were faintly echoing the 3,000-year-old declaration of Solomon!
Consider for a moment several trends over the last 30 years: The fundamental business focus back then was to improve organizational profitability; the focus of today is still to improve organizational profitability. How we’ve evolved since then to achieve this goal is the stuff that cyclical trends are made up of. The trends of yesterday were heavily focused on process improvement – improve the process and you’ll better serve the customer. This was essentially a scientific evaluation of all of the little parts that make up the whole in an organization. It was the how of organizational ecology and how we do something in hindsight, always leads us to an investigation of what we do.
With the realization of the limitations imposed by only knowing how, a new trend was introduced – one that relied now on process empathy; better understand the process and you’ll be able to make meaningful changes that will allow you to better serve your customer. This gave us the, what in our organizational ecologies but gave little insight as to the why? The frantic activity that surrounds growth (the what) is rarely challenged and executives may offer encouraging statements like, I don’t know what you’re doin’ kid but keep doin’ it!
The funny thing about why is that without it, there is no future. Smart organizations are able to redefine themselves (and their value proposition) as their organizations cycle through these stages of growth, maturity, and decline. They do so successfully because they always have an eye on the why!
To evaluate where your company is and what your eye is on, ask yourself what lenses your organization is wearing?
- Is it the Innovation lens that offers radical differentiation, surprise and delight?
- Is it the Speed lens that offers quick and meaningful responses to customer needs and wants?
- How about the Stability lens,the lens that ensures that you have the processes and capabilities in place to ensure a smooth running operation?
- My guess is that with a CX interest, the last lens - the Customer Relationship lens is the one you’re wearing. But are you?
Keep in mind that your Organizational Experience (the culture and practices that compose it) has the single biggest influence on not only the lenses you use but also what you’ll see through them. What this means is that each “lens” listed, has associated behaviors that are rarely cohesive in an organization (have you ever met a creative group that loved finance or an operations group that adored Human resources?). Don’t panic though; you don’t have to change your organization’s culture into a love-fest to successfully apply this thinking!
To effectively harness the power of the lenses, challenge yourself with these few simple things you can do:
- Mix up your teams. Blend from across your entire organization’s structure, bringing together a diverse set of lenses to help you see. If it’s painful, it’s right!
- Take your organization’s vision, mission and goals and look across the entire history for repeating patterns of growth, stability, and decline – identify associated behaviors.
- Begin to challenge every organizational assumption asking how, what, and why.
- Challenge from the perspective of each lens. You’ll quickly find that when alone, Stability despises what Innovation loves and that Speed kills Relationship. Find ways to blend each lens into a singular win for each.
Learn how to ride the wave like a surfer, surfing on Schumpeter’s curve – knowing the physics of the growth and decline of the wave. This will enable you to not only anticipate the trends and conditions that are coming your way, it will enable you to harness and ride the rich and increasingly divergent power of your organization.