The Nothing Corollary: Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes
You are probably familiar with the adage insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Well, there is a corollary that is just as powerful and enlightening; nothing changes if nothing changes.
Innovation is at the top of every company’s agenda. Businesses and markets are being challenged in unprecedented ways today that require a novel level of pioneering agility and tenacity. There is no rule book. There are no shortcuts. Bottom line of transformation is just flat-out hard. And a lot of work.
For us as leaders, expectations abound for understandable answers and plans. Therein lies part of the challenge. We may have answers… and many of us have many answers… but unless we can translate those into something meaningful for our teams, partners, and counterparts to inspire the essential plans, the answers are pointless. Notable clichés such as “the only constant is change” and “innovate or die” are neither helpful nor motivational.
There is universal agreement that technology is the lynchpin for meaningful transformation. But how exactly should this play out? Too often the message is the designation needs to start at the top. Full leadership support. And too often we as top leaders believe we are giving exactly that, without recognizing disconnection between your messaging and our actions. Let’s face it. We are also responsible for keeping the business afloat and more often than not, operational habits are hard to break. But if nothing changes…
Any company that has been around any length of time has legacy technology and processes. Introducing new technology or processes in and out of themselves does not designate transformation. Using cloud-based technologies does not make you mobile. Implementing scrum teams does not make you agile. A lot of time, it generates incremental improvement or additional capability that may or may not equate to interesting value. Not to mention adding to the existing technology inventory. It may check a box or satisfy market pressure to just stay in the game. And sometimes we need to do this.
Creating operational efficiencies through existing technology in order to repurpose resources for transformational activities create another set of challenges. Technology resources are usually involved in maintaining or updating existing technology in a zero-sum game. Grounding the changes in the customer experience or improvement of key metrics are meaningful, but will they be enough to move the needle?
Forward-thinking CIOs recognize the need to tie technologies and transformation programs to business strategy. When executed well, momentum changes everything. Sometimes you play in the technology realm of the continuum and sometimes you play in the transformation realm. But the business is always in play and contributing in ways they may never have imagined themselves being able to. Business leaders need to learn what is possible and technology leaders need to demonstrate why it matters. It is a powerful combination.
General Electric pioneered the digital twin concept which was driven by the desire to solve operational issues for their customers. Adding sensors, collecting data, and deriving useful meaning of it was a very technical endeavor. The intention for motivating preventative maintenance, which is always more efficient and less expensive not to mention life-saving given the nature of the business, was jointly shared. Resultantly, customer expectations changed from reading specification sheets to assessing outcomes. That evolution, in essence, changed the business model. IBM’s core model transformed from hardware to software and services. Netflix started in the DVD distribution space with the vision of converting to online distribution when the technology was ready. And they continue to reinvent the model as the technology, customers, and competitors evolve. It is important to recognize that major transformations sometimes start out as very counterintuitive or scary notions. But if nothing changes…
I choreographed a transformation at a high-performance after-market auto parts organization. Success with a single storefront and simple website was diminishing rapidly. But a website is not always an asset and definitely does not equal a web presence. Their digital strategy and marketing efforts were not aligned and heading in opposite directions thus undermining growth. I exposed the disconnect and worked with the teams to align strategy and execution. We solidified their global presence and improved conversions and sales tenfold.
At Franklin American, technology was always viewed strategically. The opportunity was to enhance and build upon that lens. Like GE, we started with the technical endeavor to create a modern platform that was separate from legacy and necessary to support reimagined business components. Construction of the components is now jointly shared. The innovative culture was one of the factors in the acquisition of Franklin American by Citizen’s Financial Group. Leveraging our transformation has expanded the opportunity for a much larger transformation beyond a single market or entity.
If you start with the basics, the process is really quite simple. The simple thought is actually deceptively hard but absolutely worthwhile. Execution is what separates the winners from the wannabes. First, is your revenue model still relevant? If so, how do you generate more with less? What assumptions are baked into existing structures and processes that are outdated or holding the business or technology back? Have you lost the ability to recognize opportunities your customers are showing you or do you use them as an excuse to keep you focused on what is, instead of what could be? How can you enter new markets? What really are the things that make you different? What do you stand for?
Commitment and curiosity stand front and center as the necessary ingredients for any transformation. You need to engage both hearts and minds to establish the fertile ground from which ideas and change can truly take root. Honest and open feedback loops must be established and protected throughout. Carve and follow the path that makes sense to your customers, organization, and teams. At the end of the day, the only question that matter is… do you believe?