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The four fights to win in Digital Strategy

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Yesterday’s tentative approaches won’t deliver today; you need absolute clarity about digital’s demands, galvanized leadership, unparalleled agility, and the resolve to bet boldly.

If there’s one thing a digital strategy can’t be, it’s incremental. The mismatch between most incumbents’ business models and digital futures is too great—and the environment is changing too quickly—for anything but bold, inventive strategic plans to work.

Unfortunately, most strategic-planning exercises do generate incrementalism. The only way for leaders to cut through inertia and incrementalism is to take bold steps to fight and win on four fronts:

  • Fight ignorance by using experiential techniques such as “go-and-sees” and war gaming to break leaders out of old ways of thinking and into today’s digital realities.
  • Fight fear through top-team effectiveness programs that spur senior executives to action.
  • Fight guesswork through pilots and structured analysis of use cases.
  • Fight diffusion of effort—a constant challenge given the simultaneous need to digitize your core and innovate with new business models.

Thus, here’s how real companies are winning each of these fights—overcoming inertia while building confidence about how to master the new economics of digital. Companies can join in that effort, thereby giving their digital strategy a jolt and accelerating the shift of their strategy process as a whole, from old-fashioned annual planning to a more continuous journey yielding big moves and big gains even when the end point isn’t entirely clear.

 

FIGHTING IGNORANCE

Many senior executives aren’t fully fluent in what digital is, much less up to speed on the ways it can change how their businesses operate or the competitive context. That’s problematic. Executives who aren’t conversant with digital are much more likely to fall prey to the “shiny object” syndrome: investing in cool digital technologies (which might only be relevant for other businesses) without a clear understanding of how they will generate value in the executives’ own business models.

They also are more likely to make fragmented, overlapping, or subscale digital investments; to pursue initiatives in the wrong order; or to skip foundational moves that would enable more advanced ones to pan out. Finally, this lack of grounding slows down the rate at which a business deploys new digital technologies. In an era of powerful first-mover advantages, winners routinely lead the pack in leveraging cutting-edge digital technologies at scale to pull further ahead. Having only a remedial understanding of trends and technologies has become dangerous.

Raising your technology IQ

For inspiration on how to raise your company’s collective technology IQ, consider the experience of a global industrial conglomerate that knew it had to digitize but didn’t think its leadership team had the expertise to drive the needed changes. The company created a digital academy to help educate its leadership about relevant digital trends and technologies and to provide a forum where executives could ask questions and talk with their peers. Academy leaders also brought in external experts on a few topics the company lacked sufficient internal expertise to address.

Supplementing the academy effort (aimed at leaders) was an organization-wide assessment of digital capabilities and an evaluation of the company’s culture. This provided a fact base, which everyone could understand, about what the organization needed to build over the course of the digital transformation. As business leaders developed digital plans, they were accountable for explaining and defending them to other executives. They also had to help gather those plans into an enterprise-wide digital strategy that every business leader understood and had helped to create.

Overcoming competitive blind spots

If your company resembles other known companies, still stuck in some old ways of thinking about where money gets made and by whom. Companies are also likely to be overlooking ways digital is changing both the economics of the game and the players on the field in your industry. If any of this sounds familiar, you probably need a jolt—something that forces you to think differently about your business. More specifically, you need to start thinking about it as digital disruptors do.

From experience, this demands a process that begins with a sprint to get everything moving, to see what your industry (and your company’s role in it) could look like if you started from scratch, and to redraw your road map.

Once the new realities are discovered, companies should speed up the process of understanding how other players—including nontraditional ones—will respond. Seeing through the eyes of “baggage-free” attackers inspires an awareness of how players with very different core competencies are likely to act in the new landscape. It can also propel a shared sense of urgency to change the old ways of thinking and acting.

Such a session radically change the way companies leaders think about their business, their industry, and the digital shifts remaking both. The end result is a set of leading-edge ideas for deploying digital to make the current operating model faster and more effective, for investing in new digital offerings, for designing and launching a new digital ecosystem to meet the emerging needs of digital consumers, and for partnering with start-ups beginning to emerge as leading players in advanced mobility.

FIGHTING FEAR

Getting left behind by digital first movers can be hazardous to your company’s future. But many of companies’ executives may perceive responding to digital—making the big bets, building new businesses, shifting resources away from old ones—as hazardous to their own future. As we’ve noted, that exacerbates the social side of strategy and breeds strategic inertia. If you want to make big digital moves, you must fight the fear that your top team and managers will inevitably experience.

From what we have seen, this kind of fight doesn’t happen organically. You need to design a programmatic effort with the same rigor you would insist on to redesign key processes across your organization. This typically involves making a clear case that executives can’t hide from the changes digital is bringing and that encouraging and accelerating change—rather than chasing it—can create more value. Then you need to give executives the tools and support network they must have to succeed as leaders of that journey. Many companies focus on the extensive detailing of digital-initiative plans but skip the critical step of building an equally rigorous program to sustain the leaders driving change.

Honest dialogue

Companies can organize workshops where executives can discuss the specific mind-sets and behavioral shifts needed to gain “ownership” of digital initiatives as a group and to become role models for their organizations.

Support networks

Leaders can form communities that cut across their businesses, to share best practices and coordinate the timing of implementation. Over time, the role of these communities can grow to include skill-building activities, such as bringing in speakers with specialized capabilities and motivational messages and organize Silicon Valley go-and-sees that reinforces the importance of leading digital change. The communities also provide peer support to help teams navigate the new landscape.

Indeed, leaders who understand the shifting economics also understand that their careers will be affected one way or another.

 

FIGHTING GUESSWORK

Pursuing an aggressive digital strategy involves leaps into the unknown: simultaneously, companies are likely to be moving into new areas and overhauling existing businesses with new technologies. What’s more, in many digital markets, the premium of being a first mover makes it necessary not only to shift direction but also to do so faster than your peers. The combination of ambiguity and the need for speed sometimes gives rise to guesswork and moves that are hasty or poorly thought out—and too anxiety about whether a move isn’t going to work or just needs more time.

Building the proof points as you go

One way to fight guesswork is to anchor your strategy decisions to a thesis about the business outcomes that different digital investments will produce. This is less about elaborate business-school modeling and more about thinking that draws fast, ground-level lessons from the data to determine whether your business logic is correct. Put another way, it means figuring out if there is sufficient value to make it worthwhile to invest something—as part of a process of learning even more.

This approach increases the odds of successful implementation: a well-articulated view of the outcomes means that you can track how well the strategy is working. It also makes it easier to assess whether the new direction is worth it in terms of both financial capital and organizational pain.

Those proof points must be grounded in digital reality.

Pilots and stage gates

A second way to reduce the need for guesswork is to take full advantage of real-time data and the opportunities they provide for experimentation. Digital does amplify the gut-wrenching uncertainty by multiplying the strategic choices leaders face while reducing the time frame for making and implementing those decisions.

But it also contains a silver lining: the potential for gaining rapid, data-driven insights into how things are going. Information on the progress of a product launch, for example, is available in days rather than months. That makes rapid course corrections possible and, ultimately, considerably improves the chances of success.

An important element of this nimble approach is breaking up big bets into smaller, staged investments.

 

FIGHTING DIFFUSION

Effective strategy requires focus, but responding to digital inevitably risks diffusion of effort, or “spreading the peanut butter too thinly.” Most companies we know are trying, and struggling, to do two things at once: to reinvent the core by digitizing and automating some of its key elements, for example, and to create innovative new digital businesses.

The challenge is acute because of the dizzying pace of digital change and the uncertainty surrounding the adoption of new technology. Even if the technology for autonomous vehicles pans out, for instance, when will the majority of people really begin to use them? Given the impossibility of knowing, it’s easy to wind up with an unfocused hodgepodge of digital initiatives—a far cry from a strategy.

Two concepts can help a company navigate. First, view your company as a portfolio of initiatives at different stages of seeding, nurturing, growing, or pruning.

Second, embrace the necessity of “big moves,” such as the dramatic reallocation of resources, sustained capital investment, radical productivity improvements, and disciplined M&A. Successful market-beating strategies nearly always rest on such moves. Making them mutually reinforcing, so that developments in the core help to support new digital businesses and vice versa, is a critical part of managing the risks of diffusion.

A portfolio approach

As a first step, companies go through their portfolio business by business, focusing on three questions:

  • Which emerging digital products and services are missing from the portfolio?
  • Which product offerings and elements of the existing operating model should be digitized or fully digitally reengineered to improve customer journeys?
  • What areas should be abandoned?

Answers may differ from one company to another, but become comfortable with hard choices and more attuned to new opportunities by tying all decisions to clear use cases.

As part of the exercise, companies develop scenarios for how the value pools in each of its industry verticals would probably shift across component customer value chains. Companies may want to get a sense of the types of services that clients and potential clients may likely to demand and thus may try to obtain from new suppliers or IT outsourcers. For businesses where more revenue would be likely to shift, the companies are comfortable placing bigger bets on new digital offerings, in contrast with its approach to businesses where the revenue at stake isn’t changing as much.

Big, mutually reinforcing moves

This systematic evaluation of value-pool opportunities across the portfolio generates a frank discussion of how the organization’s risk appetite has to change. It also catalyzes a greater willingness to invest in new digital businesses—which companies must do.

As part of this strategic evolution, companies may launch an aggressive program to better leverage foundational digital capabilities, such as automation, advanced analytics, and big data. These capabilities, to be sure, will be key building blocks for the new digital businesses. Just as important, however, by deploying the capabilities at scale across existing businesses, the company will be better able to stretch the life of its core offerings.

The portfolio strategy pays dividends both in revenue gains and cost reductions. For example, investing in a balanced fashion between core and new businesses lead to faster than expected revenue streams from new offerings. This increases the leadership’s commitment to the strategy, bolstering confidence that the new portfolio offerings will provide growth more than compensating for the eventual decline of core businesses.

In conclusion, companies’ best digital competitors—the ones you really need to worry about—aren’t taking small steps. Neither can you. This doesn’t mean that a digital strategy must be designed or put to work with any less confidence than strategies were in the past, though. Strategy has always required closing gaps in knowledge about complex markets, inspiring executive teams (and employees) to go beyond their fears and reluctance to act, and calibrating risks when you bet boldly.

The good news is that the digital era, for all its stomach-churning speed and volatility, also serves up more information about the competitive environment than yesterday’s strategists could ever imagine. Simultaneously, analytically backed, rapid test-and-learn approaches have opened up new avenues to help companies’ correct course while staying true to their strategic goals.

Today’s leaders need to step up by persuading their organizations that digital strategies may be tougher than other strategies but are potentially more rewarding—and well worth the bolder bets and cultural reforms required, first, to survive and, ultimately, to thrive.

 

  • By Tanguy Catlin, et al

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Growth-leadership mind-set needed to capture growth

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Everyone may be born a winner, but only few (if not none) are born leaders. Hence Leadership, like cooking, painting or any other skill must be developed and enhanced to the fullest potential. While growth is needed, the will to grow which first develops in the mind, takes precedence. Mind-set, curiosity, and a willingness to adapt to client needs and industry trends form the three core capabilities needed to succeed in any given business environment. A good business leader then, is mandated to harness these core capabilities to transform the business to higher heights; leadership delivered with a growth mind-set will absolutely birth the full potential of the business.

Growth-leadership mind-set offers a vast room for a leader to try so many strategies aimed at growing the business. There is room to try, fail, learn from it and do a better job and this, by extension gives the leader the ability to move at a steady pace yielding faster and better results on projects.

Having the growth-leadership mind-set is really critical. The end product presented to a client or customer reflects the kind of work flow and leadership present in the business, how teams/employees behave, how they act, collaborate, what they take to clients and even how they deal with failure shows in the final product that goes in front of the client. This is a feat consistent with leadership that is growth oriented. A leader whose sole focus is growth; A lack of these elements, a loss of clients/customers.

With a growth-leadership mindset, a business lead is driven Everyone may be born a winner, but only few (if not none) are born leaders. Hence Leadership, like cooking, painting or any other skill must be developed and enhanced to the fullest potential. While growth is needed, the will to grow which first develops in the mind, takes precedence.

Mind-set, curiosity, and a willingness to adapt to client needs and industry trends form the three core capabilities needed to succeed in any given business environment. A good business leader then, is mandated to harness these core capabilities to transform the business to higher heights; leadership delivered with a growth mind-set will absolutely birth the full potential of the business. Insights Insights to focus solely on making sure the business grows; trying new strategies that can move the business and not just limiting one to accepting what works and sticking to it.

Here growth is the focus and things must move forward in that direction, there is no room for stagnation. Thinking about how things can happen rather than thinking about how things cannot be changed. In other words; this mind-set allows a leader to step out of the business’s comfort zone and make impact while overcoming obstacles. That is the kind of leadership mind-set people in top positions must adopt in the various business settings.

It begins in the mind

Capita Chief Growth Officer, Ismail Amla, in an interview with McKinsey’s Biljana Cvetanovsk mentioned that when he was growing up, his dad used to tell him, “If you think you’re going to do it, you’re going to be right. If you think you’re not going to do it, you’re going to be right.” A growth-leadership mindset, for him, therefore, is the neuroscience confirming the hypothesis that how one thinks determines how they feel and how they behave, and how one behaves determines the outcome.

If the mind’s eye does not see growth and the prospects thereof, it will not happen. The team lead’s responsibility then becomes to see the growth ahead, map out a strategy to achieve that goal and drive the team to collectively hit the mark and scale higher. Else, the business may do well with what it knows to do and remain stagnant like it knows to be, but never higher than it could be.

Curiosity

A team lead needs to really understand what clients/ customers want. This has been termed in the market as “consultative selling” where the focus is on value and trust and exploring the client’s needs before offering a solution. This definitely gets one to understand the better what really people want or need.

Learning agility

It is not enough just knowing about something; a team lead has to go the extra mile to learn everything. It is important to learn what the problems are and how to solve them. Limiting oneself to just working by what you already know can only lead to failure. In addition to being curious and having a ready to learn attitude, a team lead should ultimately have a growth mind-set.

These are three core capabilities required to drive growth. People may sometimes attribute doing what they want to do at any time as a leader as growthleadership, but that is not the case; to get up, doing what needs to be done and adding the importance of time to task is what growth-leadership is. This leads to the next point, Take Action!

Take Action; do!

Further from the mind, the leader must then, walk the talk. Like the age old adage goes, talk is cheap. The strategies put on paper or mentioned orally must be fully executed to bring to full fruition what has been in mind. This is what will actually make the business growth happen.

Steps like delivering the best, meeting customer/client demands on time, maintaining consistency in delivery, making upward adjustments in the quality of work based on market demands and keeping a great client-agency relationship charts the business on the growth path. Taking all these steps, moving high mountains and deeper valleys to realize all the goals in the growth plan leads to the ultimate realisation of an elevation in the business structure, process and yield. A dive in the doing waters takes one beyond the mind to the actions of primarily the head.

The team lead with the growthleadership mind-set must first begin with improving on himself or herself and his/ her innate leadership qualities. Managers who show great leadership qualities can inspire their teams to accomplish amazing things. The other arm of the branch is the team. Accomplishing pragmatic coups also relies heavily on the efforts of a team; a team sharing the leader’s vision and possibly having the growth of the business at heart.

Against this backdrop, there must be a conscious effort to build a solid team. It is said that one is as good as his/her team. Therefore, a growth-leader must bear in mind to grow his team. The collective powers of the team under the effective supervision of the leader results in high performance which steers the growth wheel, thus, it is paramount to invest largely in developing the team.

This ranges from helping them develop their skill set, expanding their knowledge scope in their respective fields to providing little things like increasing their vocabulary. How? Small or big steps like enrolling the team is training programs, pay for them to attend seminars, buy books and share weekly reads with them. One cannot give what one doesn’t have.

The team can only reproduce what they know, make sure their pool of knowledge is so large and deep and they would draw when needed to always over-deliver set targets – pleasing the clients and accruing more business as a result; more deals, more profit. Again, the leader who grows his team also breeds a sense of trust and loyalty from his or her team. On average, after graduating from college, a millennial will change jobs four times before they are 32.

Most of them also don’t feel empowered on their current jobs. There is therefore the need for the team lead to consciously spend time and energy in developing the capacity and general ability of his team mates. For instance, a team’s social media manager in a team whose leader sets him or her up to be a Google certified digital marketer not only now has the capacity to take on more responsibilities for the team and add value to the team, but also appreciates his/her leader by remaining loyal to both the business and the leader; more value for less.

A great leader and a great team need a great structure to realize the business’ full potential. A business structure that works; one that eliminates time wasters like micromanaging, red taping and unnecessary bureaucracy. A system that is designed to work its best with little or no supervision. For instance, in a business operating system where productivity depends on 50% of the man power or human resources, outputs are likely to be higher than one relying on 80% of man power.

Automating systems eliminate chances of human errors and ensure that the best work is delivered to a client each time. Adopt modern technology to set targets, reminders, achievement scale, simplify the system, have a tracking and reporting framework that shows what is happening when it’s happening and who is responsible for what. This gives the opportunity to weed out non performing team members, reward performing once and modify strategies in order to meet set goals.

The time a leader spends in micromanaging his team could be used more productively in ventures like research into trends and better ways of exceeding client expectations. While it is true that people do the things you inspect and not those you expect, it is also imperative that one creates a system that does the monitoring on behalf of the leader to churn out great results and total progress on the growth ladder.

Achieve Set Goals and targets

The growth mind-set is backed strongly by the will to achieve and over achieve. This phenomenon also rests in the mind; that every challenge has a solution and that no mountain is too tall to climb, forms the mind-set an achiever. With an excellence-driven team under a growth mind-set leadership utilizing an efficient business model or procedure, consistently achieving is inevitable and more importantly business growth is not far from reach.

Growth-leadership mind-set incorporates the use of one’s mind-set to grow, taking productive action that is result oriented and finally achieving set goals and targets. In these disruptive times where new technology and innovations are springing up, one needs to be abreast with everything.

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