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The Need for ‘Techno-Supporting Skeptics’

Digital technologies will increase the high levels of ambiguity that executives must navigate. Aspiring leaders may respond by ignoring the challenge, which isn’t sustainable. A better response is to harbor healthy skepticism of the digital technologies they champion, develop values that will lead to better decisions, and work to institutionalize those values at the organizational level.

The Impossibility of Focusing on Two Things at Once

Neurological science has demonstrated that brains are not hardwired to focus simultaneously on day-to-day activities and long-term objectives. In the workplace, that presents a challenge: How can employees maximize individual performance while enhancing organizational success? Research into employee behavior underscores the need for organizations to help employees familiarize themselves with perspectives not readily available in their current roles.

The Time for Retraining Is Now

None of us know how our technological future will unfold. But whether there will be a net increase or decrease in jobs overall, it’s clear that these will be different jobs, requiring different skill sets. We need to act now to enable current employers and employees to gain the skills they are going to need in the brave world of AI technology.

Digital Is About Speed — But It Takes a Long Time

The ability of digital technologies to accelerate business is giving rise to new value propositions — new ways to eliminate hassles and create solutions. But research from MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research suggests that while business leaders need to start redesigning their existing systems and roles to better solve customers’ problems, they will not be able to do so quickly. Case in point: The slow and steady digital transformation of Dutch technology company Royal Philips.

How Leaders Face the Future of Work

Some leaders have failed to realize that the daily lives of those who work in their organizations will inevitably be transformed over the coming decades. But it’s the responsibility of leaders to create clarity about the future of work. That means being engaged with creating a narrative about the future of jobs, actively championing the learning agenda, and role modeling work flexibility — for instance, by taking paternity leave or working from home.

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The New Digital Mandate: Cultivate Dissatisfaction

Employee satisfaction can be a double-edged sword. Satisfied employees produce higher quality-outputs and have less turnover. But satisfaction can inhibit innovation: People who are OK with the current way of doing business are not likely to transform it. They need to be aggravated enough with their current situation that they are willing to take the risks to change it. By sowing the right kinds of dissatisfaction, leaders can drive their organizations to higher levels of innovation and value.

Tangled Webs and Executive Naïveté

Leaders in a digital world have to navigate more complexity than ever before, where a problem that arises in one node of such network work can spread easily, with widespread adverse impact. But complexity-induced problems often have similar fundamental causes — and similar solutions. Leaders can ameliorate the effects of complexity by developing broader, not just deeper, perspectives; learning to think in terms of scenarios; and being clear about strategic intent.

Using AI to Help the World Thrive

It’s possible that humankind has created complex, systemic problems that exceed our human capacity to solve them. Some companies, particularly the tech giants, are recognizing this possibility and looking to AI as a tool for solving environmental and social problems. One of these companies is Microsoft. In December 2017, it committed $50 million to its new “AI for Earth” program to fund innovators who are making progress in four critical areas — climate change, water, agriculture, and biodiversity.

Rationalizing Yourself Out of a Promotion

Some women who feel like they won’t “fit” a stereotypical job description will talk themselves out of wanting it. This process of negatively evaluating promotional opportunities is due to a process called “job crafting.” As a result, managers who wish to employ female executives at the highest levels of their organizations should be especially careful of the signals they might be communicating to potential applicants.

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Architect Your Company for Agility

In the digital economy, speed matters. To keep pace with customer demands and competitor moves, companies must be able to quickly experiment with a potential offering and, depending on customer response, continuously enrich and scale that offering, or discard it and move on to the next experiment. Innovating at speed means utilizing empowered teams that are aligned to achieve company-wide objectives.

The Long Journey to Understanding Intangible Assets

The “intangible assets” people bring to their jobs are valuable — but challenging to quantify. Understanding the complexities of assets such as a person’s capacity to continue to learn new skills and ability to manage the stress of work and home life can help organizations get a better handle on alternate ways of sustaining employees. Understanding the notion of intangible assets can also help individuals think more concretely about how they allocate their time and energy.

The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Create Value for Stakeholders

The old story of business says that maximizing shareholder profit is goal number one. The new story says that shareholders matter, but not more than other stakeholders — which include customers, suppliers, employees, other financiers, and the communities in which companies operate.

We Must Rescue ‘Win-Win’ From Its Buzzword Status

Companies tend to compete not as individual entities, but as members of networks — which makes collaboration a strategic necessity, not merely a tactical choice. But while many executives say they want win-win solutions, in reality, they usually seek victories that don’t excessively annoy their counterparts. In other words, “win/no-lose” is a more accurate description.

Don’t Get Caught in the Middle

There was once a time when middlemen were indispensable. Intermediaries facilitated transactions between makers and buyers; they closed the gaps between disconnected entities that required one another for survival; and, within organizations, they interpreted high-level corporate strategy and connected it to front-line execution. But one by one, such intermediaries are being made obsolete by technology.

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Focusing on What 90% of Businesses Do Now Is a Big Mistake

It’s not smart to base any part of your strategy on what you see in the rear-view mirror — and that’s particularly true when you develop strategies for navigating modern, thorny environmental and social challenges. The norms and expectations about how companies manage sustainability issues are shifting fast: Just six years ago, only 20% of the S&P 500 companies produced sustainability reports, while by 2016, 82% did. Change is coming to business — and executives need to adjust.

Your Company Doesn’t Need a Digital Strategy

As sexy as it is to speculate about new technologies such as AI, robots, and the internet of things, the focus on technology can steer the conversation in a dangerous direction. Because when it comes to digital transformation, digital is not the answer. Transformation is. In various industries, including banking, paint, and shipbuilding, digital leaders are finding that technology’s value comes from doing business differently because technology makes it possible.

Putting an End to Leaders’ Self-Serving Behavior

Business leaders are often selfish. They honestly think they are entitled to more resources than anyone else, and that they have earned the right to take more. Their self-serving behavior is usually enabled by their organizations. But three strategies can help: Organizations can choose leaders who tilt away from self-serving frameworks; create systems that reinforce fairer evaluations; and recognize the added complexities that arise on the global stage.

Don’t Confuse Digital With Digitization

“Becoming digital” is a totally different exercise from digitizing. Digitization involves standardizing business processes and is an important enabler of digital, but digitization on its own won’t make a business a digital company. Instead, a digital transformation involves rethinking a company’s value proposition. To become digital and pursue a digital vision, companies must embrace information-enriched customer solutions delivered as a seamless, personalized customer experience.

The Case Against Agility

Leaders today must wean their companies away from three pieces of conventional wisdom about digital strategy: agility, first-mover advantage, and minimum viable product. These ideas have anchored technological decision-making for over a decade but are highly unsuitable for the emerging world. In conditions of environmental uncertainty and interconnected technology, we need more thoughtfulness rather than more speed.

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