Timehop, which takes me on a nostalgia trip everyday, reminded me recently that it has been a year since I wrote The Change Imperative. The opening slide features a quote – “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less“- attributed to Gen. Eric Shinseki. In the times we work in, I believe this cannot be overstated, not just for individuals but for organisations as well. Even as business dynamics force changes on the external manifestation of an organisation – the brand – any organisation that faces a client/consumer will also be forced to adapt its internal structure and practices to suit changing needs.
For a long while now, I have been ambivalent about processes. I have worked in an era, and in organisations, where processes had a way of getting things done. But in parallel, I have also felt that many a time, processes have a way of forgetting what they were made for. The output overshadows the outcome. Over the last few months, my surmisal has been that, to use a Taleb classification, processes can make an organisation robust, but not anti-fragile. This very informative post by Aaron Dignan of Undercurrent – The Last Re-Org You’ll Ever Do -highlights many ways that organisations have tried to change standard structures and practices, and even suggests a six step path to reorganisation. More
In The Entrepreneur and the Professional, I brought up the challenges at work faced by my generation. The focus was on an approach to work and the changes that have been forced on it because of rapidly shifting business environments. In addition to the business’ external dynamics, another factor that has been changing the organisation is the entry of a different kind of workforce.
“How the Millennial Workforce is Changing Business” calls this a revolution, and writes further that they will prepare the organisation for the future by making them Digital, Clear, Fluid, Fast. PwC’s layered report on the same subject brings out this workforce’ motivations, acknowledges the generational tensions and suggests what the organisation would need to do to attract, develop and manage millennials. More
Though not by design thus far, I have actually been expanding on the 4P (planning to add one more) framework I wrote about in Agile @ Scale. The attempt is to help me navigate the concept of brand in a rapidly changing landscape. The Change Imperative tried to showcase some of the possibilities of these dynamic shifts, and Revisiting Brand Purpose dwelt upon purpose in the framework. This post is on platforms. Though media platforms have been around for a while and have been utilised by brands, and the internet, mobile and different OS can also be treated as platforms, I’m choosing to focus on the brand/ organisation as a platform.
Thus far, the organisation as a platform has been built to leverage scale for competitive advantage. But technology and open platforms are easily on their way to make scale matter much less. As this post succinctly states, connections weigh more than efficiency now. So how can the organisation move towards connections?
My thought process on this was probably started in Social’s Second Chance. Social tools and platforms have brought the brand into full contact with the user and have caused paradigm shifts in not just marketing but across the organisation. This deck makes an insightful point that traditional marketing structures are dialectic in nature while social platforms are dialogic. That explains why brands are using social mostly as media and trying to frack it, despite there being better ways to approach it, even in the context of marketing. Experience > exposure is a lesson yet to be learnt.
Among other reasons, one of the big factors that are contributing to a resistance in truly embracing social in entirety is a fear – loss of control. This is a great read on designing for the loss of control and my biggest takeout from it is where it quotes from ‘The Power of Pull‘ – “shaping strategies” on the individual, institutional, and societal level.
I think there’s tremendous scope in rethinking the brand/organisation as a platform. In the bid for competitive advantage through scale and efficiency @ scale, it is possible that the organisation/brand has chosen to see value very myopically – as a transaction. What if the organisation transformed itself around connections – connecting employees to a sense of purpose, partners to the kind of work they’d want to associate with and its own narratives with that of the consumer’s? Of course there’d be transactions involved too, but how about engaging each in a way that understands and works with the unique value in every interaction within the context of a shared purpose?
(Arguable) I think efficiency lays more stress on methods, but engagement has the potential to focus on principles. Profitability at any cost vs value creation as a means to profitability. The choice might actually make the difference between survival and irrelevance.
For quite a while, I have believed that culture is the most underestimated and underutilised tool among the organisation’s means of gaining strategic advantage. A few like the much venerated Zappos have used this lapse to maximum effect and by assembling a group of passionate and aligned individuals generated profits and publicity, all while retaining a culture that continues to thrive. Remember “Anyone can do what we do, but nobody can be who we are.”?
Last week, Maneesh wrote an excellent post titled ‘The Importance of Culture‘ that started off a discussion on twitter involving him, Harish and me. Having experienced a few instances when the influx of money into an organisation (not necessarily a startup) changed the internal landscape completely, I wondered whether scale (that many a time follows money) and culture are usually mutually exclusive. It’s not always so, but it takes not just a very skilled management team, but also an empowered employee bunch down the line to make it happen. It takes communication, rewarding the right behaviour and a lot of clarity to ensure that the culture is not lost. To quote from the post, “Culture is attitude, it is not behaviour. Everyone knows this, but we all get it messed up.“
When he linked professionalism and culture, I smiled because I remembered an incident from a couple of years back. That (very interesting) discussion, which prompted this post, was on whether passion or professionalism could better help the organisation scale. For various reasons, at that time, the two were mutually exclusive in the organisation. I argued for professionalism, because to me, it represented consistency and reliability. We both refused to accept the easy compromise of ‘both are necessary’. Towards the end, the management guru equated a professional to a mercenary. To me, the difference, was in alignment. In that sense, I agree with Maneesh that professionalism is practically non-negotiable. To quote from the post again, “You become a professional when you care. Your culture defines what you care about.“
A couple of days after this discussion, this tweet appeared on my TL
— Zach Seward (@zseward) March 14, 2012
Posts across years, across industries, across lines of work, but if you read them, you’ll sense the similarity.
To me, culture is not a fancy set of perks and trappings that money can buy. It’s a sense of belonging, a feeling of being connected to a set of objectives and activities that give the individual a sense of purpose. A sense of enjoying the ride even when it’s a tough one, because you know there are many who will be your parachute in case you fall off a cliff that you didn’t anticipate. When that feeling is lost, the light in the cubicle is switched off. More often than not, permanently.
until next time, culture counter
In the last few weeks, I have had several interesting conversations on the subject of social’s utility to brand building. I realised that I often veered towards building the product/service ground up with social inherent in it. I was trying to understand why and that took me back to the ‘aligning business to social’ vs ‘aligning social to business’ perspectives. (earlier post and source)
Though fundamentally the same concept, its application brought about the title of the post. With a pragmatic approach, I realise it is impossible for existing organisations to suddenly transform one day and change/align their business to a socially relevant purpose. It requires evolution. So once they identify the need for this evolution, their challenge is two fold – to build social into existing products/services and simultaneously look at identifying need gaps (of the users) in their domain which have the potential for social resonance. (either by giving the individual user such an excellent experience that he shares it in his circle willingly, or by delivering a utility by using his social connections on other platforms) The first is using social as just another means to meeting an existing objective, and the second is building something that by its inherent nature will have a social outcome that also delivers business results.
They differ not only in approach and design, but also in terms of gestation, returns and time frames. Depending on the organisation’s evolution appetite, they will have to choose how much they would like to focus on each.
until next time, social output is where buttons come in 😉
A few days back, I happened to receive some understanding on the difference between an ‘organisation’ and an ‘institution’. As is my wont, I immediately came back from the event and googled it. All the Q & A forums, however, just sent me to Wikipedia, and to be fair, it did confirm what I had understood. So, the definitions
An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human community. Institutions are identified with a social purpose and permanence, transcending individual human lives and intentions, and with the making and enforcing of rules governing cooperative human behavior.
An organization is a social arrangement which pursues collective goals, controls its own performance, and has a boundary separating it from its environment. ..There are a variety of legal types of organizations, including: corporations, governments, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, armed forces, charities, not-for-profit corporations, partnerships, cooperatives, and universities.
I think somewhere between the two lies the organisation of the future – where the collective intent of the workforce is more than the sum of the parts. I liked the ‘social purpose’ part of the institution which to me, made it superior to the organisation that has a boundary that separates it from the environment. I felt that this boundary had become an increasingly impervious wall, something that affected intent, culture and even ideas. But I’m not so sure of the ‘permanence’ of the institution. Is it just the idea that’s permanent or the manifestations too?
Let’s quickly bring back that ‘where is this going’ thought into a brand perspective. When i wrote about appification and multiple platforms a fortnight back, I wondered what was the structure that could hold the identity of a brand together. Logos, mission statements, and even the experience – all of which have been used to define ‘brand’ seemed unworthy. Even my favourite – ‘promise to the consumer’ seemed barely there.
The bad news – I don’t have an answer yet. The good news – out there, (at least) a couple of razor sharp brains, armed with much more experience and knowledge, are piecing together the principles that would guide the functioning of the enterprise. The organisation is after all, a means to an end, and the brand is one of those means. So from that, I’m sure, clarity will emerge for brands too.
until next time, to boldly go where no enterprise has gone before 😉