What Fuels The 21st Century Responsive Organization?

We are redesigning our organizations to fit the 21st century. We are configuring them for learning, flexibility and adaptability. To unleash the wealth that is existent in their talents and teams and reap the rewards. But in order to build a responsive organization it needs something to respond to – it needs 21st century fuel.

This is my obsession when it comes to the Responsive Org.: Finding the next generation fuel and figuring out how to propel it into a system in order for these high-performing organizations to have the best possible springboard to get their teams and talents moving. And not only while redistributing themselves into a new organism, but keeping that responsiveness continuous 24/7.

For those that are not familiar with Responsive.org it is a community committed to creating and growing Responsive Organizations. Their first annual responsive conference, The Future Of Work, is being held in mid September. And, I am very much looking forward to it! (1)

A responsive organization is only as good as what it is responding to. And in order to maximize the next generation organization it needs next generation fuel. One of the premises of the future of teams is customer obsession (2)(3). But how good are we at understanding customers? Are we feeding our organizations coal and oil when their new engine runs on electricity?

The 20th century organization as we know it is a bullet on a set trajectory towards a target. Customer insight is used to collect, analyze and send coordinates to management in order for them to, in turn, tell the organization where the target is supposed to be. But, the old system demands that the target is visible and standing completely frozen. Today we know that the target is continuously moving and it’s pitch dark (4). The current system for fueling the organization’s customer obsession is not at all accommodating to the new demands. And unless we change that, these new organizations albeit quicker, smoother and more responsive will keep missing their targets as much as the old model.

To name a few pieces to the puzzle:

  • The system for understanding people needs to be immediate. According to Chris Fussell the problem set of organizations changes every seven days (5). In effect you have only seven days from you learn something, to implementing it, and having to be prepared to change your assumptions again
  • Also, an immediate system can work with the customer in real-time. This can in some instances change the level of understanding needed to create value for the customer. Knowledge and action becomes interchangeable.
  • Customer surveys are not authentic. They are simple, quick and cheap and they give reason to make decisions in organizations that don’t trust their talents. But they are narrow, prone to errors and only provide a very limited idea of what the customer thinks of the organizations own way of looking at the world.
  • Companies are falling in love with data. Assuming that the more stuff can be measured the more certain it becomes that we are making the right decisions. But the quality of data is also given by the sum of its parts, and most data does not go broad enough to collect the really valuable insights: The knowledge at the fringes that is seemingly illogical to a 20th century strategist. This is the data that is affecting companies in volatile markets. A lot of the current data juts puts companies in a tunnel and shows them what would happen if the world continued in the same trajectory forward – which is not the problem that is hurting a lot of organizations today.
  • Big data is not the truth, it is probability. And as valuable as I personally think data will be, we have to understand that there is a big difference between probability and the non-linearity of reality. (6)
  • Causality. This is the hardest and possibly to most important one. Companies seem hesitant to work with causality (7), because it can turn their well established world view upside down. It is difficult to understand and may demand  that the organization makes changes – instead of forcing it on the customer. Causality is hugely important for responsive organizations. Make it immediate and we could be onto something big..
  • Letting your customers in on their own data. Harvesting customers personal wealth might be inside what was morally defendable in the old model, but it is repugnant in the new model (8)(9). Being transparent about the insights and partnering with customers to develop the value you can offer them back is the new model. To quote Matthias Kröner of Fidor Bank «Treat your customers like three year olds and they will behave like three year olds. Treat them like co-managers and they will behave like co-managers.» (10)
  • And lastly individualization. Each company, strategy, trajectory, market, product and life cycle is different. We need a million different tools if we are to solve a million different challenges. Our tools have to become as responsive as our organizations. 

I believe that the are enormous opportunities out there waiting to be unleashed from responsive organizations.  But that it demands an as fundamental rethinking and restructuring of what fuels them. If not we will only clog the responsive arteries and make them as unresponsive and inaccurate as the system it is trying to replace. And adding my pieces to that puzzle is my obsession.

Coming to The Future Of Work in mid September I am spectacularly looking forward to discussing this a lot further and getting help coming closer to new pieces in the puzzle. Hopefully I will see you there.

Resources and references:

(1). The first annual responsive conference, The Future Of Work: http://www.responsiveconference.com/

(2). The IBM C-Suite Study (2013) found that the most important leadership trait today is customer obsession. Source: https://hbr.org/2014/03/an-anthropologist-walks-into-a-bar

(3). Bud Caddell of NOBL on The Characteristics of Successful Employees and Teams, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFiiEUwdKXg

(4). Aaron Dignan describing the dark room, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnmr8zvomE8

(5). Chris Fussell, Rules of Engagement for a complex world, https://vimeo.com/153016519

(6). Douglas Rushkoff argues that «We just can’t get enough data about our decidedly non-linear world to make accurate predictions», https://heroesnotzombies.com/2011/03/30/uncertainty-and-prediction/ But later argues that even though black swans are rare it is highly predictable that they will occur http://bit.ly/2b6zx21 Kind of demonstrating the point itself :)

(7). Clayton Christensen on correlation and causality, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHdS_4GsKmg

(8). Shoshana Zuboff on the immorality of companies harvesting customer data without transparency and giving the customers control. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QwPHinDdOc

(9). Kevin Kelly argues that collecting data demands transparency and predictability, http://kk.org/books/the-inevitable/

(10). Matthias Kröner at WIRED Money in 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtW320PVvjo

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