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8 ways to build a future-proof organization

The average large firm reorganizes every 2-3 years. But with technological advances changing everything, this "wait and see" approach is no longer an option.
Aaron De Smet

Delivers growth, innovation, and organizational agility and is an expert on culture change, leadership development, team effectiveness, capability building, and transformation

Chris Gagnon

Leads our portfolio of digital solutions for the People & Organizational Performance Practice and delivers sustained performance at scale through an integrated approach to lasting change, culture, talent, and leadership

Here is today’s reality: The average large firm reorganizes every 2-3 years and it takes over 18 months. With technology advances changing everything, wait and see isn’t an option.

Those who get it right are creating adaptive, fast-moving organizations that respond quickly and flexibly to opportunities and challenges. They move intelligent decision-making to the front lines. Their process functions more like a network and less like a chain of command. Gone is the standard, “safer” modus operandi.

One famous retailer empowers its call center employees and, in turn, delivers “wow” service. Instead of being a place typically associated with high stress and a slog for employees, this retailer gave each team member the freedom and authority to truly build relationships with customers. This has led to greater sales numbers, customer engagement and loyalty.

We have identified eight emerging characteristics of the organization of the future. We see versions of these elements so often, they provide at least the organizational outline to win:

  1. Worship speed. It’s an imperative. Look at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ April 2017 letter to shareholders. Bezos highlights making “high-velocity” decisions. “If you’re good at course correcting,” he contends, “being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.”
  2. Shift to an emergent strategy. One that entails a relentless quest and an undefined end point. The pursuit should involve unceasing questioning of “How do we add value?” and an organizational platform that formulates an emergent mix of multiple strategies executed immediately.
  3. Unleash decision-making. Grasp how your organization operates and reflects its core proposition. This includes understanding how to handle “big-bet” decisions shaping your company’s future, “cross-cutting” decisions like pricing and new product launches, and low-stakes “delegated” and “ad hoc” decisions that arise unexpectedly.
  4. Reimagine your structure. The more interconnected your organization and the more decision-making diffuses, the easier it becomes to sustain high performance. Even the most hierarchical chain of command – the U.S. military – moved to decentralize decision authority to help beat back Al Qaeda’s Iraqi-based forces. Free your initiatives and decisions from unnecessary hierarchy.
  5. Personalize talent programs. New people analytics tools are helping organizations manage and develop their people with greater precision. After extensive training, for example, a fast-food restaurant chain identified and taught behaviors that inspired colleagues.
  6. Rethink your leadership model. Leadership can come from anyone. In agile organizations, leaders lead more by influence than control. When we ask executives how to solve a given issue, only a few consider how to create conditions in which an ecosystem can largely self-manage, where individuals learn and problems are avoided before they manifest. Yet, we believe the future will demand this.
  7. Adopt a recipe to run the place. Siloed firms execute a wide array of processes and practices differently across the organization, generating an incongruous hash. The healthiest firms able to sustain performance and renew over time employ a simpler approach. They don’t sample à la carte.
  8. Cultivate purpose, values and social connection. Future organizations will emphasize aligning around common principles. Participants will use defined rules of engagement in decision-making, collaborate to create value and earn the credibility to lead rather than have leadership imposed from above.

Reorganizations are hard to get right. They distract senior leadership on down. They trigger real consequences for meeting investor expectations. They run the risk of bewildering employees. But in the face of today’s massive disruptions, an ethos of urgency actually serves to smooth gyrations between “hurry up” and “settle in.”

Those who get it right create adaptive, fast-moving organizations that respond quickly and flexibly to opportunities and challenges. They move intelligent decision-making to the front lines. Their process functions more like a network and less like a chain of command. By combining urgency with agility, capability and identity, you generate an organization that can play fast and long. That’s the future.

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