Four Crises for Business: Time, Talent, Trust and Transformation
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This Executive Technology Report is based on a personal essay by Peter Andrews, Consulting Faculty Member at the IBM Executive Business Institute in Palisades, New York. Visit http://www.ibm.com/ibm/palisades
Author: Peter Andrews
Innovation Strategist, IBM Executive Business Institute
30 March 2007
Business is under increasing pressure to show results even as globalization, political uncertainty, new technologies and disasters create new challenges. In particular, executives are looking for help in transforming themselves quickly to meet fast-changing demands. They need to identify and bring together talent on a worldwide basis to meet new opportunities. Though often working in different time zones, they are looking for ways to establish trust across their organizations, with partners and with their clients and customers. Most critically, they need to verify that time is used most effectively if they are to remain competitive. Technologies are emerging that can help to answer these new needs.
“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Samuel Johnson
Any business set on cruise control is headed into a mountainside. If the strategic plan is gathering dust, if you don’t have customers clamoring to tell you what to do and if this week’s meeting looks a lot like last week’s, you’re in trouble.
At a high level, there are no surprises. Executives have been putting the challenges of globalization, cost-cutting, disaster planning, shortened product lifecycles and attracting and retaining the best employees onto their top ten lists for years. Politics, the world economy, technological advances, investor impatience, natural disasters and other drivers of change have been pushing business hard for decades. Once mighty companies have lost their footing, and many have fallen.
Everyone is working harder, but are we doing anything differently? Are radical changes in direction even considered? Do all the data points come together to form a picture that drives real change? Can the business challenges be viewed in a new way that concentrates the mind?
Consider four crises that thematically sum up our difficult times, and then consider what might be done about each:
The Crisis of Time
Douglas Adams said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Most of us have far too many deadlines whooshing by and it doesn’t inspire feelings of affection. Take a poll of your team and see how many of them feel like their task lists are longer and someone has been stealing minutes, if no hours, from their clocks. We now work in a just-in-time, 24X7 world. Businesses are managed by monthly results, not quarterly. Turn the sound off on your laptop, BlackBerry and phone. I can’t stand the constant pinging, binging and ringing.
Socially, the problem is a lack of consideration for other people’s time and continual “raising of the bar.” Which usually means a numerical bar, such as return on investment or efficiency rate. But beyond adjusting our behaviors and measuring effectiveness over outcomes, there are some technical fixes. We are already familiar with spam filters and bozo filters (a software feature that allows a user to block e-mail sent from a specified address), but collaborative filtering, better search, the use of context to automatically sort and prioritize and progress in interruption management systems are all on the way to help. Think of the effort your business puts into cost cutting and see if you can do the same thing for time cutting – at the level of individuals, as well as teams. But first, think wisely about what you and your colleagues will do with the time savings, and hold onto the time for those purposes. Even if those purposes include taking a deep breath or daydreaming.
The Crisis of Talent
“Great people make a great company,” according to the Web sites of Symbion Research International, Elite Mattress, AvTech Laboratories, Lands’ End and dozens of other companies Google found. But there aren’t enough great people to go around and we don’t use them well. Part of the problem is scheduling (as can be seen in the Crisis of Time), but part of it is just finding and training them.
- How do we know who the great people are when our measurements have been reduced to revenue numbers?
- How do we expose and develop talent when training is just a cost number?
- How do we get talented people involved in the right projects?
- How do we keep talented people engaged and motivated?
- How do we keep them at all?
For most companies, this is where your value is. This is where your market differentiator is. And it’s not just your team’s great people, it’s your people’s great teaming. So much of what has to be done is a question of priorities and climate, that the problem seems almost intractable.
For many years, Napoleon, even as his army grew into the thousands, reportedly knew each soldier by name. There may be a hint of an answer there. Leaders know the people they lead. First, they know their talents, their potential and their accomplishments. Second, they also know their needs and their relationships with each other. Resource solutions, like automated corporate directories, can help with the former. If the taxonomy is consistent, it becomes easy to find people with the right expertise and skills. For the latter, technologies that support communities (such as chat and workflow tools) can help, as can analytical tools, such as social network analysis.
And don’t forget training, which may need to take on new characteristics as those who have learned as much from online multiplayer games than from classroom instruction begin to enter the workforce. Putting together the right tools and practices with a personal investment in talent by leaders may be the toughest job of all. But if you can handle this issue, who can possibly compete with you?
The Crisis of Trust
Partnering is an unnatural act. Half of all strategic business relationships fail to meet their objectives, according to a white paper by Jeffrey Shuman and Janice Twombly.1Confidence in management is dropping. In a survey of 13,000 employees at U.S. companies, Watson Wyatt Worldwide found only 39 percent trust their senior leaders.2 And every time a deadline is missed or an offhand comment is misconstrued, a virtual team starts to strain its seams.
Or think of the value of customer relationship management systems that send alerts when the word choice in a text message or the stress in a voice indicates that a customer is reaching his or her limit. Think of the value of a myriad of sensible security tools that can keep the trust of your clients and your name off the front page.
The Crisis of Transformation
You can’t anticipate everything, but you have to be ready for anything. Scenario planning and good backup systems can help with disasters, of course. But flexibility will be demanded of almost all businesses in a world where global outsourcing breaks down barriers and shifts value, where challenging regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley in the U.S. require more accountability, where the viability of channels changes and the ability of companies to cluster into well-positioned virtual corporations creates new, vital competitors. Component Business Models can help companies to be more ready to reorganize.3 Well-managed online communities can bring the best brains together around emerging opportunities. And, just-in-time education, especially when it is built on up-and-coming simulation technology, can help train employees to go after the new marketsthat pop up.
These crises might not be as thought-provoking as a death sentence, but perhaps they can be used to motivate your team if it has become a bit too complacent. Maybe they can provide starting points for discussion.
Just brainstorming and chatting is not enough, of course. It takes a team, reflecting on these crises, to gain the insights that are of real value to your business. And insights alone won’t help your firm face these crises. Plans and actions are called for. So dust off that strategy, do a brain scan of your customer and have a meeting like no other.
|Technology to Watch|
|Component business models|
|Federated identity management|
|Reputation management systems|
|Simulation authoring tools|
|Social network analysis|
1 Shuman, Jeffrey and Janice Twombly. “ Alliance Capability.” In Pursuit of Value, Volume 4. The Rhythm of Business. March 2005.
2 Kuack, David. “We Say … Time to raise employee confidence.” The Green Beam.
http://www.greenbeam.com/features/we102102.stm (includes Watson Wyatt Worldwide survey result)
3 “A component-based approach to strategic change.” IBM Corporation. http://www-1.ibm.com/services/us/igs/cbm/html/bizmodel.html
Related Web sites of interest
Alberta E-Future Centre. E-Business Info-guides
http://www.efuture.ca/alberta/ebusiness/internet_auctions.asp (includes eBay data)
The Conference Board of Canada . “Revered or Reviled: How Corporate Social Responsibility Can Affect Your Reputation.”
http://www.conferenceboard.ca/GCSR/research/default.htm (abstract, sign-on required for complete article)
Aon Consulting. “Aligning Business and People Strategies Through Integrated Talent Management.” Forum, May 2005.http://www.aon.com/about/publications/pdf/forum_canada/pu_2005_04_forum_can_forum_canada_675.pdf
Heylighen, F. “Collaborative Filtering.” Principia Cybernetica Web, January 2001. http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/COLLFILT.html
Minassian, Suzanne O., Michael J. Muller and Daniel Gruen. “Diverse Strategies for Interruption Management in Complex Office Activities.” IBM Watson Research Center, 2004. http://domino.research.ibm.com/cambridge/research.nsf/0/8fa06db80b048edf85256ed80064a301?OpenDocument
Adamczyk, Piotr D., and Brian P. Bailey. “A Method and System for Intelligent Interruption Management.” University of Illinois,
Smith, Roger. “Simulation: The Engine Behind The Virtual World.” http://www.modelbenders.com/papers/sim2000/SimulationEngine.PDF
Paris, Maeve. “Simulation authoring tools for interactive e-learning courseware development.” http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:K3bkpGvJMzQJ:www.heacademy.ac.uk/embedded_object.
Bray, Tim. On Search, the Series. 2003.
Krebs, Valdis. “An introduction to social network analysis.” 2005.
“Social Networks Research Report.” July 2005.
Ernst, Johannes. “The Digital Identity Big Bang.” AlwaysOn – The Insider’s Network. May 2005. http://www.alwayson-network.com/comments.php?id=10193_0_3_0_C
IBM Tivoli Federated Identity Manager
Norlin, Eric and Andre Durand. “Towards Federated Identity Management.”
Carr, David F. “What's Federated Identity Management?” eWeek, November 2003. (sign-on required for complete article)
Keser, C. “Experimental games for the design of reputation management systems.” IBM Systems Journal, 2003.
“Identity and reputation in Collaborative learning environments sourcebook.” The Critical Methods Collective. http://www.criticalmethods.org/collab/v.mv?d=1_74
Barneck, Dr. Christoph. Affective Computing Portal.
Bostrom, Johan. “Would caring PCs brighten your day?” ARNnet.
Sloman, Aaron. “Review of Affective Computing – Review.” AI Magazine, Spring 1999.
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Peter Andrews is an innovation strategist and consulting faculty member at IBM's Executive Business Institute. He has spent a career bridging the gap between the technical potential and the bottom line. He is the author of over 100 articles on innovation, emerging technology and leadership, and his Executive Tech Reports are featured monthly on the IBM services Web site. Andrews consults and holds workshops both within IBM and externally. He uses a variety of techniques to probe, extend and validate the opportunities presented by new technologies. He has helped banks, insurance companies, manufacturers and retailers develop their own capabilities to take a fresh look at emerging technologies, come to a common understanding of their value and take practical steps to exploit them. Notably, he has held innovation workshops with over 100 IBM Researchers worldwide that have helped them to determine the business implications of their inventions, recognize possible sponsors and create value propositions. Andrews has been actively involved in research and working at the leading edge for his entire career. His participation is always in demand for IBM Academy studies, and he is a popular presenter on the future, most recently as the closing keynote speaker for KMWorld 2006. He can be contacted at ">">, New York (845) 732-6095 andhttp://www.ibm.com/ibm/palisades
Business is under increasing pressure to show results; they are looking for ways to establish trust across their organizations, with partners and with their clients and customers. Most critically, they need to verify that time is used most effectively if they are to remain competitive. Technologies are emerging that can help to answer these new needs.
Key words and relevant phrases
Accountability, business process, crises, customer relationship management, management, reputation management, resource, resource management, return on interest, skills, strategic planning, talent, talent management, technology, time, time management, transformation, transformation management, trust, virtual team.
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