How Work Gets Done in the “Now” Normal

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ID 156033153 © Andrii Yalanskyi | Dreamstime.com

Since the dawn of automation, the focus has been on increasing productivity. Frederick Taylor, a pioneer of efficiency, started the automation movement by redefining how workers did their jobs during the second industrial revolution.

Taylor’s focus was to increase productivity and consistency of work through repeatability and standardization of work activities. In the century since his death in 1915, technology has advanced his concepts to a point where it has fundamentally and substantially changed the workplace, companies and economies. Productivity gains from technology have been the primary drivers of GDP.

Within companies, automation has moved from the manufacturing floor and back office to the front office and beyond the extended ecosystem. It has redefined how companies sell, distribute, collaborate with suppliers and partners, interact with prospects and customers, and manage their employees and contractors.

Enterprise software applications like financial systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain (SCM), and customer relationship management (CRM), to name a few, perfected Taylor’s concepts of automation by predefining and codifying how routine, repeatable tasks are performed. The goal was to perform each task faster, more accurately with less human involvement; theoretically to free the employee to perform higher level or more creative activities.

Because of how these systems are designed, workers are forced to structure their work around how the systems function. How often have you been told by an accounts payable clerk, inventory manager or manufacturing engineer that they couldn’t do something because of ‘the system’? How often have you gotten a new piece of software only to unlearn the very process you wanted to automate in the first place. A classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

We’ve all benefited from the productivity gains of software but the gaps are becoming expensive and glaring in innovation, actualizing business strategy, and synchronizing company activities in light of constantly changing priorities. The gaps and workarounds build in rigidity threatening our ability to flexibly and quickly respond to the current economic situation and innovate for company survival.

What is lacking is the ability to holistically direct and manage a business from all angles — top-down, bottom-up, and sideways. While existing systems excel at routine task automation, they do not help employees understand their current work priorities or help them to understand their role in the context of the company’s changing business strategy.

Wouldn’t companies be more successful and agile (and fun to work at) if software proactively informed workers of new priorities based on strategy changes and pivots? Wouldn’t managers be more effective if they were automatically alerted to the effect of decisions made by others and how they impact on their group’s milestones?

What businesses need in this economic climate is automation that synchronizes priorities and actions instead of data gathering, processing, reconciling and reporting. It’s a proven fact is that workers are more productive if they understand how their role and contributions relate to achieving company goals. I call that ‘dot connecting’. And employees at all levels understand how top-down decisions impact them directly.

The interesting part is the technology exists today to do this. It’s not AI, AR/XR, IoT or any of the gee-whizzy tech that fills the news headlines and advertisements.

Imagine if a company had an automated framework within which everyone worked. As management decides on particular courses of action, objectives and priorities are automatically cascaded down the organization and shared with employees ensuring company alignment and synchronization. New priorities are reflected not only in employee performance plans but also in their ongoing task lists and in departmental and team plans and goals. As various parts of the business work on actualizing the strategy, managers have real-time status on the progress made across the organization. As customer and market conditions change, the impact on progress and business objectives was automatically assessed, revised, and cascaded down to employees who are alerted in real-time to new objectives, priorities and gaps.

Now let’s imagine that an event occurs that requires the strategy to be changed. That same framework is used to update the strategy and company plans. However, because everyone in the company works within the framework, the revised strategy and new priorities are immediately visible and reflected in every employee’s priorities. Questions, conflicts, inconsistencies and constraints are logged within the system by any employee. These are immediately visible, as well as their impact on target results, to other employees and managers who can collaborate on and resolve gaps and issues.

The claim that managing strategy and organizational alignment is by its very nature what leaders are paid to do just doesn’t fit our economic reality anymore. Yet people stick to these long-held corporate beliefs that “gut instinct” should be the prevailing decider of business decisions rather than data-driven insights and analysis. On the contrary, these are the very areas where automation can have the greatest impact on business growth, profitability, employee satisfaction, and customer preference for the brand.

If these gaps are closed, businesses could be managed with a greater degree of foresight, speed and agility; it could dramatically change the economic cycle we’re in and rebalance employment. And that would make everyone’s life a heck of a lot less frustrating in today’s ‘now’ normal.

Sounds farfetched? I don’t think so. The technology is here with SaaS, MDM, RPA, MMM and innovation systems.

Six Megatrends of the New Normal

As the old saying goes, “When we plan, the Gods laugh.”

As humans, we believe tomorrow to be similar to today. While we know a disruption may come along and change our fortunes, we often feel it’s too ambiguous to anticipate. No wonder we feel blind-sided when disruption occurs. We use words like “surprised,” “didn’t see that coming,” “never would have guessed” — and if the disruption is big enough, “paradigm shift.”

Typically, this isn’t how the future unfolds. Sudden, seismic change rarely happens out of the blue. Instead, the future is shaped by many seemingly unrelated events that gain momentum over time. We often don’t recognize the significance of emerging trends or their relationship with other trends. Individual trends mature and influence other trends with increasing frequency and coalesce until a tipping point is reached — much like a crescendo in a score of music. That’s why disruptions can have such a jarring effect.

Organizations can avoid being caught off-guard by reading the tea leaves. It’s a corporate competence that has mostly lapsed in the past 20 years, outside the purviews of futurists, strategists, and researchers. It will make a comeback as companies realize that tomorrow is nothing like today.

Post-COVID-19 Mega-Trends

The pandemic is a catalyst for how companies operate, structure, and sell.

Individuals and organizations are forced into new behaviors. While we’d like to believe these are temporary, the longer new conditions are in place, the more new behaviors will become habit. Constraints are unmasking structural gaps in our economy, commerce models, and culture that must be addressed for survival.

Of the hundreds of signposts that indicate how the world is changing, we identified our top six megatrends that will soon determine how business is done:

  1. Time will become the basis of competition.
  2. Authentic human connections will redefine commerce.
  3. Companies will organize around the customer.
  4. Vigilant organizations will rise, driven by purpose.
  5. Business models will shift from optimization and efficiency to agility and speed.
  6. Global supply chains will restructure around proximity to demand.

“Time slips away like grains of sand never to return again,” said Robin Sharma[1].

The majority of people on the planet today are better off than their forefathers. With physiology, safety, love, and esteem generally satisfied, people strive for self-actualization. Yet what is most scarce is time.

Time is the basis of competition

We fret much of our time away in an economy fixated with busy. Time is treated as a commodity that does not belong to the individual. It belongs to organizations, obligations and meeting societal standards. The result is a population suffering from mental illness, unhealthy lifestyles, stress, substance abuse, suicide, and loneliness.

We see our busyness for what it was — an addiction. The price paid is the inability to invest time in interests that matter most to us, and a conflated sense of guilt when we do. Even what should be fun is seen as a part of busyness and obligation. The gym is another check on the list of to-dos.

Being forced to shelter in place with limited mobility forces us to realize the value of time. There is a global rise of a conscious freeing up of one’s time for those activities that provide real meaning in life.

Authentic human connections will redefine commerce

The past 40 years have introduced incredible advances in technology, radically redefining commerce and customer relationships. Power shifted from the salesperson to the customer. This trend unleashed new digital marketing and selling models, as vendors sought to establish more effective ways to reach, engage, and build enduring relationships at scale.

Customers and prospects overwhelmed with emails and content, cherry-picked what interested them, ignoring the rest. Phones are no longer answered. Brands found ways to reach prospects via SMS text, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., and customers tune out what isn’t relevant.

Tune-out behaviors are in the physical world too — with the rise of ghosting, gaslighting, and ends-justify-the-means. Curiosity, openness, respect, and honesty were replaced by suspicion, hostility, fear, and ambivalence.

Navigating the labyrinth of chatbots, emails, social media accounts, and phone numbers to reach a human representative is exhausting. Customers are jaded by inconsistent experiences between pre- and post-purchase. On the flip side, brands are becoming less customer-aligned because the few employees with direct, in-depth experience dealing with customers do not have loud enough internal voices to shape change. Comforted in the distance and impersonal nature of NPS and CSAT scores, feedback surveys, and VOC studies, brands are out of touch with what customers want and value — human connection and authentic relationships.

The pandemic exposed how disconnected people are from their communities and each other. The overnight appearance of Zinners (Zoom dinners), quarantine cooking classes, virtual happy hours, and virtual customer meetups speaks to the craving people around the world have for authenticity. In the hundreds of hours I’ve spent talking with B2B sales and marketing leaders, and their customers across the globe, the same vocabulary is used to describe what people are looking for in vendor relationships — be human, authentic, compassionate, connected, sharing without expectation, and free to do the right thing.

Organize around the customer

For businesses, saving customers time without sacrificing expectations will become the basis of competition.

The abundance, diversity, and continuous introduction of new products and services during the past 50 years; coupled with customers’ easy access to information, suppliers, product options, and vendor ratings have increased the demand for individualized products. Personalized medicine, vitamins, and trainers. Swag from Vistaprint. Eerily prescient financial advisors. Gifts from Etsy. Coffee prepared to specification. Custom-built homes. Designer vacations.

Delivering a service faster, in and of itself, will not produce market leaders. Deep, actionable understanding of expectations through the eyes of the customer will. This is a table stake to defining the right new offerings. Innovation will produce new ways of saving time and speed up activities through new products, services, and software.

Product lines will be redesigned with minimum core features and a vast menu of add-ons to personalize each product to meet each customer’s unique specifications. 3D printers will be commonplace in the workplace, replacing traditional vendors and purchase channels — from the hardware store to Amazon. The rule of thumb may well be: If the customer can print the product faster with the desired quality and ability to customize, why buy anywhere else and wait? New services will emerge to help customers navigate the process of configuring and buying individualized products.

The bottom line: Speed, quality, and customer-driven are critical success factors to compete in the new normal, accelerating the pace of change.

Meeting customers’ evolving expectations requires a different type of organization than what is prevalent today.

The long bull market after the Great Recession came from businesses continually optimizing for efficiency. Enterprise technology was both a great catalyst and an enabler. Automating routine tasks, streamlining processes, standardizing information exchanges, adding sophisticated intelligence to data analysis to improve decision outcomes, and empowering customers and employees to self-serve their needs are just a few examples. New technology created new opportunities to work smarter, increase productivity, and shorten business cycles.

Yet, the more intra- and inter-company business practices integrated with technology, the less flexible organizations became. To effectively compete on speed requires organizations to have agility as a core competence.

In response, businesses will shift from optimization and efficiency to agility and speed.

Vigilant organizations will rise, driven by purpose

Growth in the next era will not come from short-term opportunistic business models. These will be crushed under the velocity of change; success will be to those with a long term perspective.

Rise of vigilant organizations driven by purpose addresses this significant reversal from today’s short-term obsession with profit.

Vigilant organizations, as defined by George Day[2], are long-term oriented companies with a learning culture. They invest in strategies driven by outside-in perspectives, in-depth customer insights, continuous external trend analysis, and sense-making. Within the organization, data is transparent and fluid to empower all workers’ actions and decisions.

What defines these organizations is their mission to do good. Increasingly, customers and workers demand organizations that embrace meaningful causes tied to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Just like Tom’s Shoes’[3] commitment to put shoes on the feet of people in need or Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan[4], company missions and cultures with purpose at the core will be successful in the new era. Early leaders have overcome the challenges that come with shifting to a sustainable model: higher costs and prices in the near term and ineffective circular economy ecosystems, are just two.

The real game-changer is the idling of the global economy. It demonstrates the impact we have on the planet. From the lack of air pollution over major cities to clear waters in Venice canals and the measurable reduction in the earth’s vibration, the importance of sustainability is becoming unavoidably evident.

Shift to agility and speed

To achieve both agility and speed in response to rapidly evolving customer demand, organizations will evolve their structures and operating models to be flexible-first. The increasing velocity of change does not afford organizations the luxury of institutionalizing rigidity under the banner of stability. That does not mean organizations will run amok with anarchism; instead, we will manage and organize them differently.

Three key elements to flexible-first: Digital transformation, redefining employment, and strategic planning.

Digital transformation will extend beyond self-service; automated workflows; and open information access to customers, employees, and partners. Flexible-first organizations rapidly assess and share how programs, resources, and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) change as a result of decisions made — up and down the organization and value chains. Digital transformation will be instrumental in automatically communicating decisions — along with cascading plans and objectives — across organizational teams, internally and externally.

Alignment is critical to agility. In flexible-first companies, each worker aligns with the organization’s strategic plan. Not in vague terms, but in specific ones where, regardless of rank, each worker commits to deliver quantifiable results by agreed-upon dates. I call these target contributions. Each target contribution ties to specific corporate objectives. Add up all the target contributions, and they equal or exceed the associated objectives.

As corporate objectives evolve in response to internal and external factors, so will each individual’s target contributions. This participatory process is not new. What is new is how digital transformation speeds the process, institutionalizes alignment, and provides near real-time transparency into what’s working and what isn’t.

Corporate alignment and strategic planning rub hierarchical organizational structures the wrong way. It requires accountability, evergreen participatory planning, a culture of transparency, and setting measurable objectives across business areas, not just revenue. Not a great fit for organizations wedded to a command-and-control, perks-with-rank culture.

Companies in the next era will usher in new forms of organizing workers. Organizing for flexibility-first requires taking a page out of Agile methodology. Instead of hierarchies of workers, groups of cross-functional teams (or pods, as I like to call them) organize around customers, markets, and partners. Innovation makes a through-line across the pod structure. Within each pod is the competence and expertise required to plan, serve, and deliver results. They are self-governing yet stay aligned through mutually agreed upon service SLAs, framed by corporate strategic objectives. Pods can spot and act on emerging opportunities faster, enabling complex organizations to effectively deal with high levels of uncertainty and be successful.

This shift from short-term-ism to agile long-term orientated business models will have a dramatic impact on global economies. As companies make the shift, it will drive tremendous innovation and transformation in supply chains.

Proximity to demand

Global supply chains are at the core of optimization and efficiency. Component parts are produced where the labor and supply costs are the cheapest. Electronics and consumer goods in China, fast fashion in Vietnam and Bangladesh, software code in the Ukraine, pharmaceuticals in India. Supply chains are the backbone of globalization and raised the standard of living for billions. However, the economics of supply chain optimization require that slack and excess inventory be removed along the chain to further reduce costs and demand risks. Hyper-optimization does not comfortably accommodate sudden massive disruptions. We see the effects across every industry, from healthcare to grocery stores.

Companies are rethinking their entire supply chains and moving key production to be in close proximity of demand, ensuring their customers continual supply. That includes determining which parts of the supply chain should be on- or near-shore, reassessing optimal inventory levels, and determining which products should no longer be produced en masse.

As speed becomes the basis of competition, an interplay will be seen between next-generation supply chains, innovation and customer expectations.

To the customer, it’s all about having one’s uniqueness recognized, served, and remembered — delivered quickly — without compromising value and quality. That’s a tall order, but it is also in response to the social upswell for authentic, empathic relationships. #behuman

The difference between the past 20 years and the future is that customer experience and strategy will become core corporate competencies again and enjoy a renaissance. While we will settle into the new normal in the coming five-plus years, it would behoove us to learn the lessons from this disruption — read the tea leaves and act on them. The trends that will be the seeds of the next disruption are already in play.

[1] https://www.awakenthegreatnesswithin.com/35-inspirational-quotes-time/

[2] https://ssir.org/books/excerpts/entry/becoming_more_vigilant

[3] https://www.toms.com/about-toms

[4] https://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/

95% Agree: Customer Experience Is Key to Unlocking Growth

The challenge of sustained top-line growth is not a unique phenomenon of the 21st and 20th centuries. Revenue growth has been top of mind for every business since the dawn of trading over 150,000 years ago. What sets today apart from the 1900s is the increasing pace of change in customer preferences, economic cycles, product lifecycles, business models, and modes of communication.  Accelerating change is fueled by growing volumes, transparency, and accessibility to information. For most of the 20th century, personal relationships were the foundation of B2B business. Information flows were slower, not as robust, and often available only to organizational leaders. Contrast that to today, where a college intern can access almost as much data as a company CEO. And have about as much influence, albeit in different circles. Today, information velocity and volume coupled with global business volatility shines a spotlight on outdated business practices. One practice in today’s spotlight is how companies plan and manage their go-to-market strategies. Done well, top-line growth from new and repeat business is healthy. Yet, 78 percent of the 2,400+ sales and marketing professionals polled in LeanData’s 2019 State of Revenue Operations Study said that consistent revenue growth is a challenge for their B2B organizations. The underlying reasons unpack like a Russian stacking doll – sales and marketing misalignment, siloed data and teams, sales productivity and turnover, low campaign conversion, customer churn, and employee frustration. Ironically, part of the solution is the very catalyst that surfaced the problem – data. With ubiquitous access to information, B2B buying teams took control of their journeys over a decade ago. No longer relying on vendors or traditional influencers for data, advice, and access to experts, buying teams often know more about solutions, how they compare, and ROI than a vendor’s sales and marketing teams. And yet, thousands polled in LeanData’s survey said data was the least-aligned area in their organizations’ revenue engine. If growth is a challenge, what is the solution? Almost universally, those polled said fixing B2B’s broken buyer journey is critical for revenue growth. Organizations are being forced, often kicking and screaming, to compete on customer experience instead of the traditional 4Ps of price, product, promotion, and place. Ninety-five percent of study respondents responded that delivering consistent and seamless customer experience across the entire customer lifecycle is a critical competitive differentiator and revenue driver. 2020 is the era of customer experience. Successfully competing on customer experiences requires data. That means tearing down silos and aligning sales, marketing, and customer service/success data and processes to deliver customer expectations, and then institutionalize new practices with technology like RevOps. Alongside industry analyst firm SiriusDecisions, LeanData helped coin the term “RevOps” or Revenue Operations for a new go-to-market structure — which unites the disparate operations teams supporting sales, marketing, and customer success into one holistic function singularly focused on how to increase growth and performance across the entire revenue chain. While LeanData and industry analysts talk in the language of “conversion of prospects into customers and maximize customer lifetime value,” RevOps is a mechanism to align organizations outward to the customer based on a single source of truth (data) and clear interaction ownership, cross-functionally. One study respondent described their internal alignment results as, “Today we plan from lead to end-of-customer lifecycle and are factoring in those numbers towards our growth. In the past, under a pre-RevOps mindset, this simply did not occur.” Eighty-four percent of study respondents agreed that sales, marketing, and customer success share ownership for revenue growth. Having advised over a hundred B2B C-Suites and marketers, I’m not surprised that 40 percent of the same respondents said these functions aren’t optimally aligned within their organization to maximize revenue-growth potential. Data inaccuracy, lack of detailed customer knowledge, absence of a common shared language, and incomplete customer micro-moment mapping to business processes coupled with internal power struggles are common barriers. The study found that within the over 2,400 respondents, the least-aligned aspect is data with the lowest average score of 5.7 out of 10. Other significant adoption challenges include culture, resources, organizational complexity, organizational maturity, and leadership support. In my many North American and European change management initiatives - success comes down to people. Unless people see a personal benefit, long-term change will be fleeting. My advice is to understand, without judgment, what is in each team member’s heart and mind. What is their motivation for change? Every person is different. As RevOps gains momentum in the wake of many failed prior approaches to silo-busting and getting everyone to stay on the same page, keep these five steps in mind as you plan your implementation:

  1. Widely and repeatedly socialize a well-articulated RevOps vision that gives each team member a clear understanding of the real meaning their work has.
  2. Widely share detailed customer journey maps that show aligned business process flows to help employees understand who does what, when, and why.
  3. Implement accountability to reinforce commitment across all levels of the organization.
  4. Transparently share metrics to help team members understand cause and effect.
  5. Have a milestone-based plan and encourage team members to share suggestions, ideas, and feedback.
The more people feel heard, involved, and part of the process, the greater the impact your RevOps will have on revenue and customers. First published in Medium