For any professional involved in digital transformation efforts, disruption of traditional operations is inevitable. Unfortunately, sometimes certain team members might push back. Here’s how to build your case.
If you’re reading this, chances are, you are pro-disruption. Technology pros often are. However, as a general rule, human beings fear change and will often fight to maintain the status quo. If there are individuals within your organization who are either not interested or downright hostile toward a focus on disruptive scenarios, there are several steps you can take to bring them into the fold.
Open a dialogue
Before you attempt to persuade colleagues to jump right into a specific initiative, provide a safe space to discuss disruption in general. Organizational change consultant David Hofstetter suggested posing questions such as: Where and how could disruption impact your business? How will your skills and those of your employees be impacted? Are you embracing change, shying away from it, or ignoring it? What are your competitors doing that you are not? What the newest trends in your industry?
Attend forward-thinking industry events
The sessions and conversations you and your colleagues will have at conferences centered on innovation will take your thinking to another level. Encourage your colleagues and employees to see for themselves what disruption means and what it can do for growth and profit. Appropriate events may vary by industry, but some good ones are Tech Crunch Disrupt, World Business Forum, and Fortune Growth Summit.
Hire an outsider
Sometimes, an internal person can repeat the same message dozens of times, but no one really hears it until it comes from the mouth of an external consultant who is perceived as an expert. When it comes to embracing disruption, you might make greater headway by bringing on a single or team of advisers who can offer an objective picture of your organization’s status compared to the larger market, and can provide direction and next steps.
Conduct periodic market disruptor analyses
Often, disruptive innovations (<<interview with Guy Kawasaki) are considered far away, irrelevant, and optional. There is no better way to make a case to in-denial executives than to regularly monitor and explain how disruptive competitors are threatening your business TODAY. “As the barriers to entry in businesses get lower and easier, competitors and new ways of doing things will appear fast and more often,” said Hofstetter.
Change your tone to one of urgency
As I mentioned before, human beings prefer to support existing ways of doing things. For this reason, companies tend to be conservative, reactive, and focused on immediate business fires rather than the ones that threaten to burn from miles away. Use the data from your market disruptor analyses to connect the dots for your leaders – why is disruptive change something that requires attention this instant? Speaking in terms of lost profit or customers is more likely to resonate with some leaders than “we should really try this new thing.”
Fight the temptation to be insular
While being laser focused on your own daily operations is more comfortable, putting on blinders is dangerous in a business world that changes rapidly. Therefore, you should make sure that your company has a pipeline to receive guidance from a variety of sources. For instance, an advisory council that taps people in different roles in different fields will provide a fresh perspective that is impossible to get otherwise. When it comes to understanding where your market is going, often you can take cues from other industries that are a year or two ahead of yours.
Count on a groundswell
Most disruptions to a market don’t happen overnight. Even companies that undoubtedly turned their industries upside down (such as Uber and Netflix) took several years to gain traction. As a leader, it’s up to you to ignite little fires within your organization, perhaps with one small project or initiative at a time. These fires which will build heat with one person or group at a time until your company as a whole is leaning toward a disruptive mindset.
Listen to your new employees
New employees are new because they’ve been working somewhere else. At that organization, they were presumably exposed to new and more effective ways of doing things. Encourage recent hires to speak up about where they see opportunities and what they would recommend you change. Also, solicit their input on what hasn’t worked at their prior companies. After all, for every change initiative that is a success, there are many more failures. Perhaps you can learn from these insights without having to make the same mistakes.
Pay attention to exit trends
Every organization should be looking closely at retention data, but information about why your best talent is leaving and where people are going can also help you spot disruption taking a foothold. For example, if MySpace had taken the time to analyze why scores of employees were heading to Facebook, and if Microsoft had thought about what Apple was doing to coax away Microsoft’s best employees, these companies might have been able to better keep up. Exit data doesn’t lie: if your employees are departing for upstart competitors en masse, your leadership will have no choice but to take notice.
Fine-tuning your operations so that they are more agile will help disruption be, well, less disruptive. In her article for WE Forum, Nina Curley suggested that companies look to lean manufacturing techniques that are designed to speed the product development process and bring products closer to existing market needs. “GE, for example, developed ‘FastWorks’ – a manufacturing approach that builds upon the ‘Lean Start-up’ method articulated by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries,” she wrote. “The approach mandates rapid, three-month development cycles in which small teams deploy ‘minimum viable products’ and test their appeal with customers.”
Flex your technology
It’s hard for organizations to be disruptive when digital transformation is at a standstill and information technology systems keep them bound up in a web of interoperability and programming challenges. Additionally, said Curley, the more a company relies on hardware, machines and infrastructure, the harder it is to make a radical shift because of sunk costs. Your people may be more open to disruptive approaches if they are easier to employ. This means experimenting with mobile, cloud, and open source models, and low or no-code citizen development platforms.
Escape the “but we’re not a startup” mentality
According to Curley, 44 percent of MIT’s Top 50 Disruptive Companies having launched within the past decade. But interestingly, the disruptive companies in the other 56 percent aren’t all that young, suggesting that scale is not incompatible with disruptive potential. “It also implies that organizations hoping to ensure their survival don’t need to necessarily think like a young startup, they simply need to think like a disruptor,” she said.
Don’t get mired in the innovator’s dilemma
The very approach that led your organization to success initially may be what’s holding it back now. Harvard professor Clay Christensen coined the phrase “innovator’s dilemma” to refer to a situation in which sustaining innovations are no longer enough to ensure longevity in a market where younger companies are pioneering disruptive innovations. The message? The time to bask in your competitive advantage is over. It’s up to you to convince naysayers that the way the organization did things in the past might not work now.
If you think that transforming your bread and butter business is impossible, just look at McKinsey. “When managing director Dominic Barton began building McKinsey Solutions, a new product that did not focus on the firm’s core asset of human capital, he had to battle what he refers to as the inherent ‘antibodies’ that ‘try and kill’ new ideas because they identify them as different,” wrote Curley. Inevitably, though, Barton won.
If a customer had an innovative idea that would help you meet its needs more effectively, would your leaders want to try it? The answer is probably yes. For this reason, open innovation is another smart way to encourage disruption. Open innovation, as described by Curley, reduces the cost of continual innovation by soliciting the knowledge of internal and external crowds to produce solutions to a specific challenge. Open innovation has been shown to increase both the number of, and innovative qualities of, products created, and also provides a forum for your organization to better address customer needs in real time.
Consider a pilot
Experimenting with disruptive approaches doesn’t necessarily mean overhauling your organization. Reduce your leaders’ perception of risk by suggesting a small pilot or an implementation in just one area of the business to start. Make sure you identify and track proper metrics so when the project succeeds, you will have a business case for expansion.