Have you noticed that adaptability and resilience are the new buzz words of Australian business?
It’s hardly surprising given the disruption from technologies, financial crises and global competition.
And yet many of our best known enterprises from media to manufacturing and retail to resources are struggling to even survive. What can they do?
From a year’s researching and writing First Be Nimble my view is crystal clear.
Australian industry is at a cross roads and the all-important mid-sized enterprises either take an axe to out-dated management hierarchies and silo-based problem solving that is dragging down productivity and innovation, or they face decimation on a scale not seen for generations.
In all this uncertainty there is also massive opportunity, but only for those who understand that in volatile times there is only one strategy that makes sense. That strategy I call First Be Nimble, because it means putting every available training and development resource towards boosting the adaptability, agility and resilience of the workforce.
It’s the obvious strategy because the nimble don’t just handle disruption—they also do their own disrupting.
Five principles guide nimble and adaptive teams and enterprises. Let’s look at them briefly.
1. Co-create –— don’t rely on experts in silos
While the slow-to-adapt are ring fencing their companies and structuring their teams as ‘experts in silos’, the agile enterprises put a premium on creating nimble, connected teams that move fast and adapt.
They equip teams with tools to align, collaborate and learn together. They punch holes in silos, and forge alliances that enable them to scale up and accelerate rapidly which means they exploit new technologies and adapt to changes in market dynamics while the laggards just complain about the market conditions and look for more government assistance.
2. Build to flex — don’t let rigidity bog you down
Layers of bureaucratic rules and decision filters are slowing down many Australian companies (and rendering them uncompetitive), but thankfully there are leaders embracing the ‘first be nimble’ mantra by putting priority on a clear game plan and a small set of core principles and disciplines.
They are adapting fast because people know the game plan, have just-in-time information and are empowered to act. That’s always been the way for agile enterprises in military, emergency medicine and international sport.
3. Be Brave — not Busy
Busyness is an excuse peddled by people who claim to have ‘too many priorities’ but need reminding that they aren’t priorities if you have lots of them. Read Mark Zuckerberg’s IPO letter for Facebook— his message is ‘focus on impact’ and the advice is sage: ‘We expect everyone at Facebook to be good at finding the biggest problems to work on.’
Nimble teams move fast to create an impact. They expect and accept heat from stakeholders, refuse to be slowed down by bottlenecks and they challenge conflicting priorities.
4. Leap, learn, adapt — don’t wait for certainty
Australian businesses talk a lot about innovation but then they load people up with KPIs and workloads that treat it like any other production line task. That’s too slow; too many ‘experts in silos’ to be a serious option in any business.
Nimble teams constantly test multiple ideas and run experiments. And that’s not just in new products but in anything that can make the organisation (and the value chain) leaner and more effective.
And when you think innovation, don’t just look at your products or services. It’s the business model that’s at risk so that needs attention (which doesn’t happen from busy experts in silos). Unfortunately Kodak didn’t get that one in time, but think Apple iTunes store or what Amazon has done to the bookstore (or what Kobo might do to Amazon?).
Nimble teams learn fast; they don’t wait for certainty.
5. Let go — welcome the squirm
Nimble organisations don’t rely on expensive change management programs because they know that you can’t manage your way through disruptive change.
Instead they train and coach people for change resilience by infusing skills like partnering, collaboration and fast learning into their business. Why? Because nimble organisations are always in transition: ending something, exploring a few things and embracing the new.
Unlike the leaders of too many Australian businesses, they are good at letting go and they know that endings make you squirm so being in a team speeds up the transition.
There is a strategy!
A year of writing and researching made me decide to call my new book First Be Nimble. The reason is simple:
In a disruptive world the only sensible business strategy is to create an agile and intelligent organisation that can handle anything that the volatile business world throws at it.
By Graham Winter
Read the the press release and buy First Be Nimble here
You’ve got to hand it to Mark Bouris. His Yellow Brick Road mortgage broking and wealth management business is a loss-making minnow in the multi-billion-dollar Australian finance industry (revenue of $11.3 million and a loss of $2.6 million for the year to 30 June 2011). In fact, it doesn’t even own its domain name (yellowbrickroad.com.au goes to a carpet cleaning business!)
Yet in just four short years – and particularly during 2011 – Bouris has managed to make the business a household name by leveraging his profile, communications skills, personal wealth and – let’s face it – his model-like good looks. He’s done this through public speaking, media interviews, publishing a blog, offering advice on his website and most recently by playing Australia’s answer to Donald Trump on the local version of The Celebrity Apprentice.
Bouris is successfully pursuing a thought leadership driven marketing strategy. He’s using his expertise and making the most of the media and the internet to raise awareness of his business, win customers and gain investors, by sharing his knowledge and ideas.
In the process, he’s saving millions of dollars on advertising and following in the footsteps of Australia’s earlier finance guru, Paul Clitheroe, who used television and the publication of books to supercharge the growth of his personal finance advice business, ipac securities, and become a multi-millionaire.
So, thought leadership works. You can see it around you all the time. And you can learn from leading lights such as Bouris, Clitheroe as well as the likes of Jamie Durie and Kylie Kwong. But what is it exactly? And how does it relate to your business, especially if you don’t have Durie’s abs or Clitheroe’s easy manner on the radio?
Thought leadership is simply offering clever ideas to help other people solve problems or discover opportunities. These ideas can in turn be a powerful marketing tool in your business. Like Bouris, it will help you raise your profile and gain interest from prospects.
The goal is to transform yourself from being one of many experts to being the go-to person in your field. This will in turn make it easier to win new business and to charge a premium for your products or services. It can also deliver other benefits, from making it easier to attract quality staff to enjoying some lifestyle benefits for yourself, such as meeting other experts and trips to conferences.
According to Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), for example, thought leadership development has recently become the most important tactic in its members’ marketing strategies to increase awareness and to generate leads. Thought leadership has also become critical to purchasing decisions. Nearly half (45%) of buyers surveyed by ITSMA in 2011 said it plays a major role in determining who makes the short list, as compared to only 23% in 2010.
As a former journalist and writer, my particular interest lies in how you can convey your ideas in writing through articles, blogs, speeches, books, social media and other channels. Capturing your ideas in words is essential to creating marketing collateral that you can use with customers. This is particularly important in the Internet age, when customers are searching for suppliers by key words.
By creating unique content that displays your deep knowledge in specific specialist areas you can build your relationship with your customers. Making this information freely available on the Internet will result in attracting links, rankings in Google and getting tweeted.
The process of writing thought leadership material and advising others can deliver some unexpected benefits to you as well as a business owner or leader. It will help you to organise your thoughts about your field and force you to develop interesting views and positions. You are also likely to learn more about your field as you complete research, and find a new level of passion for your focus area.
Obviously, this is all easier said than done so in the book I break the process down to the three key phases – thinking and research, writing and then distributing and promoting your ideas. There isn’t room to explore each in detail here but the key messages are that it is becoming easier and more important to capture your ideas in words, and that anyone can do it.
Just think about the problems or opportunities that your customers face. Think about what unique expertise you hold and what advice you can offer. Think about the best format to use – like a book, blog or video script. Then start writing!
Grant Butler is Managing Director of Australia’s leading business writing firm, Editor Group (www.editorgroup.com), and author of Think Write Grow – How to become a thought leader and build your business by creating exceptional articles, blogs, speeches, books and more (Published by Wiley, RRP $29.95 and now out).