January 2017 newsletter: 4 discussions on disruption


In 2016, we published the "How Middle Management copes with Digital Transformation" research report. It received great feedback, including this recent one:

"It put in one place a lot of thoughts from many places - from peers, similar, and somewhat different companies, across a middle range of management. Well done. The researchers pulled a lot of insight from the available research material. Again here, very qualitatively useful and quantitatively insightful. The best I have seen."

As a new year starts, we are about to begin a new research on how middle management blends transformation in their organization - this time in the CSR and sustainability area.

For January 2017 newsletter, I took the opportunity to discuss disruptive change with with 4 business partners and friends - see below new ideas and inspirational nuggets on corporate change challenges: 

The Privacy Paradox, on who will own consumer data, with Mick Yates
The Challenge of Behaviors Transformation, why invest in neuroscience, with Jacques Fradin
When Complexity Defeats Individual Talent, on leadership vs. organization-fatigue, with Rick Torseth
The Energy In-Between, on how business relationships reorganize, with Luc Yao.

Receive our best wishes for 2017!

Cécile Demailly
Founder, Early Strategies

The Privacy Paradox

 From a discussion with Mick Yates
Customer Leadership in the Big Data era, Bath, United Kingdom

Understanding customers has always been key for business, but we are almost at a tipping point now. There is a paradox going on: companies want to improve the work they do for their customers, and to achieve that they might offer them more personalized services. We can debate if, as consumers, we want everything to be personalized. To be honest, we want more personalized services than we want to be anonymous. That said, we hate giving up our information, because we think it’s going to be abused (and we’re kind of right).

It is where technology comes in: the unique person who has all the data about ourselves is us (at this point, Mick was dangling his mobile in front of me). And even if it is getting more and more complex, we, as consumers, are getting more and more educated. Eventually companies will have to propose some kind of deal, maybe not money, but some kind of exchange to get our data.

The challenge will be to combine technology driving transparency, because of the amount of data out there, and because data ownership is coming back to consumers. Companies wanting to do more for their customers will have to figure out a way to build trust, to truly respect individuals and their privacy, while giving them the kind of personalized services that can only come from the information they have about them.
If you want to dig into more detail about the Privacy Paradox, see what Mick has already published:

The Challenge of Behaviors Transformation

From a discussion with Jacques Fradin
Scientific Director, Institute of Environmental Medicine Fund, Paris, France 

We are on the verge of a new mutation, which will touch behaviors. Because of digital transformation the society and markets evolve quickly, continuously, there is no time any more to become 'good', you need to be agile instead. Interdisciplinarity, previously a hollow term, now makes a lot of sense for scientific and operational areas.  Jobs are altered to address modern challenges, more and more robots and AI replace human tasks. 

Among other disruptions, Uber, democracy in the workplace and agility entered the business landscape. Matrix management is outdated, new management and leadership are sought. Corporations cannot wait for a new Uber to invade their area, they need to develop their adaptability, as well as their employees adaptability. To put it in another way, people have to work accross complexity, decide quickly, take risks. None of us may be a perfectionist any more, there is no time, no money for this. 

So, even if it is unpleasant, the only way forward is to function in "adaptable mode". We all have the brains for this. We only need to plug it into the right mode. In automatic mode, routine reassures people, change frightens them. In adaptable mode, change stimulates people, routine bores them. Investing in the human factor is still an investment; tomorrow it will become a survival issue.

Neuroscience provide corporations with huge resources, but few take already advantage of it. It has been 10 years we have been talking about psychosocial risks, we are at a tipping point. There is a huge potential, it is already operational: there are noteworthy implementations. Studies show that social and economic performances have substantial synergies, and that for one dollar invested, you get 3 dollars in return in the following years. It is not futuristic: it is already profitable.


When Complexity Defeats Individual Talent

From a discussion with Rick Torseth
Director, Human Securities, Seattle, USA

These days, clients come to us for help developing a robust coordinated leadership program, to use it as a lever for cultural change. Though, through the intervention design, we discover that there is much more at stake, we unveil a systemic issue: work-fatigue across the organization. Motivation and drivers are lost – even in organizations where the mission is to improve the world (Foundations, NGOs), and where can motivation and sense be found, if not there?

We have to contend with a mismatch between the level of complexity people have to deal with, and their developmental level. Complexity nowadays is often greater than any individual talent, and they have little practice of addressing it and forecasting an unknown future. People are used to developing new skills; but they really need to develop a different layer of intelligence, to assimilate that “me against complexity” is harder than “us against complexity” which usually leads to progress, and to grasp how to function well. We help them develop this intelligence and blend it their practice of leadership.

To do this, we help clients to develop the capacity to address resistance to change. In corporations, most reward systems prompt individuals in finding solutions by themselves; sharing about problems you cannot solve is considered a weakness. Ronald Heifetz research on adaptive leadership explains this well. So, we gather executives in workshops, and put them in situations where they are challenged to operate with others: and little by little they bring their own issues, from real business life, to the table and listen to the group for insights.  We help them gain experiences and capacity to use their talents against fatigue, against loss of meaning.

It is very practical and substantial – rather than theoretical. Some people embrace the work and adapt, others struggle.


The Energy In-Between

From a discussion with Luc Yao
Head of Advanced Displays, Display Materials at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

In the past 20 years, we used to improve business by developing people in organizations, and improving products. Change has been on the human side, about coaching people and aligning culture; on the industrial side, about innovation. Lately, I came to strongly believe that what happens between people, between organizations – suppliers, customers – is shifting. It is shifting because of the digital transformation and because everything is accelerating. Examples? Our customers are becoming strategic partners, with whom we actively co-create and co-innovate, and this is truly exciting for both parties.

Another example, about doing business in China: 10 years ago the economy was about large scale and lower cost production. Now, Chinese companies are expanding rapidly both in China and overseas. The capabilities, the innovations and capital represent significant opportunities yet challenges to western companies. Business relationships have shifted, the dynamics are different, much more complex. Sometimes, Chinese government could support strategically positioned companies to establish the whole supply chain in China. Customers behave differently too and the context of running business is different.  We want to build strategic partnerships with customers and we’re still learning how to do it efficiently and effectively. The way it is operating in the West does not apply directly in China, and few of my western counterparts could prescribe a blueprint. Chinese companies expand also strongly to western countries and they will certainly influence how we operate a global business.

Relationships are about chain reactions, intimacy, time to reach. Change management is not linear, conventional industry practices are changing: there are rather networks and dynamics, which rearrange reality constantly. In quantum physics, some people say the energy is the strongest “in-between”, not “in”; they call it the “dark matter”. If you understand what triggers relationships, with whom you need building up trusting relationships, and how – intimacy, tools, etc. -, then you get the direction for where progress lies.