Keren Levy, Philip Morris
For the past seven years, I’ve been working in the fields of Digital Innovation and Business Transformation for both local and global companies, as well as SMBs and multinational organizations.
Recently, I’ve begun to notice that there is one thing they all have in common, no matter the size, geolocation or industry they operate in: they’re all pursuing transformation makeovers and organizing “Innovation Festivals”. And they’re all getting it wrong.
So, instead of writing about the best ways, must-haves on how to implement transformation correctly, I chose to highlight six common mistakes that companies make when implementing transformation and innovation methods, and suggestions on how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Talking the talk.
Dear CEOs & Senior Management – transformation won’t happen by simply repeating buzzwords such as ‘agility’, ‘transparency’, ‘design-thinking’ and ‘open innovation’ over and over again – this is not some rain chant to the gods. Transformation, when done right, will be the most challenging task in your career; you will not only need to change the way you think and act, but also the way your company thinks and acts. You will not reap its fruits by simply talking the talk. You need to start moving, learning, sweating and believing. Win your employees’ trust, make them believe that you are a true leader, and that although you may not know the best (or proper) way to reach your goals, you are confident and motivated to make REAL change at your company.
Instead: Walk the talk. Pull up your sleeves and lead by example. Become a hands-on manager. Start from the small things; talk to your employees and try to understand their daily challenges; try and change the way you have meetings and team updates. Can you shorten the decision-making process? Which red tape can be eliminated,and which is untouchable? What (and maybe who) are the obstacles preventing projects and tasks from moving forward? Go out into the field, talk to your customers, and LISTEN.
Mistake #2: Acting like a start-up.
Guys, you are NOT startups. The foundation of a startup is made of a couple of individuals that chose to pursue a great idea and make it a reality with few resources, surrounded by skeptics, in a competitive environment, trying to live another day. This not your foundation, at least not in the last couple of decades.
Don’t think that happy hours, cool posters on the walls and giving your office an open-space makeover , will make you a startup.
Try to act like a well-established organization that looks into the future, maybe foreseeing a change in its market share. A company that is looking to change, to be more relevant to its consumers, address their needs and have a competitive advantage that will help it retain a long term competitive edge and sustain as much as it can. Remember, you are an aircraft carrier, not a rowboat, and you need to maneuver accordingly.
Instead: Size does matter. Be proud of all the great things you can do because you are a well-established company (vast knowledge, resources and reputation); which legacy activities can you improve? How can you contribute to the category? What kind of positive mark or influence can you make? Be open and collaborate with your competitors, promote regulatory and social agendas, remove category barriers and invest in infrastructures that can advance the category. Remember: long-term strategies are made for long-term companies.
Mistake #3: It’s never ‘transformation-o’clock’.
Somehow, it seems that people don’t have time to implement new ways of working, stimulate their ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking or prepare transformation workshops. Daily tasks and ‘firefighting’ are more urgent. Let’s be honest; they are easier to tackle because you already know the drill, and although you might not like to admit it, it is your “auto-pilot”, and that’s where you feel safe. New ways of working and thinking are, well, new, and require a new learning cycle, and we all know where those types of tasks end up – to the same place all your other ‘I’ll do it later’ tasks go. Right next to mailbox sorting and starting a diet.
Instead: Switch to project mode. Startups are quick and agile because they work in ‘project mode’. They have a ‘beginning-middle-end’ phase progression , and that helps them sprint through their day with quick decision making, ad-hoc problem solving and great motivation to reach the end of the project. Enterprises, however, work in ‘functional mode’: they have processes for every action, rigorous documentation and endless meetings. Most of their work consists of meetings, presentations and conference calls, leaving less time to make progress on existing tasks.
The top management should start by defining some tasks as projects, appointing a project manager that will follow a project roadmap with a deadline to stick to. The project manager should address those kinds of tasks (projects) first thing in the morning, with all of the team’s energy devoted to non-automatic tasks that require more focus and structure as they go through the learning curve.
Mistake #4: Carrying anti-innovation naysayers.
You might be surprised, but some people are not all that interested in this ‘innovation nonsense’. They believe that the old way is the best way, and that sooner than later, ‘transformation’ will be replaced by the next organizational buzzword or trend. Maybe they are right, but if your company’s vision and objective is pursuing transformation, you should only have committed employees who genuinely believe in the idea and are willing to make a real change on board. Everyone else should not continue to work for the company, as they might become internal blockers that will interfere with the process and hold you back.
Instead: naysayers not welcome. Make sure that all employees are connected to the company’s new vision, and clarify that whoever isn’t is welcome to leave, with an exit package as appreciation for his/her work and honorable decision to withdraw from the company. It won’t be pleasant, but it will unite the remaining employees and motivate them to achieve those goals together.
Mistake #5: Thinking outside the box, inside the box.
When approaching Design Thinking or other innovation strategy tools, there is a tendency to keep the general wireframe pretty similar to that of the existing business – same product, same marketing proposition and usually the same customer. The ‘out-of-the-box’ elements that usually (wrongly) arise from those methods are more focused on a new ‘look & feel’, new slogans, buzzy events or, my favorite: limited editions. This is the type of creative thinking that should be happening anyway, and it is certainly not revolutionary.
Instead: Get the box out of your system. Define what that ‘box’ is, and then make a conscious decision not to include any of said ‘box elements’ into your new ideas. What you need to do is actually go outside of your comfort zone: the farther you go, the better it will develop your ‘outside-the-box thinking’ muscles. So go crazy! Market your product to aliens! Add a weird feature or invent an insane service proposition. An exercise that I like to do to kick off a design-thinking workshop is dividing little paper notes into two groups: different target audiences, and different products and services. Each team draws one note from each group, and has to create a marketing plan for the service to that target audience. The sometimes weird resulting combinations teach participants that anything can be sold to anyone, you just need to find the right insight about their needs and define a proper value proposition.
Mistake #6: Pretending to be ‘picture perfect’.
In corporate life, it seems like all employees are perfect. They don’t make mistakes. They never fail. No one talks about it, no one admits it, and that makes our organizational life picture perfect. The corporate culture usually discriminates against failures and tags people who make mistakes as losers on the verge of being kicked out of the company. Even if they formally encourage employees to fail and learn from those failures, what usually happens is that they get fired and the replacement ‘learns’ from their mistakes. This creates gossip, anger, negative competitiveness and mainly fake news in meeting rooms, presentations and e-mails.
Instead: Endorse failures – failing is beautiful. Newsflash: we are all humans. We all make mistakes, lots of them, and with the right approach, we can use them to make us better, wiser and more efficient. In corporate life, you should encourage people to speak about their mistakes and what they have learned from them. Remove the plastic facade when presenting a business plan, talk about past mistakes and how you can avoid them. When someone is sharing a mistake, celebrate it, and think how you can make lemonade from those lemons. Encourage higher management to speak openly about their misjudgments and mistakes. Do, fail, learn, and do it better next time.
Remember that all of the above can be implemented in teams of all sizes; you don’t have to start big. Try out this approach with just one function or one project team to begin with. Create hype around that function or project team, and encourage the people involved to share their experience from the pilot. Encourage them to share their challenges and mistakes, too, and always look toward that ‘North Star’ to guide you through this process. Rome was not built in a day, and your company won’t be either. With patience and persistence, you will win in the end. **