How to focus your organisation’s attention and learning to develop new capabilities promoting business agility

To compete successfully in the Learning Economy, businesses must move fast and become ever more agile, responsive and alert to change.

In the Learning Economy, if a business is to be able to anticipate and capitalise over time on the diverse and shifting nature of customer demand, its agility will be the result of learning both to drive and to respond flexibly and at speed to change.

Organisations capable of doing this are driven by clear purpose and must consistently challenge their own notions of for whom they create value, and the shifting, innovative business models and relationships through which they will do it.

Built on ever-improving data, such businesses are intensely customer-focused, and seek to meet varying needs throughout all the steps of customer relationship management and retention.

To sense and seize opportunity at speed, a company’s structures, work practices, cultures and thinking processes must consistently meet preconditions of foresight, anticipation, initiative, adaptability and inventiveness.

Thus, to optimise its learning, the organisation must get every mind it engages sensitised to whatever is changing around it that will shape the markets in which it operates.

In this world, among the critical attributes to be developed will lie in learning to prepare its minds for competent perspective sharing and collaborative sensemaking.

Without such deliberate, focused and objective-led learning across the enterprise, adapting to the new terrain of the digital revolution is forever less likely to become a native capacity.

For one, without learning to collaborate, businesses will find it immensely harder in a “new normal” world of alliances (see beneath) to build external partners directly into their value-creation systems.

And those investing in companies that are absent of these qualities – and maybe even those working within them – will surely lose their shirts.

So, here we’ll look at new possibilities driving the nature of competition in this emerging, complex world, and beneath, then look at some possible objectives that can drive learning towards the development of the new capabilities it demands.

A future driven by alliances and partnerships

The future of businesses responding fast to change is increasingly likely to be driven through the repeated testing of serial, shifting, opportunistic business-to-business alliances and partnerships.

For some with the required technological abilities and imagination, one obvious response to pervasive digital change may be to create value by initiating alliance-driven, virtual “white-label” sites built on effective, unseen, back of house value-chain coordination and resource sharing.

This model is something exemplified, at least in part, and to crushing effect by, Amazon.

The ability to see through the barriers between supplier and customer to create potent new data capture was also exemplified by the model of business that facilitated the rapid business-to-business (B2B) growth of Dell Computer (from a standing start to a $US12 billion company in just 13 years) in the earlier years of this century.

To keep up with Dell’s insights, against the need to speed the cycle of execution and review, others need to be able to develop systems, both machine and human, that are reflexive and aware and constantly learning through continuous enquiry and sophisticated, data-driven, customer journey-mapping and profiling.

This requirement comes regardless of which value chain they are part, or in which part of it they operate.

Mastery will often also be complicated by the need to execute through project-driven forms and the challenging politics of inter-organisational alliances.

Organisational agility may become the driving factor in delivering successful strategy, and its attainment defined strictly also by those companies’ ability to learn at a concomitant pace.

As such, although this may only be a starting point, the learning needed to achieve agility may require an organisation to explore, share, collaborate and understand better against defined objectives.

Although the following is general in nature, does not claim to be comprehensive or anything other than indicative and is not prescribed for any specific organisation, some learning objectives may be grouped loosely as follows.

To master all-consuming change, learning objectives might include understanding:

How to transcend the limitations of conventional management thinking by recognising the need for new ways demanded by a fast-digitising world.

How to get the best from those in the key senior management roles when implementing organisational change and sustainable people-management practices.

How in achieving more highly evolved marketing strategies for electronic business, the internet can be used to augment and strengthen or evolve existing, or alternative, virtual channels to market.

How to manage the process of changing an organisation strategically in evolving its structures, systems, procedures, operations, technologies and so-called “soft systems.”

How senior leaders can provide coherence and clear, actionable, strategic guidance concerning the deliverables expected at overarching system and team levels.

How to bring onboard and train the minds across the business to build a culture and capability truly adaptive to relentless change in its trading environment.

In this pursuit, how to manage people better despite: the presence of changing technologies; the increasing impact of global competition; the changing composition of the workforce; changing worker expectations; changing employment legislation.

How, in turn, to improve and turn into distinctive value the management of people-related capabilities in dependably attracting, retaining and developing the required personnel.

How to provide feedback, mentoring, training and support that enables those across the business to work autonomously toward enhanced team results.

How to develop and embed the necessary informational enablers to strengthen simultaneously individual contribution, organisational culture and sustainability.

How the differences between “leading” and “managing” function and to advocate fluid, emergent leadership and team working as opposed to the imposition of leaders.

How to nurture and build connected leadership across the contemporary agile workplace.

How to create enduring value with and for the most expansive range of stakeholders, including customer communities, employees, investors and partners.

Learning objectives to enhance capability in the development of tools of strategy might include:

How to explain to those across the workplace the necessarily dynamic nature of change and innovation within it, especially if this is a business making a big shift for the first time.

How to inculcate the imperatives for continuing organisational change and transformation in minds across the business.

How to generate, communicate and fulfil a strategic vision, and still to deliver outcomes that meet the purpose for which the organisation was created.

How to generate improving processes and practices for selecting, screening, embedding and monitoring the performance of partner relationships in the development of mutually satisfying strategic alliances.

How reliably to discover and identify the opportunities and threats to the organisation’s strategic vision and sustainability.

How to analyse at speed the macro-environment and the industries or sectors and those against which the organisation competes.

How to develop a range of diagnostic instruments and perspectives which remain relevant in the face of constant change.

How, by participating in a team, to generate strategic options via discovery and analysis of real strategic issues facing the organisation.

How to use techniques such as scenario development to identify which significant external issues present positive opportunities and which negative threats for the organisation.

How to use scenario planning as a tool to enable managers to “roll with the punches” and be ready with potent alternative actions when circumstances change.

In strategy driven by the development of products and services (NPD), learning might address objectives such as understanding:

How demand for new products and services can be forecast more accurately, influenced and understood in the context of change.

How to fuel organisational growth by placing new product and service development in the strategic context of the organisation in the ways in which new products and services can be developed and related to organisation-wide and strategic business unit (or SBU) imperatives.

How to identify the best way in which those within the organisation may develop analytical techniques and other approaches to stimulating and identifying NPD ideas and opportunities to generate new products and services.

How subsequently to make the business case for further investment, based on testing the product in its market, throughout its distribution channels and in the organisation’s production and operational environment.

How in agile NPD to secure required and timely inputs throughout the process, from finance, production, operational, HR and engineering functions, as well as the more traditional involvement of R&D and marketing.

How the organisation can express its marketing identity and core competencies to mobilise resources and create sustained brand-driven value.

In managing appropriate, actionable marketing relationships and data capture, learning objectives might include understanding:

How, by reaching out to key audiences, to seek improved, actionable stakeholder feedback and input in a variety of ways and forms.

How to develop better tools to identify opportunities to serve customers better, and gather customer insights through both formal and less structured mechanisms.

How to shape, pilot, launch, test and iterate with new initiatives and business models.

How, in pursuit of new insights and opportunities, to allocate resources flexibly and swiftly to where they are needed most.

How to develop wider organisational understanding of the need to manage the importance, roles and impacts of stakeholders other than customers across the business.

How to ensure the entire organisational team focuses on learning to deliver new, tangible value to customers and those other stakeholders.

In managing pervasive adaptation and risk, learning objectives might include developing a better understanding of:

How the guiding principles of enterprise risk management may be understood, developed and applied in a modern, agile organisation.

How to select, develop and use valid and effective local, organisation-specific tools for identifying, assessing and quantifying risk.

How to understand the changing political rules of a business as a necessarily increasingly agile organisation, and to anticipate how they are likely to change further across the foreseeable horizon.

How to explore, understand and test more effectively to develop a better a range of more organisationally specific theories of and approaches to change.

How to manage the political context with other stakeholders, such as alliance partners, in more effectively achieving the organisation’s objectives.

How to use the collective wisdom to be found in inter-organisational alliances to anticipate risk when creating shared value.

How to work internationally to address most effectively the challenges of managing people in cultural environments that are different to the home culture of the business.

In managing core competence and systems-based change, learning objectives might include understanding better:

How to evolve the fit of organisational form and information systems architecture to create competitive value, responsiveness, innovativeness and economies of scale.

How to contract, marry and provide IT services more effectively to deliver more economically on the respective individual merits of centralised, decentralised and distributed computing.

How to understand the essential features and challenges of speeding the management of innovation and change for sustainable competitive advantage.

How to define a model which, if followed, maximises the contribution of training to organisational competitiveness, employee satisfaction and employability.

How varieties of performance-related pay systems may be developed most appropriately to reward individual, group or organisational performance and support organisational competitiveness.

The wrap

A company that can capitalise on even a decent selection of the learning objectives above will have come a long way in creating a platform to increase its agility. It will also likely be a lot further along the path to survival than those which have put no such deliberate shared learning processes into play.

Let us help your business manage the organisational data capture and knowledge needed to attain these learning objectives.