Crash or crash through – business models and future work

When two large bodies in the cosmos collide, there is not only a massive impact, but the effect reverberates across space in many ways, and with consequences that can be felt over a very long time.

In the world of organisations, we see similar situations, albeit without the same physical drama. Major business trends meet head-to-head creating opportunities for significant change or forcing some organisations to retreat or fail in the market place.

We see one of these seismic events unfolding right now with organisations across the globe. The business model is rapidly changing in many industries. The changes are characterised by the need to be flexible, responsive and collaborative. In a previous blog “The end of the organisation as we know it?”, I spoke of the four urgent changes needed in the business model, namely:

1. Moving from customer management to customer responsiveness

2. Shifting from hierarchical organisation to horizontal organisation

3. Re-aligning from product and service development to product and service collaboration

4. Being data rich to being more decision support.

But in addition, we see the nature of work changing as well. Indeed, work in organisations in the future will be vastly different from what we see today. Work in the future will be different for many reasons including technology, continuing globalisation and demographic shifts. But fundamentally, work will change because different capabilities will be needed – and indeed demanded – by organisations. These can be summarized in four organisation capabilities:

1. Delivering work outputs that are not dependent on the fixed location of the work

2. Collaborating across and beyond the organization to create value

3. Interacting and communicating across and beyond the organization, including social media

4. Integrating skills, information and resources to deliver better outcomes and value.

So what happens when changing business models meet head-to-head with the changing work environment and the re-shaping of capabilities?

There are three broad tracks that organisations can pursue, and we already see examples of these occurring in many industries:

Track 1 – the denial track

Some organisations will try to hold onto the old world thinking as long as possible. Change can be hard and confusing, and shifting the business strategy to embrace change can be a real challenge. Look at the way the print media industry in the past decade has been slow to re-invent itself, and adopt new business models. Some retail organisations have also been slow to embrace online business models.

Track 2 – the token track

This track takes on the appearance of making significant changes, but falls well short of delivering any major difference from competitors or in the market place. For instance, some organisations have embraced so-called teleworking to allow employees to undertake some work from home or other locations. But if this is done on a sporadic or ad hoc basis and for some clerical tasks only, it is missing the strategic opportunity to shift the work focus to the delivery of outcomes rather than where work is actually done.

Track 3 – the heroic track

This track brings together the notions of business model change and the changes in work of the future. Embracing and managing the collision (or hopefully more of a fusion) between these two forces is the opportunity. Tackling the above head-on is indeed heroic, but it also provides the maximum potential benefit for the organization. Some technology-based industries are moving in this space as are many organisations with a strong online presence. But there is a long way to go for many industries such as retail and banking to achieve their full potential in this regard.

What track will your organisation embrace and how will you shape that decision? Will it be a deliberate decision process or will it happen by default?

For many organisations, this will represent a major challenge. It does require the discipline to take a reality check on future directions and priorities. As French author and Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide once said, “One cannot discover new oceans without the courage to lose sight of the shore.”


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Filed under Business model, Organisation capabilities, Strategy

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