We all get caught up in management speak don’t we? Much as we like to think that we can rise above the slick phrases of the day they somehow leach into our vocabulary.
We’ve all laughed at the emails ridiculing their use but strangely they just seem to pop up in a sentence almost without permission. It’s not dissimilar from using a cliché; we can’t always avoid them because much of the time they’re dealing with universal truths and happen to hit the mark.
New phrases seem somehow to be saying something new although of course they don’t. But I do think they give a slight new energy to old ideas and that is why we continue to adopt them.
CEOs seem, in my experience, to largely avoid management speak. However they’re not somehow immune to fashionable trends it’s just that they tend to think in a slightly different way. While management thinks in the black and white of actions and imperatives, the CEO thinks in the colour of ideas and themes. Of course this doesn’t allow them to avoid the accusation of clichéd thinking as the options in many senses narrow the higher you climb. Let’s face it, the CEO’s job is simply about driving profitable growth and there are only so many levers to pull to achieve this.
Which brings us on to a theme that I hear many a CEO waxing lyrical about, and that’s the subject of innovation. Not traditional incremental innovation in terms of different or better products and services, but the really big stuff. Innovation primarily in the context of the organisation’s basic business model. Root and branch change. Challenging old assumptions, making some predictions about the shape of the future and thinking about re-engineering the organisation to meet this brave new world. And what’s driving this?
The first driver is an increasing understanding that you can only squeeze so much out of the current status quo. Chances are that most competent organisations exploit their markets well; they operate efficiently in terms of both revenue generation and cost control. Outperforming the market with incremental change is looking like an increasingly marginal play. Intensified competition, escalating customer expectations and globalisation are all combining to ensure that ‘best in class’ is not really good enough. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of industrial and services conglomerate GE articulated it for all of us when he said: “constant re-invention is the central necessity… we’re all just a moment away from commodity hell.”
The second driver is the range of opportunities that are simply starting to present themselves; a relaxation of the traditional barriers to change. Virtualisation is key; and the ability to harness global resource in a much more efficient way. Collaboration is another huge opportunity; strategic alliances can make a rapid and fundamental difference to an organisation almost overnight.
The third driver is clearly the digital revolution and what it means to organisations; both large and small, local and global. Nobody has remained untouched by its impact and while the web has already fundamentally changed the economic landscape forever, I suspect that its current impact is only just the beginning.
So you add this all together and it is not difficult to understand why business model innovation is the hot topic at CEO coffee mornings. Of course the question is not “Should we?” But, “How do we?”, and this is where the rest of the organisation comes into play.
What does this all mean for the CIO? Assuming your CEO is thinking along these lines, and they probably are, they need your help. The irony is that the IS team, often accused of not being commercial enough, has actually been at the forefront of this thinking. Outsourcing, change management, offshoring, virtual working, innovative technologies and strategic partnerships have been everyday activities for CIOs and their teams for a good few years.
The nature of your work means also that you have the privilege of business oversight in the same way that the CEO does. And you understand better than anyone else how the web will continue to offer business threats and opportunities in equal measures.
Make time for your CEO and appreciate the size of their task. They need support from the whole of the executive team and it seems to me that the CIO is uniquely well placed to facilitate this agenda.
Love him or loath him, we all accept that Rupert Murdoch knows a thing or two about business and he states: “The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” He gets it; please make sure your organisation does too.
Simon La Fosse is founder of La Fosse Associates, one of the UK’s leading CIO search firms. www.lafosse.com