It is important for organisations to continue to be valuable and saleable. To do so, companies need to tap into their network of partners and train together to stay ahead of the market
DR. TARA THIAGARAJAN
When most of us think about the value of organisations, we are thinking about our revenues, customer base, products and distribution, maybe even our processes and access to capital. While these are good indicators of our accumulated value so far, they are not nearly as good indicators of their continuing value tomorrow. In today’s fast changing world where there are more unknowns than knowns, nothing is stable, and strategies often have to be quickly reconfigured to discard dead ends and take advantage of new opportunities. What determines whether an organization is poised to take advantage of the future? How does an organization ensure that it is fit for the future?
As individuals, we have the same challenge. Job security has become a thing of the past. The 40 year company career is now just the evening conversation of today’s retirees. So, how do we make sure we are of continued value and ‘saleable’? How do we ensure that we can continuously reinvent ourselves and create our own opportunities? At the individual level, this is much talked about and researched. By resting on a 10-year-old degree, a past job title and a salary number that we may have once got just aren’t good enough today. We need to constantly build new skills and experience, maybe even within the same company. But this is easier said than done. How do we put ourselves in the right position to know what skills and experience to go after and find the opportunities to roll up our sleeves and do it?
Building on your network
Much evidence now tells us that to know what’s out there in the job ecosystem or even of other opportunities within the same organisation, you are best positioned when you have a diverse social network and access to diverse information. How will you hear about new stuff otherwise? How will it cross in front of your eyes? Who will tell you? Who will take you on to give it a shot before you really know what you’re doing? You have to know it to make sense of it. And once you have, you have to actually do the job of making it happen. Get the experience.
One way to stay nimble, that we probably haven’t thought much of, is by maintaining a diverse and growing partner network. Every organisation has partners of some sort that come in the form of suppliers, customers, distributors, contractors, financiers and maybe even R&D collaborations. If we were really to look deep into the value we derive from them, it would go well beyond supply, purchase, distribution, funding or whatever the core purpose of the partnership is. Knowing and interacting with other organisations can do many other things. It can keep you ahead of market knowledge about new products, services and offerings in the pipeline and changing market needs. It can provide you with a view of different work cultures, management practices and processes.
But what about a company or organisation? How does that translate? One way to stay nimble, that we probably haven’t thought much of, is by maintaining a diverse and growing partner network. Every organisation has partners of some sort that come in the form of suppliers, customers, distributors, contractors, financiers and maybe even R&D collaborations. If we were really to look deep into the value we derive from them, it would go well beyond supply, purchase, distribution, funding or whatever the core purpose of the partnership is. Knowing and interacting with other organisations can do many other things. It can keep you ahead of market knowledge about new products, services and offerings in the pipeline and changing market needs. It can provide you with a view of different work cultures, management practices and processes. There’s nothing like seeing someone else do something really well to wonder why you aren’t doing that yourself. These partnerships can also be a source for new employees or customers. Referrals happen all the time and there is no better referral than from a trusted partner who knows how your organisation works. The more diverse and high quality this partner network is, the better equipped the organisation will be to recognise and reconfigure to the changing environment.
Train to stay fit
Of course, just hearing, observing and knowing is not where it ends. Like the body, which has to keep moving and working its muscles in different ways to stay fit and flexible, organisations have to keep working at new things as well to stay fit. Just reading fitness magazines to keep up-to-date on what’s new in fitness doesn’t make you fit for the future. This is where I believe running pilots play an extremely important role. It’s where you learn new areas, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and which of your assumptions are completely flawed. It’s also where your employees get the feel of the real deal and learn on the ground realities that will usually throw every plan into chaos in the first round. It is where organisations gain experience in areas they are not experts in already.
Running pilots with partners is even better. For swiftness in marketing new products, it makes sense not to reinvent the wheel if you can find a partner with a strong synergy. Do it together. Significantly, it speeds up the learning curve for both sides and also reduces the time it takes to get to market. And speed is no small thing in today’s world. You have to be fast. The diverse perspectives will also drive towards a higher quality outcome. And finally, when both sides pool in complementary resources, it keeps the initial cash outflows lower for both and often makes possible pilots and ventures that may not otherwise have been feasible from a time and money perspective. All this can save you from falling on your face five times (at least it might reduce it to two). However, you should expect many of these pilots and ventures to never make it off the ground, or even to blow up in grand and dramatic fashion. That’s part of the training for the unexpected obstacle course. And that’s what the future is.
If you don’t train routinely, when you suddenly try to run a new obstacle course, it will hurt like hell and you may not make it through. And if the course is not static and keeps changing, you wouldn’t know which muscle you need to use so you better try new workouts. If you don’t, you will be in a fitness rut and muscles you didn’t know you had could strain and snap when put to the test. Besides, to gain strength you have to push yourself regularly till your muscles feel some pain. You have to expend energy to build energy.
So, to make sure you are fit for the future, it doesn’t matter if you were an Olympic athlete a decade ago. Are you still an athlete now? Map out your organisations’ partner network and exploratory ‘experience’, and you might figure out something new.
Dr. Tara Thiagarajan is the chairperson and managing director of Madura Microfinance and a director of Microcredit Foundation of India. She is primarily a scientist whose interests encompass understanding complex systems and using a science-based approach to solve large scale human problems through scalable for-profit enterprise. She writes a blog called, The Physics of Poverty (www.physicsofpoverty.com), which looks into a science-based approach to understanding poverty.