Eliminating Barriers

Eliminating Barriers
Island Luck CEO Sebastian Bastian

In the first part of this series of opinion editorials, the emphasis on understanding, embracing, and adaptations to new technology as a way to drive innovation and creativity was the focus.

That first piece was anchored by the story of Microsoft’s $400 billion missteps, missing the touchscreen trend and ultimately turning to producing hardware instead of seeing the opportunity that Google when it bought Android.

The cautionary tale then was that technology is changing the way we do business, what customers and citizens expect from companies and government and that if we fail to keep up in a world that is transforming increasingly quickly, we will be left in the past.

It is essential to realize that technology is not a magic bullet when it comes to driving innovation in our organizations or our country. You can’t just go out there and get the newest software or the fanciest computer and call it a day.

When embracing new technology, there are a few things we have to take into consideration, namely how we have organized our internal systems and the culture of our organizations.

Time and time again, I’ve seen companies pick up on the latest technological trend or buy into the newest software and still fail at innovating. Often, these failures manifest because they don’t see the whole picture!

Organizations, whether in the private or public sector, cannot take new technology, slap it on top of an archaic, rigid bureaucracy, and call it innovation.

New technology and old ways of working are like oil and water: they don’t mix!

No matter what new technology you adopt, if your systems are still analog, and your work culture is stale, no technology can make your organization responsive enough or flexible enough to be competitive and sustainable in a competitive global market.

As technology and globalization change the speed in which we do business, our national borders can no longer hold back global competition. Think about how comfortable Bahamians are becoming with online shopping and the proliferation couriering services with facilities.

We are no longer limited to the annual Back-to-School and Christmas shopping trips to Miami. With a debit or credit card and the click of a few buttons, clothes, groceries, and even business supplies are easily accessible.

In terms of globalization, we are confronted by accession to the World Trade Organization. Once again, referencing the WTO Impact report, authored by Oxford Economics in partnership with The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), there are structural issues that continue to inhibit business activities in The Bahamas.

Aside from the relatively high costs of business essentials like energy, labor, bank chargers, and foreign exchange, bureaucratic delays are also taking a toll on economic growth and competitiveness. The solution for this, according to the report, is the introduction of modernized and streamlined process. We have to transform the way our organizations work.

In their 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey, Deloitte asked executives to name the top priority for their organization. Ninety-two percent of these executives believed that restructuring their organizations was the most important priority and vital for their company’s survival.

Bahamians seem to love hierarchies with big-time titles and positions. Our organizations in the private and public sectors are full of silos where teams and departments cannot seem to find the time to talk to each other, even if they are working toward the same business or policy objectives. These organizational structures often restrict access to information that should ultimately be shared, and if leadership does engage staff, it’s usually with an “I’m the boss around here” type of attitude.

But with less bureaucracy, businesses and government can involve all levels of staff in critical strategic decision-making.

Front-line workers who work closest to the consumer, on the shop floor or behind the cash register, have a unique sense of what is happening on the ground. Their proximity to the every-day operation of an organization gives them real-time insight that can inform business strategy and policy, which in turn allows organizations to respond quickly to changes in the marketplace.

A Harvard Business School working paper found that as competition increases, especially related to international trade, organizations are becoming more efficient by shedding layers and connecting teams across the business— flattening their organizational structures.

“Since additional layers in the hierarchy impede information flows, firms eliminate layers (i.e., “delayer”) to improve response times to changes in competitive forces. Moreover, firms decentralize decision-making to respond more quickly to changes in the business environment and to exploit the knowledge of lower-level managers.”

Instead of silos, through consultation and collaboration, companies and governments can move quickly to respond to threats from competitors, new technologies, or changes in customer preference.

Flattening our organizational structures and creating opportunities for collaboration is also essential for catalyzing creativity.

Research at the University of Tennessee showed that innovation happens through collaboration. Sometimes this means even going outside of your organization to find partners.

A prime example of this was a strategy employed by A.G. Lafley, who became Proctor & Gamble’s CEO in 2000. Lafley believed that the company could leapfrog its competition by using a collaborative approach to drive innovation. He called this approach “Connect & Develop”—this approach to partnering for “mutual value” is grounded in the belief that “collaboration accelerates innovation.”

“In an increasingly connected world, the biggest business wins come from working together. When we partner externally, inspiration and innovation—and mutual value creation—are at our fingertips,” the Proctor & Gamble website asserts.

One way we are flattening our organization structure in our group of companies is by appointing a Director of Special Projects (DSP).

As unique challenges or new ideas arise, the DSP helps to identify the necessary internal skill-sets or external partnerships needed, coordinates external and internal communications, problem solves, and drives implementation.

But eliminating our internal barriers is not just about our organizational structure. It’s also about our work culture.

Millennials make up a considerable portion of today’s workforce. The oldest millennials are or have already turned 40 years old. Despite this fact, the term “millennial” is often used as a slur—a phrase that ringfences everything we think is wrong with young people today.

You hear it constantly. Millennials are lazy, entitled, and self-absorbed. They do not know how to work hard. But I think government and corporate leaders are approaching the generational divide in the wrong way.

Research is showing that in the workplace millennials want things like flexible work schedules has been linked to reduced workplace stress, improved psychological well-being and increased productivity. They want a sense of community, which can also lead to improved psychological well-being and improved physical health. Being connected to vision and mission, is important to millennials as well—the feeling that they are making a difference. Finally, research suggests that the number factor millennials consider when searching for a job is the opportunity for personal development.

According to The 2016 Millennial Deloitte Survey, 71% of millennials who are are looking to leave an organization in the next two years are dissatisfied with how their leadership skills are developing.  Sixt-nine percent of millennials aspire to be leaders in the next five years, and 60% want training to develop their leadership skills.

When millennials go to work, they want to build a community; they want to contribute to the organization’s mission and feel like they are making a difference. They are not interested in sitting at desk, plugging away for eight hours a day and being ordered around.

This shifting focus means we might have to transform our internal cultures to be more open, flexible and dynamic. We may even have to rework your company mission or values and build stronger teams through better internal communication.

Yes, new technology is crucial for harnessing innovation and technology, but the question we all have to ask is, “What context are we bringing this new technology into?”

After all, technology is just a tool. Our employees, our public service and even our consumers and citizens need the structures and organizational cultures that leverage their talent, know-how, and creative energy to transform our businesses and our society. This means eliminating the internal structural and cultural barriers that get in the way of realizing our full potential.