Six assumptions preventing organisational success

We're all trying to work out changeI’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that there is one thing you can predict with absolute certainty, and it is that change happens. If you’re of the mindset that change is un-welcome, the bad news is that today is the slowest pace of change we’ll ever experience. After all, change is the enemy of the competent and the crack cocaine of the innovative. Within this environment of constant change, it’s hard to single out one particular trend that is having the highest impact on business and marketing today.

The consumerisation of IT is certainly adjusting things and looking forward, the development of 3D printing and the maker movement will likely re-design value chains. Meanwhile the democratisation of brands has shifted control from organisations into the community, resulting in a mandatory need to harness and nurture fans.

We see our networked society becoming increasingly prolific in multiple personas as the virtualisation of all things physical is providing new business model potentials.

Amongst all these trends is a central question around who owns the data within, and generated by, our activity. Extending this question further, maybe there is another way of looking at privacy and identity for even greater benefit by using Privacy as a Currency (Paac). This is what I will examine during my talk at TrendsPlus on the 4th December 2012 . If this interests you, I’d love to connect with you on that day.

In advance I’d like to write down some observations I’ve collected. Being fortunate enough to assist companies all over the world across every industry vertical, I’ve been able to observe how organisations handle the ever-changing, fast-moving business environment we are working through.

Organisations now need to transition constantly, so rather than before when change management was a one-off event, it is now a necessity to manage constant change. For better or for worse I spend my life with all levels of personnel, reasoning and calculating how these transitions can be used as propulsion mechanisms for purposeful and profitable growth. To do this I need to maintain a barometer of all industry verticals and during this I repeatedly see a selection of assumptions playing on loop. It is these I’d like to share here and in the interests of keeping this post short I’ve picked six that remain most constant:

1. It’s all about digital

To such an extent that companies invest considerable sums into becoming more comfortable with digital, mostly without any consideration of what digital means in terms of actual business practice. For example, how digital effects the entire extended marketing mix rather than seeing digital purely as a campaign consideration. What’s actually needed is harmonisation between traditional business logic and new world paradigms, rather than singular inspiration.

2. Mobile is a separate discipline

It is exceedingly common to find mobile removed from other channels and considered on its own rather than in cohesion with all other channels. This removal dilutes the opportunity to use mobile as a vehicle to make traditional channels work harder – activating a poster campaign, linking a TV ad to sales, or galvanising an army of fans. What’s actually needed is a strategically sound understanding of how mobile can add value to other channels and the people at the other end of the value chain.

3. Social is a media

For one reason or another, where there are many eyeballs there’s a media planner salivating. The reality is that social interactions are a different science than the bought or owned media environments of old. Social interactions run on a syntax of social capital, exchanging social currencies for joint value. Thus the only media in this space is earned media that is earn-able through positive interactions, transparency, consistency and authenticity.

These drive trust which fuels loyalty. Without these, media cannot be earned. In conclusion, the entire media strategy in social media would need to be a trust building strategy – yet commonly it’s about how cool a Facebook page can look. It’s the expectation of some form of profitable result that I find most interesting. What’s actually needed is a pure purpose that manifests in missions that people can believe in and take action upon, thus building on positivity to result in trustworthy relationships.

4. Knowing something is a proxy for doing something

This happens often when people listen to something explained and then nod saying “yeah, we’re on top of that”. When you look deeper you often find that there are many who are aware but few who do something about it. Knowing isn’t doing, but it tricks a person into thinking they are doing something by knowing about it. That’s a major issue. What’s actually needed is an automatic inclusion of the question “so what are we doing about it?” alongside the thought of “we’re on top of that”.

5. Current speed is fast enough

Many organisation feel that the current speed of strategy or activity is fast enough to keep up with the changes outside the organisation. Logically this would require full understanding of the speed of change outside your company, including all competitors and shifts in customer expectations, but in reality the understanding of external speed is mainly embryonic. This results in false comfort that tricks people into thinking the internal speed of strategy or activity is fast enough. Rather than outline the outcomes, I’ll leave you to imagine what that can possibly mean. What’s actually needed is constant restlessness that disallows the arrogance in thinking that we’re fast or agile enough.

6. Existing structures will enable success

There appears to be a consistent assumption that an enabling structure in this day and age is to “hire a head of social media”, and then think that will somehow “cover off the new stuff”. The reality? This isn’t a channel addition we’re living through, nor is the economic downturn a ‘recession’. No, this is a paradigm shift of industrial revolution proportions. What’s actually needed is fundamental re-evaluation and organisational transition across all functions, from processes to people.

It is the proliferation of the above 6 assumptions that is determining the fortune of many large and small organisations. In the context of permanent change, these assumptions are tremendously dangerous but on a positive side, present a great deal of white space within which to innovate. The polar opposite of these assumptions (indicated in the “what’s actually needed” parts), are where forward-thinking organisations can set themselves up for brighter futures. Bringing it down to a super tangible level though, I attest that these are the ways that everyday activities should be viewed differently. Challenging our own activity constantly, watching out for the traps caused by assuming that everything is fine. Without sounding too pessimistic, a level of healthy paranoia would be prudent, especially because the only thing we can predict is that tomorrow will definitely not look exactly like today.

Jonathan MacDonald is the co-founder of this fluid world, a strategic think-tank that assists organisations in becoming fluid in an age of constant change.

He is speaking at TrendsPlus on the 4th December 2012.