What You Must Do To Lead A Sustainable Organization

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If you could peer into a crystal ball and see how the world’s most successful companies were being run in 2029, what do you think you would see? I’ll hope what you won’t see much of (unless something very drastic happens to the evolution of business over the next decade), and that’s organizational silos, manual processes, dependent employees, micromanagers, and the myriad of other business ills that companies are trying to solve right now.

Instead, your crystal ball should paint a picture of companies that thrive on collaboration, creativity, and innovation. By 2029, the leaders of these firms will have figured out the combination to fully leveraging these three qualities into successful, sustainable organizations.

Here’s how they’ll do it:

Max out both internal and external collaboration.

They say no man is an island, and this is particularly true in the business arena, where we all rely on one another for ideas, insights, customers, sales, and everything else a company needs to thrive. So along with stoking internal collaboration among employees, the leader of the future has to broaden those networks outside of the company’s four walls.

That means customers, suppliers, third-party providers, and other stakeholders will play a larger role in everycompany’s success (not just their own). In 1943, Lockheed’s skunk worksteam created a new WWII fighter jet in just 143 days — it’s one that begs to be rediscovered over and over. In the 1980s, Texas Instruments (TI), a leader in semiconductors, found itself lagging in its innovation. It formed an official collaborative development group, The Lunatic Fringe, tasked with bringing the company back from the brink. Today, the group’s mission is to continuously find new uses, opportunities, and ventures for TI technology.

Cross-boundary collaboration happens in an environment where ideas are celebrated and anyone is welcome to contribute, regardless of their position or group, either within or outside the enterprise.

Get behind creativity across the entire enterprise.

You remember the story about the pair of 3M scientists who came up with idea for the Post-it® note, right? If not, here’s a quick refresh: In 1968 Art Fry was using small paper scraps to mark the hymnsfor his church’s upcoming service but needed a bookmark that would stick to the paper without damaging it; Spencer Silver was researching adhesives in the laboratory and discovered an adhesive that stuck lightly to surfaces but didn’t bond tightly to them.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Post-it note has endured for more than 50 years, but this example shows just how valuable employee creativity can be for a company (Collectively, there are more than 4,000 Post-it products). In fact, an IBM poll reports that the majority of CEOs consider creativity to be a critical leadership skill (ranking higher than integrity and global thinking).

The organization of the future will move even further down this path, ensuring that employees have the tools they need to be creative, and that leaders encourage it and support it. In return, companies see better team communications, improved collaboration among workers, higher sales and productivity, and a more engaged workforce.

Think, act, and do digital.

Technological transformations will continue to reshape the way the business world is organized. As information becomes more plentiful and less centralized, more organizations are likely to decentralize, too, in order to respond swiftly to it all.

Digital transformation can be defined as a process whereby an organization shifts their business models, processes, and organizational culture with digital technologies to adapt to changing information flow.

Picture how people in an organization use information. An executive studies a computer dashboard of operational data, an employee surfs the web, an administrative assistant sifts through the paper mail, a committee meets and hears a report, email flows endlessly, operational plans are printed and bound and put on a shelf, and on and on.

New ideas float along these “flows” of information. And a leader’s task is twofold: Ensure that you have the right technology platform and flows in place, and create “filters” that capture the most valuable ideas while discarding the stuff that isn’t useful or relevant.

How do you set up those filters? In general, information can be managed in three ways. One is through organizational structures, such as decision-making groups. Another is in processes — who hands off what information to whom. The other is through automation — technology that gathers and presents data, such as CRM data from a website.

But while it’s vital to view your organization as an information collector, processor, and distributor all at once, it’s just as important to see and act upon something new in all that information. This is what thinking, acting, and doing digital means.

Organize for sustained growth.

Sustained growth is a holistic human endeavor that requires both left-brained (analytical) and right-brained (creative) talents. No single leader or group of decision-makers can manage sustained growth. Innovative enterprises build a culture that embraces a left-brain/right-brain approach to creative thinking, executing, and communicating.

And successful innovation depends upon input from a wide range of people in collaboration, sharing ideas, comparing observations, offering wide-ranging perspectives from their diverse viewpoints, and brainstorming solutions to complex problems.

I refer to these divergent perspectives as personas. Persona’s are people, inside and out-side of an organization, playing specific roles to achieve a specific outcome. Here are a few examples:

  • Learning personas keep an enterprise from being too internally focused and caught in their comfort zone.
  • Organizing personas move the innovation lifecycle forward; they are skilled at navigating processes, politics, and red tape to bring an innovation to market.
  • Building personas are closest to the innovative action, establishing connections between the learning and organizing personas; they apply insights from the learning personas and channel empowerment from the organizing personas to facilitate innovation.

Personas help challenge assumptions as the innovation lifecycle unfolds. Some are analytical, some are creative; others are a combination. Not all innovation teams require all personas, and teammates can adopt or change personas during the process.

A holistic leader continuously enables organizations of personas to drive sustainable growth. In the same way that a farmer repeatedly tills the soil to help seeds germinate, a leader needs to till the workflow to allow meaningful progress and the engagement to take root.

Where should you begin?

The fact is that sustainable organizations are never one-time things. What matters is the basis upon where to begin, and determining that takes a little self-examination. Start by taking these steps:

  1. Closely examine your current strategy, right here in the present. How well is your team executing your current plan? What changes are needed today? Consider those execution methods from the perspective of your immediate situation to determine whether changing circumstances is likely to make your organization more or less effective.
  2. Analyze the impact of your current work of your team, partners, and customers. Where are the most obvious places your results can be improved or revenue increased?
  3. Evaluate your present capabilities for making those improvements. What assets and resources do you have at your command to try something new?

If this sounds a little too present-focused, don’t worry. The assumptions you’re making about the future are embedded directly in the way you’re doing things right now. Closely reexamining your existing processes can make it easier to see the type of sustainable future that your current strategy assumes you’re heading toward.

Copyright © 2019 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.

I am an entrepreneur and author. Founder of SHADOKA and other companies. Shadoka enables aspirations to lead, innovate, and transform. Shadoka’s accelerators and solutions bring together the management frameworks, digital platforms, and thought leadership to enable innovation, transformation, entrepreneurship, growth and social impact.

Author of “Everything Connects — How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability” (McGraw Hill) and “Survive to Thrive: 27 Practices of Resilient Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Leaders” (Motivational Press). Follow me on Twitter Faisal Hoque. Use the Everything Connects leadership app and Suvvive to Thrive resiliancy app for free.




Entrepreneur, Author. Founder of Shadoka, Next Chapter, and others. Author of #1 WSJ Bestseller“Lift”, also of “Everything Connects”. Twitter @faisal_hoque.

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Faisal Hoque

Faisal Hoque

Entrepreneur, Author. Founder of Shadoka, Next Chapter, and others. Author of #1 WSJ Bestseller“Lift”, also of “Everything Connects”. Twitter @faisal_hoque.

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