Organising for the future
Nine keys to become a future-ready company, part 1: strengthen identity

To better organise for a postpandemic future, leaders should embrace nine imperatives that collectively explain “who we are” as an organisation, “how we operate,” and “how we grow.”  

What many leaders feared, and the pandemic confirms, is that their companies where organised for a world that is disappearing - an area of standardisation and predictability that's been overwritten by four big trends: 

A combination of heightened connectivity, lower transaction costs, unprecedented automation, and shifting demographic. 

While no organisation has yet cracked the code, the experimentation underway suggests that future ready companies share three characteristics: they know who they are and where they stand for, they operate with a fixation on speed and simplicity and they grow by scaling up their ability to learn, innovate and seek good ideas regardless of their origin. By embracing these fundamentals - trough the organisational imperatives that underpin them - companies will improve their odds of thriving in the next normal.

Nine organisational imperatives will separate future ready companies from the pack  

Who We are: strengthen identity

person holding pile of books near face

Why do companies exist?

The answer is identity. People long to belong, and they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Companies that fixate only on profits will losse ground to organisations that create a strong identity that meets employees' needs for affiliation, social cohesion, purpose and meaning.

Imperative 1: Take a stance on purpose.

Top performing organisations know that purpose is both a differentiating factor and a must-have. A strongly held sense of corporate purpose is a company's unique affirmation of its identity - the why of work - and embodies everything the organisation stands for from a historical, emotional, social and practical point of view.

Future-ready companies recognise that purpose helps attract people to join an organisation, remain there and thrive. Investors understand why this is valuable, and factor purpose into their decision making: the rise of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) related funds is just on of the ways that purpose links to value creation in tangible ways.

How to realise this? Take action to set the company's purpose in motion; help make it real for people. This happens only when employees identify wit and feel connected to their company's purpose. While such connections can be encouraged and reinforced through meaningful, symbolic action - for example, Amazon leaves an empty chair at meeting to represent the customer's role in decisions -  purpose must also be forged in tangible choices and behaviours. Consider the fact that hospitals stopped selling tobacco products to more fully achieve a purpose of "helping people on their path to better health", or companies switching to an all electric car fleet to emphasis ecology.

When centered at the heart of work, purpose helps people navigate uncertainty, inspires commitment, and even reveals untapped market potential. Future-ready organisations will clearly articulate what they stand for, why they exist, and will use purpose as the glue to connect employees and stakeholders in ways that inform their business choices.

Imperative 2: Sharpen your value agenda.

While all companies have a strategy for how to create value, few can show precisely how the company will achieve it. Future-ready companies, by contrast, avoid this dilemma by creation a value agenda - a map that disaggregates a company's ambition and targets into tangible organisational elements such as business units, region , product lines and and even key capabilities. Armed with such a depiction, these companies can articulate where value is created in the organisation, what sets the company apart from the pack, and even what might propel it's succes in the future

The key is to use the value agenda to focus the organisation's effort and instilled a sense of what really matters in every employee. When organisations can leverage this clarity - knowing exactly what differentiates them form everyone else - te results are powerful and hard to replicate. Consider how Apple rallies itself behind creating the best user experience. The company's obsessiveness when it comes to pleasing customers includes even obvious things like product design but extends to how products are packaged.

The power of a clear value agenda isn't only that it helps a company to better achieve its strategic priorities today but also that is gives the organisation a line of sight into how to shift resources as priorities change. Top performing companies reallocate their people aggressively, dynamically, and continuously against their core priorities, recognising that this activity is both an economic engine and long-term competitive strength. Companies that reallocate talent to high-value initiatives are more than twice a likely to outperform their peers.

three woman performing traditional dance

Imperative 3: use culture as your 'secret souce'

In addition to having a clear why (purpose) and a what (a value agenda), companies that thrive in the next normal will distinguish themselves by their cultures - the how of any organisation.

Culture is a set of unique behaviours, rituals, symbols and experiences the collectively describes "how we run things". Amongst the most successful companies, culture form the backbone of organisational health and fuels sustained outperformance over time: companies with strong cultures achieve up to three times higher returns to shareholders than companies without them. 

Amazon, for example, famously enforces it's "two pizza" rule mandating that no team should be larger than two pizza's can feed. This rule also supports the approach to meetings: keep them small, no Powerpoint, and start with silence to give participants time to reread he required pre-meeting memo. This helps the company reach faster, better decisions.

Culture can't just exist in slogans painted on the walls or in catchy email signature lines. Defined principle and ways of working are critical to create cohesive, long-lasting organisation. And culture plagiarists be warned: culture is hard to copy and should ultimately be unique to each organisation.

When leaders choose - and build - the kind of culture they want the organisation to embody, they create a virtuous cycle, attracting the richt talent that will thrive in their culture, unlock their value agenda, and "turbocharge" performance.

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