Organising for the future
Part 3/3 How we grow: build for scale

Organisations cannot simply hardwire decisions about their identity or operating models and declare victory. As connectivity and automation increase, and as the expectations of younger generations change, businesses must be prepared for nimble and constant adaptation if they hope to grow with any consistency. 

Doing so entails constant interaction with stakeholders, technology, and employees. The best way to ensure this is by harnessing a vibrant ecosystem of partners outside the company’s traditional boundaries, building data-rich technology platforms that support growth and innovation, and accelerating learning to fuel the talent engine they’ll need to succeed.  
aerial view of green trees on island during daytime

Imperative 7: adopt an ecosystem view.

In 2014, Tesla made the seemingly radical decision to "open-source" its patents and encourage other companies to use its intellectual property. In retrospect, that choice is a brilliant model of the ecosystem-oriented decisions that all future-ready companies must make.  

Tesla recognized that it couldn’t grow without partners that would build charging stations and offer services to create the infrastructure to support electric vehicles. By putting itself at the center of a burgeoning ecosystem of partners, Tesla laid the groundwork for its own explosive growth. 

The same we see happing at software companies. Many of them open their source for companies that whant to develop f.i. industry verticals or other niche applications. 

Future-proof organizations will take such examples to heart, recognizing that traditional understandings about what an organization is and where its boundaries lie are being upended. The old thinking was all about gaining leverage and controlling the supply chain. Increasingly, however, value is created through networks where partners share data, code, and skills; where communities of businesses create value and antifragility together. 

The underlying recognition that top companies embrace (and that laggards struggle to accept) is that the sources of value will be constantly changing—in ways that can’t be tapped solely by a company’s traditional, core business. Successful companies need to excel at blurring boundaries, taking a systems view rather than a mechanistic one, and embracing fluidity over fixed plans. 

Future-ready organizations view partners as extensions of themselves. These relationships feature porous boundaries and high levels of trust and mutual dependence to share value and let each partner focus on what it does best. For example, Amazon encouraged the formation of new delivery start-ups by launching a last-mile delivery program that offered top-performing employees seed money, leased vans, and training. While these delivery- system partners are self-employed, Amazon views them as both an extension of their logistics ecosystem and a new form of homegrown partnership.

Partnerships should be cultivated for the long term to better develop the antifragility that helps partners weather shocks. For example, Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS provides support and resources on compliance, markets, science, and other topics to promising start-ups. By doing so, the company supports and develops relationships with entrepreneurs on the “fragile front lines of innovation.” Instead of transactional, win–lose relationships, models such as this one embrace partnerships motivated by shared success. 

Imperative 8: build data-rich tech platforms

 Future-proof companies take data seriously. For them, data isn’t simply about reporting what is happening in the business or answering a business question. Data is the business. 

white building with data has a better idea text signage

The rise of Netflix is a case in point, as demonstrated in its transformation from a small, mail-in provider of DVDs to a multifaceted global platform, streaming service, and content creator. Netflix achieved its growth by leveraging its user data in the powerful algorithms that created its recommendation engine.  The company’s recommender system now accounts for 80 percent of time customers spend streaming Netflix content.  Future-ready companies understand that data can continually empower decisions and the value agenda in unexpected, yet promising, ways. 

To make the most of data, leading organizations must tackle a complex set of tasks. They must create compelling approaches to data governance, redesign processes as modular applications, tap the benefits of scalable cloud-based technology, and support all this through variable-cost technology budgets that are reallocated dynamically.

By seizing upon data’s ability to connect and scale, these companies will be able to develop new products, services, and even businesses in fast release-and- upgrade cycles—much as Tesla updates its products over the air several times a year. 

child building an four boxes

Imperative 9: accelerate learning as an organisation

Capitalizing on new approaches to data requires modern DevOps skills, as well as other capabilities that will be new to most leaders. This underscores the urgency of the final organizational imperative, the one that helps make the others go: accelerate learning. Companies need to get learning right to fuel their talent engine and create an empowered workforce that’s fluent in the art of “fail fast, learn, repeat.” (See the Lean Start-up)

High-performing companies promote a mindset of continuous learning that encourages and supports people to adapt and reinvent themselves to meet shifting needs.

Getting to this level requires instilling a growth mindset, curiosity, and an openness to experimentation and failure. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella describes it as hypothesis testing. “Instead of saying ‘I have an idea,’” Nadella observes, “what if you said, ‘I have a new hypothesis, let’s go test it, see if it’s valid, ask how quickly can we validate it.’ And if it’s not valid, move on to the next one.”  This approach, and the company’s underlying push to shift its collective mindset from “know it all” to “learn it all,” is emblematic of a learning organization. 

Experiment-and-learn environments encourage accelerated personal growth and improvement for employees. They can fuel beneficial innovation, as evidenced by Google’s famous “20 percent time” policy that encourages employees to work on their own ideas for Google 20 percent of the time (this approach contributed to the creation of Gmail and Google Maps, among others).The real value in such programs is that they signal to the organization that learning, experimentation, and innovation are part of everyone’s day job, not something that gets done in a “skunkworks” or other specialized group. 

Since traditional educational institutions alone cannot deliver the skills companies will need, organizations need to look inward. Rather than create monolithic centralized programs that people attend before returning to their day job, forward- looking companies will develop learning journeys that have a mix of core and individualized content, delivered when people need it and at requisite scale. And in keeping with the lessons learned during the pandemic, these programs must work in today’s virtual working environments. 

Into the future

For most organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have upended life as we knew it. The resulting pain, grief, and economic dislocation will be felt long into the future. The first priority for leaders, therefore, is to lead with empathy and compassion as they revitalize, and reenergize, their exhausted teams and organizations. 

woman in green jacket raising her hands

As companies face up to an uncertain, postcrisis landscape, we urge them to recall Albert Einstein’s encouragement that “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” As organizations move from a mindset of coping to one of competing, the best companies will seize the unique unfreezing opportunity before them to imagine—and create— new systems and modes of organization that are more flexible, integrated, resilient, and ultimately, more human.

These organizations will view themselves as interconnected systems that seek to constantly experiment, fail, learn, grow—and start the process anew when the world invariably changes again. 

Organising for the Future
Part 2/3 How we operate: prioritise speed