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PA OPINION

Is your organisation designed to flex for the future?

We teamed up with the Financial Times and invited a range of senior executives from across industries to dinner. Here’s a brief snapshot of what participants said about being more digital and flexible.

Incumbent businesses face unprecedented change. Leaders know they need to transform, and fast. And yet all too often, they struggle to quickly adapt. They lack organisational agility.

Gone are the days when the mantra was ‘built to last’. Today’s organisations must be ‘built to evolve’. It’s not easy. But it’s essential.

If you’re still talking about digital transformation, have you missed the bus?

There was widespread agreement that digital transformation was not an optional extra. But the room split when it came to how to evolve, with leaders reacting differently depending on their sector and their organisation’s stage of digital development.

Retailers, for example, strongly held the view that if you’re still discussing digital transformation, you’ve already missed your chance. While those in financial services said they’re feeling the effects of digital-only rivals, such as Monzo, but still have time to react.

Transforming for tomorow - Digital at the core

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This wasn’t the first time we’ve heard such concerns from financial services leaders. During our research into organisational agility, 77 per cent of respondents told us they’re concerned about technology pioneers bringing new products or service innovation to the market by 2023. Yet 60 per cent said their company’s leadership is struggling to act or doesn’t know what to do, despite recognising the level of transformational change needed.

In the transport sector, rail leaders said they’ve felt little business model disruption, though online bus and train ticket seller Trainline is offering some challenges. Airlines, on the other hand, have already faced disruption and are reaping the benefits of developments such as big data, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, which are transforming areas like flight maintenance.

The general view was that the public sector has failed to fully embrace digital transformation. Some attributed the lack of urgency to reform to the variety of legacy systems in the sector and the need to comply with GDPR. This contrasted with the view of those in the private sector who see GDPR differently, saying it’s a chance to innovate if used to deliver customer value. It’s a view that aligns to our experience, which shows organisations can turn compliance into advantage.

Leadership, cultural shifts, customers and transforming the core

Participants said leaders needed to embrace and drive the change even if they aren’t digital natives, as the ability to empower those around them is vital if they’re to succeed in the new era.

Putting people first and having the right cultural attitude is more important than processes and systems. That starts with setting a clear vision before letting people have a say in setting their goals and how best to achieve them.

There was also talk about understanding customers’ needs, but this raised the question of whether organisations know what their customers really want. When it’s hard to know what people are looking for, and difficult to know where the next disruption will come from, how should leaders respond? We believe customers are more empowered than ever before and that it’s vital to understand their entire web of influencers.

However, there was widespread agreement that digital experimentation at an organisation’s edges or a two-speed operating model risks creating silos and is no longer a viable approach.

If there was one point everyone agreed on it was that organisations need to be able to flex, in any moment. In today’s disruptive environment, flexible systems and processes are an absolute must to take advantage of the opportunities and position oneself for sustained success.

Representatives taking part in the discussions included senior leaders from Airbus, Arriva, GSK, Lloyds Banking Group, Network Rail, Ocado, RBS, Rolls-Royce, RSA Group, Schroders, the Department for Education, the London Ambulance Service.

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