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People power adaptive organisations

Businesses have had no choice but to embrace change during the Covid-19 crisis, but sustaining that mindset is crucial to their future success — that makes it imperative to build adaptability starting with their people.

Marina Bellini, Director of Digital and Information, BAT and Brad Mallard, CTO at Fujitsu discuss how your people can be a force for future-proofing against disruption.

It is about 2,500 years since the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “The only thing that is constant is change”, so the idea that nothing stands still is hardly a new one. But the pace of change sometimes accelerates — and the past year is one example. 

Covid-19 has forced all organisations to make huge adjustments at speed. Those that have adapted most successfully know their people are the crucial driving force in times of uncertainty and rapid change. In research from Fujitsu into how to build more adaptive organisations, 71 per cent highlight the importance of matching investment in software and skills with employee autonomy and opportunity to innovate.

Talent as a change maker

That has been evident since the very beginning of the pandemic, says Marina Bellini, director of digital and information at BAT. "People are at the heart of organisations' ability to respond to disruption,” she says. “From the onset of the pandemic, we have seen how collaboration and a problem-solving mindset have enabled businesses to respond to and navigate their way through the challenges.”

Harnessing and developing this spirit of adaptability now appears to be a source of competitive advantage. If organisations are going to navigate their way through all the other disruptions that threaten the status quo, from the new dynamics of the marketplace to digital transformation, then their people must continue to play the role of change maker. Enterprises with adaptive workforces will be quicker to capture opportunity and confront risk.

Leaders have a responsibility to create an environment where people can learn effectively. Where they are encouraged to try different things.

Shift the culture 

How, then, can businesses promote adaptability in the organisation? The pandemic may have forced radical adjustments, such as shifting to working from home, refocusing distribution on online channels, and restructuring the supply chain, but more change-averse employees and employers may want things to go back to normal in the wake of the crisis.

To maintain organisations’ readiness to adapt, they need an open culture that embraces change, says Bellini. “Adaptive organisations empower their people,” she says. “They create processes that allow them to create and deliver — within boundaries, but with freedom.”

In practice, there is a lot that organisations can do to encourage that kind of culture. BAT, for instance, has invested heavily in its Digital DNA programme, a company-wide initiative to expose the workforce to new technologies such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, and to get them thinking about what these might achieve. The programme also focuses on new skills in obvious areas, such as data analysis, as well as more unexpected ones that support change — such as storytelling and design thinking. So far, the workforce has spent more 11,000 hours in Digital DNA sessions.

Get people talking

These are ideas that resonate strongly with Brad Mallard, Chief Technology Officer for Digital Technology Services at Fujitsu. Change depends on cross-functional collaboration across the enterprise, he says, but this requires skills that organisations do not always have.

“Levelling up skills and language across the organisation is critical,” says Mallard. “Your business people and your technology people must be able to understand each other in order to deliver the best value for customers and the business.”

Management has to set the tone. “Leaders have a responsibility to create an environment where people can learn effectively,” he says. “Where they are encouraged to try different things.” 

This may require leaders themselves to embrace new ways of working and a different mindset. BAT has developed “immersion programmes” to introduce its management teams to organisations that take a different approach. That includes agile start-ups as well as much larger enterprises that have also embraced nimble practices.

We need to use data insights that inform the next action, and have this as an iterative process, rather than waiting for the perfect data alignment that gives precise answers.

Exploit the data for rapid change

The challenge is to make sure that the entire workforce feels comfortable working in this way. When they do, it will help the organisation to get the most out of the new tools that also underpin adaptability.

One obvious example of this is the way in which data — and the analytics that turn data into actionable insight — now gives businesses a way to constantly fine-tune what they do. In itself, this is a new way of working. Organisations that once tried to move forward in occasional big steps are now shifting to a more iterative approach, continuously tweaking what they do in response to the data. The aim is to constantly learn from both the internal and external environments.

“Data is important to the adaptive organisation, but in a different way from a few years ago when it was all about precision and alignment,” says Bellini. “We need to use data insights that inform the next action, and have this as an iterative process, rather than waiting for the perfect data alignment that gives precise answers.”

So the focus is on moving quickly, rather than getting everything right first time. The businesses that have access to data on the impact of each step they take can adjust accordingly — and then they can drive enterprise-wide change. One pilot project BAT ran on remote maintenance of manufacturing sites, for instance, was introduced across the entire company within a month.

Spread power around

But that sort of speed is not possible without a culture of empowerment. If every change needs sign-off from senior management, the decision-making process itself becomes a roadblock. So adaptive businesses devolve power. 

In the first part of Fragile to Agile, Fujitsu’s research into adaptive organisations, 65 per cent of respondents say that decisions should be made by everyone in the company. “Leaders must enable their people to make decisions quickly and easily by giving them the tools, the skills and the data,” says Mallard. “It is about everybody being a leader and being empowered to make a decision — that is the visionary state of the world to get to.”

For many organisations, that will feel like a leap of faith. But the lesson of the Covid-19 crisis is that it is the sort of courage that pays off. When businesses were forced to embrace previously unthinkable changes to almost everything they do, their employees made it work — and the results were dramatic. Sustaining and building on the organisation’s adaptability, especially that of its people, is now the priority.

Fujitsu: Building adaptability through human-centric innovation

To survive and thrive in times of rapid disruption, being able to continuously evolve at pace is essential. Through human-centric innovation, Fujitsu helps organizations worldwide to accelerate iterative yet holistic change that increases business, customer and societal value.

Find out more about Fujitsu and our enterprise transformation capabilities below. From Cloud and Applications, to Data and Emerging Technology Services; we can co-create your ideal solution for an adaptive future.

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