The Paradox of Growth

Alongside profitability, growth is seen as a cornerstone of organisational success. Growth implies market fit — it indicates that the world wants more of what you do. Growth is generally seen as a desirable objective for CEOs and business leaders but there is an underlying paradox to business growth: the more you grow the harder it becomes to grow.

Initially, growth makes things easier. Organisations gain certain benefits as they scale (sometimes referred to as economies of scale). For example, materials can be bought cheaper, machinery and people can be better used, and overhead costs such as rent and utilities can be spread across greater output. All these factors serve to lower the cost of doing work, which in turn makes an organisation more competitive and, as a result, improves profitability.

These benefits generally kick in quickly but then slowly dissipate (you might get a 20% discount if you double an order but you don’t get a 40% discount if you quadruple it). On the other hand, the challenges of growth start slowly but then rise rapidly. These challenges (sometimes referred to as diseconomies of scale) include maintaining communication as an organisation grows, the problems of coordinating the work of more people, more layers of management and slower decision making, and the need for more reporting, checks and balances to ensure the right work is being done in the right way.

Research suggests that as organisations grow, they reach a tipping point where complexity starts growing faster than revenue which leads to decreasing productivity, falling profits, overworked employees, and growing frustration for business owners. Eventually, they reach a point where the cost is greater than what people will pay and there is no point in the organisation growing further.

Unless…

…it can push out the point where things get harder. Obviously some organisations grow very big and very profitable, but they don’t achieve this using the same systems and processes they used when they were small. If an organisation wants to grow to its full potential it will eventually need to rethink how it does its work. Key to this renewal is bringing in the technology solutions that automate, simplify, and streamline work, allowing for further growth without increased headcount and the complexity and challenges it brings with it.

Ideally, this isn’t done when everything is already broken but done on a continual basis. Rather than identifying and fixing the things that are already broken, a continuous approach allows organisations to prepare in advance for the processes and tools they might need in the future. Perhaps the biggest challenges for growing organisations is finding the time and resources to do this proactively. This can be a real challenge when people are already feeling stretched, but committing the time up front is almost always less costly than dealing with the consequences later.

If your organisation is experiencing growing pains and you want to do something about it, consider the benefits of joining The Digital Champions Club, a community of practice that shows you all the tools you need to leverage growth through better technology use.

Digital Champions Scholarships: Half the cost, twice the value

Twelve months ago, I decided to offer a series of scholarships to my Digital Champions Club. The decision was based on conversations with my good friend Mykel Dixon who strongly felt that the people who most deserve to be in a program are sometimes people who can’t afford it. With the support of my fellow coaches, Kate Fuelling and Gabe Alves, we offered two half and one full 12-month scholarship to the program.

The outcome has been A-MAZ-ING

Not only have we had the opportunity to support three incredible Not-for-Profit organisations, their champions have delivered back to both their organisations and the program in spades. Their enthusiasm has been infectious and their energy levels have been off the charts. It’s as if the scholarships have provided them an opportunity and they aren’t going to waste it. They might be paying half the cost (or none of it) but through their effort and commitment they seem to be getting twice the value.

It is for that reason Kate, Gabe and I are pumped to be launching our scholarship program for 2020. Scholarships are open to Australian Not-for-Profits and other values-driven organisations (you don’t need to have any particular status, you just need to be doing meaningful work). Applications open on the 1st October and run through until the 31st of October but if you’re interested in applying (or know someone who is) we encourage you to start the ball rolling earlier rather than later. Joining the Digital Champions Club requires a significant internal commitment and the sooner you get started the sooner you’ll be ready.

To make it easier for potential applicants, we’ve created an information pack that can be sent to your inbox, printed (if necessary), and shared with potential sponsors and other stakeholders.

Finally, if you don’t work for a suitable organisation but you know someone who does I encourage you to forward this email on or use the share buttons below to help spread the word.

Let’s get this message out to the people who deserve it the most!

Just in case you need any further motivation check out this testimonial video from Julia Gregg from Contemporary Arts Precinct Ltd.

PS – If you’ve already signed up to receive updates on the scholarships we will shoot you out a copy of the Information Pack via email.

IT is not a cost centre

I have ranted before about the shortfalls of budgeting and how budgeting encourages us to think of projects in terms of cost rather than in terms of value creation. This is particularly troubling for parts of the organisation known as Corporate (or Shared) Services. Corporate Services generally include areas such as Legal, Human Resources, Procurement and IT. These services are necessary for the smooth operation of the business, but unlike Operations, they are generally not considered to be income generating. As they aren’t directly involved in income generation, they are often seen by the rest of the business as a necessary evil where their cost (and often their involvement) needs to be minimised (for IT this challenge is often particularly acute because in many large organisations the Head of IT reports into the CFO).

The problem with this approach is by focusing on cost minimisation, organisations inadvertently also reduce value generation.

In the modern workplace, technology improvements have become an increasingly fertile ground for innovation but ‘innovation’ is often in direct conflict to the IT department’s primary objective of platform stability and security. Perhaps the simplest definition of innovation is ‘change that creates value’, but change both contradicts the goal of stability and also necessarily comes with attached risk, and risk is often viewed in conflict with the goal of security.

This perceived conflict has created a certain inertia in how IT departments operate that somewhat ironically results in more but different types of risk. Organisations might think they are reducing short-term operational risk by focusing on stability and security, but in doing so they are creating medium-term implementation risks (as change shifts from being small, relatively simple and continuous to large, relatively complex and sporadic) and longer-term strategic risks (as competitors identify and implement technology innovations at a faster rate).

An alternative is to re position IT (and perhaps all corporate services) as innovation catalysts. Rather than passively waiting for people to tell them what they need, IT could be proactively engaging with the business to find out what could be done better (and then working in partnership to make it happen). I often talk of IT as being Digital Champions but like many terms that have entered our collective lexicon, its familiarity has led to it losing some of its meaning. A Digital Champion is someone who keeps abreast of emerging technology opportunities and then champions its potential within the organisation. Championing something is unavoidably and unashamedly proactive. It requires constant engagement, education and ultimately a sense of (shared) service.

If this feels like a seismic shift, it doesn’t need to be. Like any change it is best if it’s started small. It should not be focused on investing in or developing new platforms and instead aim to unlock the latent potential in the platforms an organisation has already invested in. Perhaps the biggest change requires is a change of mindset. Like other Corporate functions, IT are often treated as second class citizens, and as a result many have come to believe it. But by giving the IT team the tools and training, and subsequently the belief that they can drive innovation and add ridiculous amounts of value to the organisation, we can change this perception.

At the end of the day, the best way for IT departments to change the perception that they’re more than a cost centre is to prove it. All they need to do is take the time to understand people’s challenges and then share the know how they already have.  Person by person, team by team, department by department.

I’ll be hosting a two-day intensive program on 15-16 October in Sydney where we will take your champions through the process of identifying, investigating and delivering technology improvements with sustainable success. As a special offer, use the promo code INTENSIVE20 to avail of a 20% discount on the ticket price. Click here for tickets and further information on this insanely practical event.

What is the minimum rigour?

When it comes to getting technology projects approved in organisations, there is almost always a detailed process to follow. This process is designed to ensure that each project is rigorously assessed and the right projects get approved. But is it possible to have too much rigour?

The difference between making things and improving things
Most project assessment processes are designed for making new things. Project management methodologies such as PRINCE2 and PMBOK provide lengthy processes for identifying stakeholders, collecting business requirements, creating business cases, getting project approval, assembling the project team and planning the project…all before anything actually gets done. Now it’s not to say that these processes don’t have value, but for smaller ‘improvement projects’ they can also add unnecessary complexity and friction.

Rigour makes things rigid
Long convoluted approval processes that define projects to exacting requirements can in fact make projects unnecessarily rigid. Not only can excessive planning make us option-blind (unable to see previously unconsidered but potentially beneficial courses of action) research also suggests that increased planning is not necessarily correlated with greater value generation. There is a real risk that too much rigour means we’re developing worse outcomes, not better ones.

Rigour adds friction
The secret to promoting certain behaviours within an organisation is to decrease the friction associated with more preferable behaviours and increase the friction associated with less preferable ones. If we assume that organisations want to be more innovative, and that a simple definition of innovation is just ‘change that creates value’, then we need to decrease the friction associated with identifying and approving change initiatives. If we make it hard and time consuming for people to identify and implement improvements in how they work (or with the technology systems they use) then their most likely response to a new idea is ’stuff it’.

Rigour is often opaque
The process for getting a project approved is often unclear, and sometimes intentionally so. In fact, there are often vested interests in saying ’no’ and maintaining the status quo (for instance this might happen where the value of a project accrues to one part of the organisation, such as marketing or operations, but the cost of implementing and maintaining the project falls on a different part of the organisation, such as IT). The more complex the approval process and the more variables to consider, the less transparent the process becomes.

In praise of minimum rigour
If we were to apply the Pareto principle, we could estimate that 80% of the risk of a project can be removed by applying just 20% of the rigour. What’s more, reducing the amount of effort (and ‘sunk costs’) that go into the assessment process means that even after a project has been approved, we are less likely to feel beholden to it if conditions or information changes. So what exactly does minimum rigour look like? Well this might change from one organisation to another but there are certain characteristics you might look for

  1. It fits on a page – The plan on a page approach is common in improvement methodologies such as Lean Manufacturing. I’ve seen the ‘plan on a page’ concept extended to two sides of an A3 piece of paper but my belief is that a good plan can be presented on one side of an A4 page.
  2. It answers the big questions – There should be some clear questions that need to be answered as to why the project is being done (including a clear value proposition), how the outcome is going to be achieved, and what is going to happen.
  3. Anyone can use it – As soon as you require a Business Analyst or some other specialist person to complete the project plan, you have added unnecessary friction. The process should be available to everyone and the process for getting to ‘Yes’ should be quite clear.

The Digital Champions Framework teaches an approach to minimum rigour for IT improvement projects based on just nine questions. If you’d like to learn the approach and understand how it can be applied check out our upcoming two-day intensive training programs in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.*

*Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on DCC event tickets.


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH
4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE
15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets


See Simon Speak

Simon will be joining a panel of five awesome speakers who will be presenting at the Getting Sh!t Done Events on the following dates:

11 JUNE | CANBERRA
13 JUNE | MELBOURNE

Between the suggestion box and shadow IT

What is your organisation’s approach to identifying technology opportunities? One common approach is some form of suggestion box. Just pop your idea (somewhat ironically) onto a piece of paper and drop it in the box. At some later undefined date, an ‘expert’ will assess the idea and determine whether it is valid (often with little understanding of the person or job that it relates to) and affordable (often including an assessment of cost but rarely an assessment of value).

Then, assuming it meets the required criteria it will then be added to the backlog of other projects that the under-staffed IT team is currently trying to wade through. When it finally gets to the front of the queue, it will then take another indeterminate amount of time to write and approve a requirements document and scope of work which is the precursor to getting something done.

Unfortunately this approach is slow, opaque and full of friction. This in turn results in people not bothering to use it, even if they have genuinely good and easy to implement opportunities. In fact, the friction of the suggestion box method is a major contributor to another method, commonly referred to as ‘shadow IT’.

Shadow IT is when technology products are procured and deployed without the knowledge of the IT department. It involves individuals identifying a problem themselves and then playing around with a few different apps to see if one can help fix it. After signing up for half a dozen free trials and testing each of the apps with potentially sensitive corporate data, they then select their preferred solution, enter in their credit card details and the work is done…unless of course they didn’t test their requirements completely and they then find out the app didn’t work as they hoped.

Clearly, this approach also has its shortcomings. Not only is there no real consideration for information security, there is also a complete lack of rigour. These issues mean that most organisations don’t generally condone the shadow IT approach.

So what sits between the suggestion box and shadow IT? Could we add a little rigour and process to the shadow IT approach or potentially improve the speed, transparency and effectiveness of the suggestion box? Could we perhaps bring those two things together and get the best of both worlds?

The Digital Champions Framework provides a way for your citizen experts (those people in your organisation who are digitally savvy but sit outside the IT team) to identify, investigate and deliver simple yet valuable technology improvements. Not only does the development of internal digital champions facilitate the delivery of technology improvements without unnecessary burden on already stretched IT resources, it also creates ‘bottom up’ support for larger digital transformation projects.

To find out more about the Digital Champions Framework my Digital Champions Club is running a series of two-day intensives in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. I will also be running an introductory breakfast event in Sydney at the end of this month where you can find out more about the framework and how to implement it successfully.

*Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on tickets.


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

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14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH

4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE

15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets

Automate the task, not the relationship

One of the biggest challenges with the constant barrage of new technologies is making sure we look past the novelty of the new to find meaningful use. This is particularly the case when it comes to automated marketing and communication.

It makes sense to automate low value repetitive tasks that no one enjoys doing. But we need to be very careful that we don’t allow technology to take over the personal and the meaningful. Don’t ever confuse a blog post sent out to your 3,000 followers as a relationship building exercise. That’s just information sharing, real relationship building is far more intimate than this.

Our ability to create meaningful relationships is also incredibly limited. Research suggests that we struggle to maintain more than 150 meaningful relationships which forces us to chose who we want to have each of those relationships with. But these limitations are core to us seeing value in the relationships we have. If we could automate relationships and have as many as we wanted, they’d just become worth less.

This is basic forces of supply and demand at play and this is why we ultimately value the things in life that can’t be mass produced. So embrace technology, embrace automation, but also be very careful you don’t accidentally take something that is meaningful and valuable and just make it cheap.

This blog has been lifted from an interview I did…

Three indicators your current approach to technology isn’t working

‘We operate in a conservative industry and suddenly it became really fast paced. We knew we needed to use technology to drive efficiencies and be competitive but we didn’t know where to start. We didn’t know what to do.’

The above quote comes from one of my clients. We were having a conversation recently and this is how he responded when I asked him why he joined the Digital Champions Club. I’m not sure he realised it at the time but in just a couple of short sentences he identified three excellent indicators of whether an organisation’s current digital transformation approach is serving them.

In fact, if any one of these things is true for you, it’s probably time to step back and make sure your approach is keeping you on track.

Things are getting faster, faster than you are

This particular client runs an accounting and business advisory practice. Accounting is not one of those industries that you’d generally describe as dynamic. Yet over the last few years, a combination of cloud and mobile technology, outsourcing and, more recently, A.I. has started to dramatically change the way the industry operates. If you’d describe your industry as generally conservative and yet you’re finding that things around you are starting to move faster than you are, it’s probably a sign you’re not keeping up with technological changes.

Your margins are being squeezed and you’re facing more competition

Two of the biggest benefits that organisations achieve from successful technology projects are improvements in quality and increased efficiency. Both of these have the potential to dramatically shift an organisation’s value proposition. In addition, the shift of work away from individual premises and onto the cloud is removing geography as a barrier to competition.

You don’t know which technology project to do next

Often not knowing what to do next is not because you can’t identify opportunities but rather because you have more opportunity than you can possibly manage and you may also lack the internal expertise to manage the projects well. This is particularly the case for small and medium sized organisations who don’t have the scale to justify a full time Chief Digital Officer or other technology innovation type role. Instead, often relying on a more traditional IT function whose primary focus is to ‘keep the lights on’ and lacks the expertise in innovation and change management to identify, prioritise and implement new technology solutions.

I have four events coming up where I will be talking through my game plan for successful digital projects. If you’d like to find out more check out the links below.

__________

Next week I will be presenting two events in Perth. If you’re available on either the 9th of April for 5:30pm or 11th or April from 7:30am you might like to come along and find out about my Game Plan for Successful Digital Projects.

  • Use the promo code ISUBSCRIBE to get half price tickets

I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the Getting Sh!t Done Club on the 11th June in Canberra and again on the 13 June in Melbourne. Tickets won’t be released until after Easter but if you’d like to be one of the first to know, send us a message and we’ll keep you up to date.

Find out what makes you common, not what makes you unique

We live in a society that values individuality both in our personal and professional lives. Personal Branding and Unique Selling Propositions are all the rage, but there is at least one area where we are better off seeking out what we have in common with others – rather than what makes us special.

 
Technology.
 
If we look at most of the good apps and software available to us, they generally do one thing really well: Dropbox excels at making it easy to share files with others, Gmail allows us easily receive, manage and send messages, and although I’m not a huge fan, Microsoft Word does a good job of dividing up information into A4 size chunks and sharing them in a way that most other people will be able to access and open.
 
This is in no way an accident. The value proposition for software developers relies on identifying a task their software can do better than others, charge a very small amount of money for it (and probably throw in a free option), and do it a million times over with low marginal costs. The value proposition for almost every software or app developer on the planet is reliant on scale, and therefore commonality. In fact, the general rule for startups is that unless you can have 10,000 active users (which means 10,000 people who all want to do exactly the same thing) then you don’t have something worth investing in.
 
The benefits of commonality and using off the shelf solutions are numerous. 
 
  1. If you find a problem for which there’s already an established solution, then it’s likely you have an actual problem rather than an assumed problem.
  2. The time and cost of developing a solution is greatly reduced if someone has already gone ahead and done it for you. This in turn means that you can solve the problem and generate a return faster.
  3. The competition amongst developers within a particular specialisation means that they have thought far more about required functionality and usability than you have.
  4. The cost of maintaining the solution is greatly reduced because you’re sharing development costs across all users instead of just one.
  5. You can learn from the experience of other users before you. If you’re unique, then you will be making all the mistakes yourself. When you seek out commonality, you can learn from all the mistakes that everyone else has already made. This greatly reduces the risk of implementation and dramatically improves the value proposition.
 
So how is it that we reconcile our uniqueness with the need for commonality?
At a strategic level we need to be able to understand what differentiates our organisation from others. Delivering against our strategy is generally achieved through a series of objectives. Those objectives will consist of multiple activities and we can break down activities into a collection of tasks. It is not at the strategic level, but rather at the task level we should be seeking commonality with others.
 
The ability to find commonality with other organisations and identifying mutual technology opportunities is key to the value proposition of the Digital Champions Club. It allows members to identify new opportunities, reduces risk and leads to faster and more successful implementation. Members of the program explicitly commit to sharing the projects they’re working on and as a result, we now have a shared library of over 100 projects that have been investigated and/or implemented by members of the program. And perhaps 70% or more of those are ones where they could (or have) be copied by another organisation in a different industry with completely different objectives.
 
That’s the power of finding out what makes you common.

A Festive Cheer (an Ode to the Digital Champions Club scholarship winners)

For what is likely to be my last blog post of the year,
I thought I’d round it out with a little festive cheer.
And given that it is the most festive of times
I thought I’d have a crack of doing it in rhyme.

But this is not just any old festive cheer, oh no
It a special cheer for those who  are willing to ‘give it a go’.
This little hurrah, hurray, whoop, bravo and shout
Is for all of the applicants who recently tried out.
For one of the digital champions scholarships we recently awarded
But as you’re about to find out that as history has recorded
Not all could be successful in this endeavour
Even though their applications were all thoughtful and clever.

So [insert a drum roll] and let a hush descend over the crowd
As we stand on the roof tops and shout the winners’ names aloud.

The first of our new scholars is perhaps the only with a household name
They are the life saving, CPR training team at St Johns (of ambulance fame).

The second of the scholarships went to the incredible Summit Health band
Who support country GPs across this wide open land.

And finally our one and only full scholarship goes
To a little organisation of which few people know.
Suffice to say their application was more than just thoughtful and clever,
it was also engaging, creative and succinct
It was a unanimous decision with no questions whatsoever
To award it to Sarah, Julia and Marcus at the Contemporary Arts Precinct.

So rather than try and push this rhyme thing much more
I think it’s time I signed off and headed out the door.
But before I go let’s have just one more round of clapping and applause
This time for all of you out there who tagged, shared and posted for the cause.
The campaign was ultimately a success and many applications were received
(And given the short timeframes we were plenty relieved)
But at the DCC we know this wasn’t magic, chance or blind luck, our network was the key
So to all of those who spread the word
thank you, thank you, thank you…you’re all legends to me!

I hope to see you in 2019!

Simon

How to get adults to act like kids (in the best possible way)

On the weekend I took my seven and ten year old girls to their first ever music festival. Now, anyone who has regularly attended music festivals such as (the now defunct) Big Day Out, Falls Festival or even more adult orientated events such as A Day on the Green may question whether taking children to a music festival is such a good idea. Mainly because when adults attend music festivals, most of them or many of them end up acting like kids…and when I say this I mean it in the worst possible way. 

At their worst, kids act selfishly and without any real sense of responsibility. They lack the awareness to understand what’s going on around them and fail to acknowledge the impact their actions are having on those around them.  Fuelled by music, alcohol (and other illicit substances) and without social norms of their day-to-day environment to constrain them. This is how many adults behave at music festivals.

But this was a very different type of music festival. Created by the founder of Falls Festival, The Lost Lands has been built from the ground up as a festival for families. There were still big name music acts but these were interspersed with performances and other activities for kids. There were comedy shows, acrobatic performances, dance classes, a movie night and even a giant ferris wheel. Not only did the festival create an incredibly safe space for children, it also encouraged many of the adults to act more like kids…and this time I mean it in the best way possible.

At their best, kids are caring, trusting and generous. They aren’t hampered by cynicism or past baggage. Instead, they are filled with wonder, open to learning and want to explore and try new things. And this was how I saw every single adult behaving at The Lost Lands. They spent their time moving between the acts that they already knew about and the performances that interested their children. They tested their skills on games made out of old bicycle parts, got their face painted. At the same time the adults acted more like adults than at an 18+ event: they were thoughtful, helpful and incredibly respectful of giving others around them, especially children, space to dance and enjoy themselves.

There is a quote by Dennis Bakke that goes “If you treat people like adults they will act like adults, but if you treat them like children they will act like children.” But what if you want them to act like both? What if you want adults to act with the maturity of adults but with the openness and wonder of children?

And at this point we’re going to segue to from how organisers plan music festivals to how organisations approach technology (I’m approaching this from the perspective of technology change because that’s what I do, but I think this analogy is relevant to many facets of organisational life).

The traditional approach to IT was to treat people like children…and when I say this I mean it in the worst possible way. They weren’t to be trusted, couldn’t make decisions for themselves and just needed to do what they were told and eat whatever was put in front of them. Of course they generally just pushed their technology around the plate with a fork, they became stubborn about trying new things even if it was ‘good for them’. Some rebelled, started sneakily using new technology without asking permission, or if things got really bad they chucked a tantrum and left the organisation. Treating them like kids got them to act like kids at their worst.

But what if we could get people to act like kids at their best? To be inquisitive about new technology and new ideas, to play and explore, to share and collaborate with their friends in a thoughtful, caring and respectful way? How could we get our end users to see the wonder and get genuinely excited about technological change and create a culture that celebrates learning and growth? 

Much has been written about the difference between the leading and the laggard organisations when it comes to technology. But I believe even these organisations could learn something from The Lost Lands. And although the following list is not exhaustive, it provides some ideas as to how we can encourage people to better understand the role technology plays in our work and our lives by getting lost in the wonder of technology for a while. 

  1. Make it fun – If technology always involves change, effort or more work then it will always be challenging to get engagement.
  2. Provide enough time – People are busy. We need to give the gift of time if we want people to explore new ideas and understand their application.
  3. Provide a safe space – We don’t need to celebrate failure so much as acknowledging that failure is a necessary part of innovation. If we want people to innovate we need to provide a safe space, away from customer and client facing work, to test and potentially fail in.
  4. Give guidance – Make sure there are always people around who can provide encouragement, direction, advice and support. 
  5. Limit the rules – Not only do rules limit everyone to the standard set by the lowest common denominator, they imply a lack of trust and discourage a critical understanding of positive and negative behaviours. 
  6. Encourage diversity (in everything) – A diversity of technology, people and ideas means that you will be be exposed to new ideas, just by standing still.
  7. Be full of surprises – Constantly give people a reason to wonder (and wander)