Digital Transformation & Maturity

You don’t make a striker learn goal-keeping skills, so…

Why do we focus on people’s weaknesses at work instead of their strengths? Because we’re stuck with 50-year old approaches to talent that don’t work for digital. Nathan Ott, CEO, The GC Index, explains what needs to change and how to do it.

The GC Index has worked closely with the Forum and its members for two years, and it has helped refine our thinking. We started off looking at how to identify game-changers, but then realized the importance of the other roles needed to make things happen in an organization.

The GC Index creates a framework and language that helps teams and organizations understand how to align ALL their talents to achieve transformational change.

Typically, in any organization:

  • people work in a business that to compete and thrive, needs to innovate and drive transformational change; but
  • there is a tension between being problem-centered and possibility-centric; so
  • the objective is to have an organizational culture that is safe to fail in rather than fail-safe.

Transformation is a team sport

Outdated, one-dimensional views of talent focus on individuals. They tend to confuse promotion with performance – if someone is great at their job, give them more money and responsibilities – and the myth of the hero innovator persists. Creativity might well lie with certain individuals, but successful innovation to bring about transformation is a team sport. All the team roles shown in the graphic below are essential. As we will see, the relative importance of them shifts, depending on where you are and what you’re trying to achieve.

The GC index roles

Source: The GC Index

Organizations use various methods to measure individuals, but the one thing common thing they all tend to focus on is improving weaknesses: Reviews are normally around things people could have done better. The way forward is to move to a team-based, reward-based structure where people complement each other and play to their strengths. We know all this, yet persist in using the individualistic old metrics and management approaches.

Take football – a team sport – you don’t invest time teaching a striker how to play in goal, unlike in an individual sport where someone must improve their all-round game to compete. Again, transformation is a team sport.

Roles within teams and especially the play-maker

The GC Index has evolved to look at teams, the necessary roles within them, how they function and how to evolve the way they function (see graphic). The game-changers in the top right are very disruptive and hard for corporate cultures to accommodate. Game-changers’ ideas-centric partners ‘above the lines’ are strategists, who are more analytical and linear – often people with MBAs. Strategists do not necessarily originate ideas.

The task-focused parts of the team (below the middle line) are all about getting stuff done, and often are driven by a sense of urgency. They want to stop the thinking and get on with it. They are essential to making things happen. The polishers are highly innovative; they look for continual improvement and learning, and making things the best they can be. They are about incremental change. Compared with the game-changer, they are INNOVATION versus INVENTION.

Or to put it another way…

Now we come to the play-maker in the middle. They are focused on relationships. They are not about being socially adept or being nice to people; it’s not about emotional intelligence. Their role is about enabling through empowering others, by exploiting people’s strengths and combining them with those of others to get a powerful, effective team.

A good idea, no matter how good, is no use unless you can do something about it and make it happen. Otherwise it’s just an idea. If you act on an idea, it needs to be refined and improved; you need the language to ensure it makes an impact and a contribution.

Different teams for different times

In traditional corporate structures, it’s mostly below the central, horizontal line, and about getting stuff done; we have to get stuff done to pay the bills. This is where the board says,

“I want to see data, I want to see information. Where are we and what are we doing?” But there is a big hole there if you want to do something different, not business as usual.

If we genuinely want to embrace a safe-to-fail culture and move the organization forward, then we need to embrace original thinking and try out things that might not work. But someone has to say, “Let’s try that and see what happens.” It needs to become commonplace and at every level. We talk about it, but we don’t really do it. We need to measure people on the impact they make on the team: We need to be horizontal, not vertical, and move to being rewards-based. Until we do that, we can’t make the changes we desire happen.

Then we need to start asking questions, because we might not need all these roles to the same extent all the time. Sometimes we desperately need the people who are going to get stuff done; other times the strategists need to be in the ascendancy. Sometimes when we need to spread ideas and learning, and improvement across the organization; we really need the polishers to step up. The roles shift and change emphasis during the transformation process. We assume the leadership team drives the culture.

Let’s look at teams at different stages – and they are all successful and no single team is better or worse than the other, so long as have the right framework expressed in simple language, and are regarded and rewarded for it. An inventive team comes up with ideas, it’s their natural inclination, but don’t ask them to think strategically.

A transformational leadership team has the creativity and knows how to apply it to a business context. There’s no point approaching a strategic board with an idea that’s going to save the world or a business unit unless the team has some strategic capabilities. Without them, they won’t be listened to by such a board.

An innovative leadership team doesn’t need creativity; they’ve got it. They already disrupted their market, leaving a traditional bank, say, to launch an online-only bank. Now their focus is improving service to clients. If they want any more creativity, they’ll bring it in as needed, but otherwise that structure will do them for probably five years.

More traditional teams, which is what big corporations tend to look like and need to look like to be safe – focus on quarterly results and getting stuff done. Culture is not dimensional, but we all need to understand our role and how it fits in to create a culture in which everyone can contribute.

This article is a summary of Nathan’s presentation in The Executive Summit at Nice, France, during TM Forum Live! in May.


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