Supertanker size, speedboat agility.

Stephen Mulligan
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On: 16 Aug 2018
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

When business circumstances change suddenly and an opportunity or challenge arises as a result, do you ever find yourself wishing you were operating in a smaller business, so you could react more quickly?

In a rapidly changing world, it’s easy to imagine that many executives in similar positions feel the same way. Yet consider the viewpoint of an executive in an enterprise many times larger than even the largest Irish business: Amazon or Google, for example. Do you believe they ever feel hamstrung by their size and unable to adapt to change? It’s unlikely. We need to ask what it is that makes some enterprises envy the flexibility and adaptability of SMEs, while others are equally adept at taking advantage of change?

Hamstrung or hidebound?

It’s easy to blame a lack of flexibility on the need for a larger enterprise to be more accountable to stakeholders, both internal and external. Good governance is also paramount, and there will be strict risk management controls to be adhered to. Not to mention the higher profile of large businesses and the very real possibility of media attention and reputational damage if a decision has unforeseen negative consequences.

The supertanker enterprise must stick to its plotted course; not only because changing direction is such a slow process, but also because there are rocks and shallows to avoid. On the other hand, the speedboat SME can take advantage of a change in the waves or the weather, take uncharted shortcuts, and dodge around the hazards with impunity.

Is the lack of flexibility on the part of enterprise simply a result of their size, or is it really a product of their risk-averse corporate culture? While the need for good governance and risk management cannot (and should not) be changed, the culture of the organisation can adjust in subtle but important ways.

While the need for good governance and risk management cannot be changed, the culture of the organisation can adjust in subtle but important ways.

Customers first.

Many large enterprises have an unstated cultural bias towards inaction. It’s less of a risk after all. Consequences of actions are considered in terms of what they may do to the business rather than what they may do for the customer. The result is that little changes, and what does change changes slowly.

Switching that bias towards putting the customer first means organisational change is far more likely to happen. The evolved culture of the business will require that opponents of change find a reason not to do something, rather than proponents having to find a reason to do it. However, this doesn’t mean jumping overboard form the supertanker into a speedboat. Large enterprises may not change often, but when they do, those changes can have significant positive effects – on the marketplace, on the customer and on the enterprise itself. The key is to take a different attitude to navigating the larger vessel.

Flexible is as flexible does.

A powerful enabler of flexible thinking within an organisation is flexible working. Adopting, for example, a Unified Communications (UC) environment which gives employees the capability to work efficiently anywhere, on any device, at any time, not only frees them from office premises and traditional office hours, but also helps to free their thinking. In addition, it helps to increase productivity, job satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

When work is something you do, rather than a place you go, the bias towards action is inevitable.

Nevertheless, flexibility should never be a free-for-all. Even flexible and mobile working needs to remain within the bounds of good governance and risk management, using approved corporate tools and with policies in place for data security, sharing and storage.

The more flexible your workforce, the more evolved your management culture needs to be. Management by attendance needs to give way to management by clear and measurable objectives. Individual objectives should roll up to the business area and corporate objectives. Every employee should see a direct correlation between what they do and the overall company strategy and should be empowered to act within this framework in the best interest of the customer.

The inflexible infrastructure.

Even when there is a desire for change within an enterprise, infrastructure can often lag behind culture. Overhauling the ICT environment and changing technology platforms can be far more difficult and costly than changing mindsets. One strategy that can help the changing enterprise is the adoption of a ‘cloud-first’ approach.

The cloud enables flexibility for any enterprise, by minimising the investment required and making change – whether in scale, tools or infrastructure – relatively quick and easy to achieve. A seasonal requirement or unexpected opportunity to scale-up won’t demand irreversible investment in hardware. An unexpected downturn won’t leave the enterprise with costly but unwanted assets to maintain. A change of location, focus or mode of operation can be accommodated with little fuss, little cost and optimum speed and efficiency. All the things, in fact, which a larger enterprise might envy about an SME.

With the opportunities presented by mobile working and cloud technology, it’s the enterprises that think like small businesses which are really thinking big.

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