Operating Model: Why a new approach to design is needed.

Operating Model: Why a new approach to design is needed.

New demands

Next time you are in the business section of your favourite bookshop, count the titles that shout out to you how digital has transformed forever how we do business. There are lots. Or pull up on-line your favourite business journal and scan the content for articles describing how digital innovation is reshaping your industry. There will be many more again.

We cannot help but realise that we live in a world of terrific change and fantastic business opportunity, with industries evolving at a pace never seen before. This is the age of digital! And this means new demands on businesses to excel in leveraging and organising their assets for competitive advantage.

How surprising it is then that despite industry transformation, the approaches used to design organisation operating models have adapted so little. Most organisations (and their hired advisors) still deploy design methods that have not fundamentally changed for a decade or more. They are distinctly pre-digital.

Demand a new approach.

For three key reasons:

Need for speed.

Businesses are subject to increasing pressure to respond to market opportunities at pace. No longer can they afford to spend many months designing how to organise capabilities, pause to consider recommendations, then go back and do expensive rework before finally mobilising. Being able to move at speed, seize competitive advantage and access benefits quickly are now fundamental requirements.

Need for adaption.

shutterstock_180577763In today’s world of many new possibilities, things are rarely clear and complexity is high. Experimentation is needed to shape possible answers and refine solutions through fast cycles of testing and learning. Organisations also now need to reconfigure on an on-going basis, not just periodically. This means that the traditional linear (step by step) approach to solution design needs to evolve to a far more dynamic, iterative and continuous design cycle approach.

Need for engagement.

Today’s organisations leverage the capabilities of networks and ecosystems and success is highly dependant on solid engagement of widespread stakeholders. Their involvement throughout the design process is critical to building the very best solutions and achieving commitment to implementation. Innovative ways of demonstrating solutions are also fundamental to achieving common understanding of future operations and setting momentum for change.


A different approach.

Building Better Organisations approaches design differently. Our approach is faster, it produces a more robust design and enables earlier realisation of benefits.

Five critical features that make the difference:

1. Concurrent design.

We take a total architecture approach to the design of solutions. This means that capabilities, organisation structures and delivery processes are defined and configured in unison, rather than in separate streams of design activity that are later brought together. This ensures that all the parts of the target operating model work together as they should do, in a fully integrated way. And because this approach is taken right from the start, potential costly rework is avoided as issues and design problems are surfaced and resolved early.

2. 80/20.

The approach we take is highly iterative. Rather than design a solution in its entirety before testing with expert stakeholders, design and testing cycles are frequent (even daily). We always work together with our clients as one project team in order to pool our expertise to come to the very best solutions. This collaborative way of designing is essential to stakeholders owning the solution, which is fundamental to successful implementation. Early on, we identify the most critical areas of the design and focus depth of attention to ensure these cornerstones of the solution work flawlessly.

3. Collaborative.

Throughout the design approach proposed solutions are tested in workshops. The aim is to refine the design to no more than an 80% complete stage before broader scenario testing in a larger scale collaborative event involving senior leaders and key experts. These events are deeply immersive in the key issues and challenging of the status quo. Critically they generate innovation, accelerate stakeholder alignment and commitment to implementation.

4. Hothousing.

We complete final design together with the team that will deliver the solution. Focused on key scenarios, this final tune-up deploys rapid cycles of detailed improvement to make sure everything works as it should in practice. This approach greatly accelerates sustainable implementation because it irons out any potential operational issues and, at the same time, builds new skills and behaviours. Often achieved in a controlled live environment, it also negates the need for piloting, which enables benefits to be achieved far earlier.

5. Visualisation.

Achieving a common understanding of how solutions will work in practice is essential to mobilising the business as ‘one team’. This is why we build dynamic visual models of target designs, enabling stakeholders to explore how it delivers the most important business scenarios. For example this can include the use of engaging interactive graphics on digital devices to enable navigation and exploration of key processes and scenarios.



Unlock the potential of digital! Demand a better approach by design. 

Find out more 


Talent Management – time to change the game.

What’s the reason why so many football wingers play on the wrong wing? Doesn’t it make sense that a left footed player should play on the left wing and a right footed player on the right wing? Well not necessarily.

Footie fans will confirm that– on the face of it – many of today’s stars play out of natural footed position. For instance, Ashley Young, Adam Johnson, Craig Bellamy are all right footers, but play brilliantly in left sided positions. And in the old days, right footer Tom Finney played on the left in one of England’s best ever attacking line-ups. And these are only a few of many examples.game change

If most footballers were ambidextrous, of course this would all be irrelevant. But in reality ambidexterity is remarkably rare, even amongst football’s highly paid elite. And this means that coaches have needed to think more deeply about how to get the best from their team squad.
So in Tom Finney’s day, coaches began to realise that the team blend was the most important thing. The collective strength of the team was put first and individual football second. Hence that great England line up was assembled. And this approach still holds true today.

But since the old days, the modern game has evolved hugely. Tactics are now far more sophisticated and traditional wing play has been transformed. The convention used to be for wingers to drive to the goal line and whip the ball across the field, in hope of finding an attacker who would flick it goal-bound. But invariably the defence just headed away. So in search of a better way, new tactics have emerged. Now in vogue is cutting in-field with darting, penetrating runs that split the defence apart. Often with much more success. And made possible, of course, by playing a great right footer on the left wing! Playing out of natural position suddenly becomes a big asset to the team!

So what can we learn from this in business?

Put simply, we need to think harder, more flexibly and creatively about how we recognise and play the strengths of our people.

But unfortunately our obsession with standardisation does not make this easy.
Whilst standardisation of our working world brings undoubted advantages, it also means we routinely overlook great talent where people don’t quite fit the mould. Take competency based assessments and performance reviews for example. They tend to focus on a templated and ideal view of talent. And when taken too literally we can end up overly focusing on competency gaps and miss people’s super strengths. It is so easy to spot weakness; it is much harder to think ‘outside the box’ and create conditions that enable strengths to change the game. Don’t forget, ambidexterity is rare, so we need to.

There are high profile examples that illustrate this. For instance, Richard Branson once famously explained in an interview that, because of dyslexia, for a long time he had great difficulty in understanding the difference between Gross and Net profit. On the face of it, not the person you might imagine to be running one of the most successful organisations in the world. But of course the reality is that whilst Richard Branson’s dyslexia presents him with some challenges, its flip side is that it also brings defining strengths. And those strengths of vision, thinking in a different way and making things happen with drive and determination massively outweigh his supposed weaknesses.

Similarly, Albert Einstein, Tom Cruise, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Nigel Kennedy also didn’t fit with the standard profile for success, but have broken through to excel by creating the situation for their strengths to shine. The list of those that didn’t fit the mould is long!

So I urge us in business to think much more creatively about talent management. Rather than strive to clone people to fit the standards for success, we actually need to recognise those that do not fit the mould. We need to help our people find what they are good at, develop and nurture it and make the conditions to play it to advantage. If we think this way then the team blend becomes more powerful than the individual. And just like the wing play, we might just change the game in a way that leads to greater success for everyone.

The Digital Strategy Innovation Summit #DigitalSF

Great insights Didier. Lots to think about.

Didier Bonnet's Blog

So I’ve touched down in San Francisco ahead of The Digital Strategy Innovation Summit where I am speaking tomorrow. My keynote will focus on The Digital Advantage and How Digital Leaders Outperform Their Peers in Every Industry.

You can find my full slide deck session here. You can also read the full Digital Advantage report here.

It would be great to have your feedback, meet you at the event or connect here, on twitter or LinkedIn.

See you at the Summit!


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Grand Designs

My mate has just built his own house. And hats off to him, that’s a brilliant achievement! But without doubt, also slightly bonkers. Building your own house is a titanic struggle. The effort needed is relentless – it took my mate three years – it kills your social life and drains your bank account to the last coppers. My mate even had to sell his car to fund building the garage, which of course is now empty. But despite being brassic, he is happy. And for good reason, he now has a fantastic pad (that is the envy of the few mates he has left) and it does everything he ever wanted. “I couldn’t just have bought it” he says, “it’s custom built for me”.shutterstock_151268339

So my mate now comes to the pub with the rest of us and of course we exchange stories. And what I have learnt about house building is that you need to pick your design and build team carefully. Architects for example are expensive and don’t always listen to what you need. They can impose grandiose ideas that, when it comes to it, don’t work in practice. Number one money pit. Builders can be prone to not seeing the big picture, for example issues looming a few weeks ahead that will impact the schedule. Number two money pit. Coordinating the multitude of trades people needed – groundworkers, dry liners, electricians, plasterers, decorators – to do their stuff right and at the right time. Impossible. Number three money pit. And it goes on. Building a house is a complex business.

So all this chunder about the woes of self house building got me thinking about my line of work. Organisation building. And particularly what clients need. Do they need Architects or Builders? Well the answer is both, but pick carefully.
More times than I would like to mention I have helped organisations recover grandiose (Architect) designs that haven’t worked in practice. Or (Builder) implementations that haven’t been adopted by the business or delivered expected and sustained benefits. And there are some common themes as to why not.

Organisation Architects need to be strong in pulling together and stretching the thinking of leadership to shape clear vision. This is not a job to be done at the drawing board (aka PowerPoint!). This is a job of people interaction, challenge and support. And it is tough. Just like house building plans back at the Architect’s office, there are plenty of standard designs in the lockers of consultants. But the right design is custom built through engaging leadership. Not doing this is the surest route to failure.

Organisation Builders need to be able to build to the Architect’s design. Sounds obvious, but it’s not. Building to the blueprint whilst making sure it will work in practice requires both control and getting people on-board and involved in the build process. Managing the tension between these factors is the job of a master-crafter. It demands expertise and experience. Not getting the appropriate help with this is another surest route to failure.

So pick your Architects and Builders carefully and make sure you get the house you need.

Why sacking the manager is not necessarily the right thing

The UK Football season has just kicked off. Football is back!! And I hear some of you groan that it never went away – with lucrative play-off finals running through late May, I agree, there is hardly a close season anymore.

My team was in one of those play-off finals and I have been miserable ever since! They lost the game and just missed out on promotion to the Premiership. The truth is they just didn’t turn up to the game. But here is the thing – the match was hyped as worth £120m (the supposed value to the winner with entry to the Premiership and the entire circus that goes with it) – and a sum of money that would be absolutely transformational for a humble team like mine. On the day, I am sure that expectation weighed heavy on the players. And almost inevitably, they just didn’t play the super football they served up all season.

Now at many clubs the manager would have got sacked for not securing promotion, especially with such high stakes in play. Football has become so lucrative (in the top division at least) the thirst for success has become unquenchable. No longer just a game – winning is everything. And if the results don’t come then somebody has to carry the can. Think about this – last season, taking all the top four divisions, 40 percent of managers had lost their job by February (just over halfway through the season). That is truly shocking. What’s more, the average tenure of a manager in the second tier division is 1.29 years and there is currently only one manager in the top four divisions that’s been in post for more than 10 years.

So the question is this: does it make sense to sack the manager when form evades the team? Well, the Dutch economist Dr Bas ter Weel has looked at this very question, crunched a bunch of Dutch football data going back 10 years and concluded emphatically that no it doesn’t. Changing the manager during a slump in team performance might improve things in the short term, but he has shown statistically that the same is true if the manager had not been sacked. What the data shows is that a football team’s performance will move towards its average performance; the team finds its level (the mathematically gifted amongst you will know that this is a phenomenon called regression to the mean). What actually makes the difference to a football team’s success is its investment in infrastructure over time. Youth academies, training facilities, top coaches and medical/fitness staff, the stadium, sponsorship and fans – and of course great players. Clubs that do this will over time raise their level (mean performance) and deliver greater consistency of performance around that level. Now I am not saying the manager isn’t a key part of the equation in raising that level, but there are very few genius managers that can lay claim to making the stand-out difference. In fact, even the genius couldn’t raise the level without the backing of the full package of investment. That is what counts.

So why all this waffle about football. Well the point I am demonstrating is that the same rule applies to all businesses. Investment in infrastructure – and people in particular – is the key to raising the level. Winning the war for talent and realising the potential of that talent is what the Premier league enterprises do. They have realised that achieving full potential requires more than great graduate recruitment and development schemes, top performer lists, leadership development programmes, top talent clubs and so on. Premier league enterprises know that raising the level requires active nurturing of talent through coaching, mentoring and thoughtful management of career paths. This is not easy stuff. It has to be culturally embedded and locked into the DNA of how the enterprise operates and manages one of its most important differentiating assets – people capability.

Thankfully, my football club gets this and always has. And that is why they didn’t sack the manager. Currently we are top of the division. Come on the Hornets!

Social media is fab for introverts

I’ve just had a brain wave! This is going to be the breakthrough the team have been looking for and I just need a moment to think it through…… But there is no time, the moment is gone and the debate moves on. My flash of inspiration withers before it’s formed. Sound familiar? Perhaps.

Or if not, maybe this does? Once again you are just bursting for your team-lead to say what you know he is thinking (he is one of the sharpest guys you know), but despite your greatest efforts to tee him up it just isn’t happening. Instead the same old crew rule the roost. They are on the case, thinking out loud, shaping their view on the fly and their assertions carry the day. Nothing wrong with that, business is fast and usually favours the first to the line.

But something remarkable happened the other day at our team meeting. And it really made me think about this….

Jane (not her real name) does great work and is very well-respected by both colleagues and her clients. And not surprisingly, is always in demand. But here is the thing, just like the example above Jane never seems to share her undoubted brilliance and superb insight with the team. Not that Jane isn’t at all engaged with the team (far from it), she just seems rather reflective. That is, until now…..

As I scanned the room, pulling in the views and building the topic of conversation I finally came to Jane. What do you think, I asked. What’s your view, what should we do? Secretly I didn’t expect much and I was sure the sentiment in the room was the same. We were probably all said and done on the topic and moving to a close. But how wrong I was. Gosh! We were about to be blown away!

WOW! WOW! WOW! What ensued was a veritable supernova of well observed comment and opinion like we had never heard before from Jane (or anybody for that matter!). Jane laid out her view with precision and passion.  In a flash the room was captivated. We couldn’t believe it. Then came the wit and the humour….then on her feet, commanding the room to a performance that would have graced any stage. We were whooping and roaring and heckling, by now all on our feet as well in amazement, clapping in admiration. BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT! Simply astonishing and now of course a story that is part of the team folklore.

But where had this fantastic moment come from?!

Well the clues to all this are found in Jung’s theory of personality types and our sources of energy rooted in personal preference and relative interest in the outer or inner worlds. He described how extroverts are more involved with the outside world of people and things, whilst introverts main interests are in the inner world of concepts and ideas. Not to say that anyone is limited to the inner or outside world, but introverts tend to do their best work through reflection, whilst extroverts prefer immediacy of action, streaming their thoughts out loud. If you want to learn more about this, Isabel Briggs Myers explores and describes this rich tapestry of personality type in her book Gifts Differing.

Jane definitely is an introvert and on this day we witnessed her full on power because she decided to turn it on in the external world.  She was in the zone, she had her thoughts on the matter all lined up, she was on fire, after-burners blazing!

So that is what got me thinking. Thinking how the fast paced world of today’s business, with its unquenchable thirst for immediacy favours the extrovert. How we make assumptions about who has something interesting to say. That soundbites dominate. And how in that world making your voice heard first and loudest can often be key to power and influence. How shallow and selective our hearing can be and what little latitude we give for ranges of personality types. How hard that can be if you are an introvert. And how we are all truly the poorer for it.

So the conclusion is that extroverts win the day. Or do they?

Then the true message in all this came to me. That’s an old paradigm. The digital world has changed that paradigm for ever. And that’s exciting.

The new paradigm is that Social Media is brilliant for introverts. It levels the playing field. Makes no distinction on personality type. Is an ideal platform for expression of thought. Removes all barriers and boundaries to being heard. Provides time and space with no constraint. Serves up equal clout.

So if this story resonates with you, my message is simple. I strongly urge you not to delay – find your digital voice now. Get involved. Experiment with social media platforms, have your say in the debate and make your influence felt. Our world will undoubtedly be a richer and more balanced place for it.