We live in a knowledge economy, an economy where we aim to stay relevant by leveraging the the internet of things and the internet of everything to answer our every question as fast as our little, sometimes sausage-like, fingers can touch a tiny screen.

In today’s hyper-connected, digitized world there are three challenges that every business leader must face in order for his or her company to stay relevant:

1) The speed of technological advancement

2) Information overload

3) Human disposition toward change

More specifically with information accessibility is information literacy—the ability to navigate and interpretmassive amounts of information and pare it down into something not only manageable, but comprehensible and applicable for the masses.

However, it doesn’t stop there. 

The problem between the above three challenges is aligning the current systems, processes and behaviors within an organization to fit them all. Namely, you need to not only keep up with the times in terms of technological relevance but also be poised to acquire the right information you need through such technology, interpret it and disseminate it.

Welcome to the challenge of how to stay relevant.

How To Stay Relevant

The problem, of course, is this: the means by which organizations share and interpret information are outdated. In many of the companies I’ve consulted, their way of operating is based off an outdated operating model: hierarchy.

Hierarchy is a product of yesteryear. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for linear-processing and rank-and-file management (the conventional military comes to mind), but in today’s day and age where companies compete at the speed of adaptability but adapt at the speed of learning, hierarchy poses another, albeit indirect, threat: an organization’s ability and capacity—the skill and will—to adapt to change.

Companies compete at the speed of adaptability but adapt at the speed of learning. 

I say indirect because more often than not, how you see a problem typically is the problem.

It’s not so easy to attribute hierarchy to a company’s failings because chances are that company has been successful over the years. It’s been profitable, it’s navigated uncertainty, so how they’ve operated in the past must be right, right?

Wrong.

The complacency of success is a very real yet indirect threat to any organization’s relevance. Just look at Kodak, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, even HP who were completely competent in how they operated for a very long time. However, times changed, and these companies never took the time to question whether how they operated was right.

No, hierarchy is outdated. Command and control worked in the 20th century where the goal was to become more efficient, to save cost by eliminating wasted efforts and duplicative processes. But in today’s day and age of “pivoting” (a term as annoying as that mosquito in your ear) and the IoT/IoE, speed is the name of the game, and one thing hierarchy is not known for is a fast “read and react” time.

So, the question becomes, what is your organization doing to adapt to the times? What is your organization doing to align the growing trend of technology and the relevant information it affords with the current behaviors in your organization that determine how work gets accomplished?

Here’s an example of what I mean.

The first company I consulted for was a Fortune 500 company in Silicon Valley. They were in the tech space and were facing an industry shift of having to move from hard drives to the cloud and they needed to figure out how they were going to stay relevant amidst this inevitable change (and change is inevitable, which is why the complacency of success kills).

Anyway, the challenge they faced was the same challenge that every other company has faced that I’ve consulted for since: relying upon the behaviors of yesterday to carry you through tomorrow.

By behaviors I’m referring to how tasks get identified, assigned, executed, and adapted; the frequency at which groups and teams assemble and how they assemble; the cadence of meetings and the deconfliction between multiple meeting agendas; and the metrics that define right (not gonna lie, there’s a lot more to this list).

If, for instance, there are unclear job descriptions, ambiguous roles, unclear responsibilities or simply non-existent expectations, then “winning” isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. What is likely to occur is a lot of tail-chasing and a lot of turf wars because, without clearly defined boundaries, people will define their own.

If how your model for success today is how successful you were yesterday then congratulations, you’re one step closer to irrelevance.

If how your model for success today is how successful you were yesterday then congratulations, you’re… 

If you’re asking the same questions as yesterday or—and equally non-impactful—not questioning the status quo, you’re on a losing path.

And I don’t care what anybody says. Losing sucks.

To “win” in today’s day and age requires the self-awareness to recognize your blind spots, the social awareness to recognize and interpret how you mesh with others, and the situational awareness to align these two “awarenesses” into a context greater than yourself such as the organization’s mission, and the only way to weaponize yourself in these regards, is through curiosity.

Nothing begins without a question. Questions incite greater awareness because they cause the mind to wander, to explore, and to (potentially) discover something anew. Without curiosity, there would be no breakthrough ideas, no new products or services, and no mobile banking (that’s a joke because I consider mobile banking to be one of the most ingenious and convenient apps on my smartphone).

Anyway, back to behaviors.

The “behaviors” that define how work is achieved are based upon one thing and one thing only: clarity.

Clarity in purpose.

Clarity in value.

Clarity in roles, responsibilities and expectations.

Clarity in time, resources and requirements available.

All the above leads to clarity in execution and without execution, you’re dead in the water. Period.

Without execution, you’re dead in the water. Period. 

So, if you want to leverage curiosity and find clarity amidst the ever-changing chaotic landscape of business amidst technology and information overload, start by defining what winning looks like.

Prior to every meeting, any discussion and any project, for example, clarify what success will be.

If you’re an organizational leader, clarify what winning looks like for the organization as a whole and then share this definition with each functional leader so they have not only clear direction but a definition to work with that will inform how and what they execute.

A sales department will likely have different objectives than marketing or HR, for example, which is why it’s so critical for the organizational leader to take the time to clarify his or her vision for 1) what success looks like and 2) what he or she values as the vehicles for success if that leader espouses to stay relevant–as a leader and as an organization.

“Become a $100 million dollar company” or “Be the number one place to work” are too ambiguous and don’t inform anybody, since $100M could be misinterpreted between the sales and product departments to be eitherprofit or revenue.

Without a clear definition, they’re likely to pursue both, which means you’ve just undercut your winning efforts by 50 percent as well as your ability to stay relevant. Not ideal.

It’s a very simple concept, but not so simply executed. But then again, if doing so were easy, then I’d be out of a job.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Chaos Advantage. Chaos Advantage is a blog dedicated to the vision of defeating complacency and eliminating the epidemic of poor leadership within organizations today. see more.

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