To make a point about technology and its impact on the future of work, Hugh Lee, Co-Founder of Fusion Productions, told me this story:
“Several years ago, we invited some young presenters who were developing cutting edge farming technology to digitalNow. They were using drones to fly over fields and analyze the irrigation and fertilizer required by individual plants and crops. The information was transmitted to robots on the ground that provided the appropriate care. These innovators didn’t consider themselves in agriculture or robotics. They felt that they had no professional home. This type of industry cross-pollination is going to make defining the future workforce very different.”
I interviewed Hugh for, “Association 4.0™: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation,” a book I wrote with my business partner Kevin Ordonez. We talked with entrepreneurs across our community.
Most were CEOs, leading companies that provide products and services to associations. We selected this group because, as independent business owners, they were acutely aware of the challenges of digital markets and the attitudes needed for success.
Align With Technology
There is one significant concept that all of our contributors embrace. Future success depends on aligning with rapid developments in technology across the marketplace, or Industry 4.0. Leaders must be prepared to confront fast-moving trends like these:
- As of 2021, one-quarter of the top 100 consumer goods companies were using 3D printing to create custom products on demand.
- By 2025, 75 percent of the total workforce will be Millennials. Their resumes will list skills we barely register today.
- By 2027, many employees will count robots among their co-workers.
These are pre-pandemic predictions, so I imagine that the pace has accelerated.
I use the word “change” frequently to describe shifts in the digital world. But I think that’s the wrong word. Change implies moving from one situation to another. There is a beginning and an end to the transformation.
What we are experiencing is evolution; except technology today is Darwinism on a time-lapse of 30 frames per second. Keeping pace with this environment is a constant process of understanding what works, refining those strategies, and abandoning anything that does not add value.
How can leaders prepare themselves and their employees to develop effective systems for culling unproductive activities and managing the constant volatility?
Create Space for Evolution
Don’t fixate on giving every goal a finite timeline. Many initiatives can, and should, continue to grow. Yes, your new website will launch on a certain date. But the donuts and high-fives should celebrate the beginning of that project, not the end. The site should be built to accommodate members’ changing needs as well as technology that may be in the pipeline. There will be milestones to meet long after the launch date.
Championing the minimum viable product makes space for evolution. The MVP is the brainchild of Eric Ries, author of that entrepreneur’s bible, “The Lean Startup.” Ries turns product development away from outcomes and describes it as a journey of discovery. The MVP does not mean that your creations are subpar. The idea is to prevent you from investing precious resources in merchandise or services that people don’t want.
Ries defines the MVP like this:
“The MVP is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
The MVP is the first of several iterations. It should be robust enough to attract users and demonstrate the product’s value. Subsequent models will incorporate changes based on consumer feedback. The idea is that what you build gets validated by the marketplace and you invest resources where there is evidence of a return. This concept can be applied to everything from creating a website to developing a practice marketing manual for members.
The concept of the MVP encompasses more than product development. It opens services and activities to ongoing evaluation and adjustment. That adaptive approach is counter-intuitive to the way most associations operate. Everyone on your team will not become a believer overnight.
Ongoing transformation requires adjustments to perspectives, attitudes, and behavior. If that sounds like a heavy lift for your group, identifying the reward in change will go a long way toward winning your staff’s cooperation. The CEO must inspire employees to see the value of working in new ways and recognize contributions to that vision.
One path to buy-in is to give others the opportunity to co-create the process. Share your vision for the organization broadly and identify how staffers contribute individually to those goals. Then invite ideas and innovation. Don’t limit creativity to the management team. Get everyone accustomed to participating in brainstorming.
Arianna Rehak, Co-Founder and CEO of Matchbox Virtual Media, explains the power of collaboration like this:
“Enthusiasm dies when people are not able to get the right buy-in. There can be many reasons why this happens. One of the major conclusions of an innovation study conducted by Amanda Kaiser was that the CEO’s openness to new ideas has a huge impact on an organization’s ability to change and adapt. It’s a nice challenge to figure out how to discuss change in a way that includes the goals of the person you are trying to influence. Aligning all stakeholders can be a complicated game of mental chess.”
“Associations have the advantage of a built-in community. They are also good facilitators. When innovations are being considered, the group can be brought along on that thought process. The power of many can create the buy-in needed for changes.”
Integrate Vision, People, and Process
Clearly articulate your shared vision for the organization and identify benchmarks for success. An integrated strategic plan that involves teams across the organization makes shifting and pivoting easier.
To encourage evolutionary thinking, avoid imposing tactics on your team and emphasize the desired outcomes. David Caruso, Co-Founder and President of HighRoad Solutions, explains his adaptive approach like this:
“The employees at HighRoad are doers, but they don’t always complete the task in the way that I expected or as the job was done in the past. It’s a good experience to let go of the reins and see what gets accomplished. The attitudes are fresh, and work gets done in ways that are unique to each individual.”
Teams that are encouraged to work creatively learn to confront disruption and solve unfamiliar challenges. Making a habit of game planning alternate scenarios is another way to promote agile thinking.
In the future, technology may require us all to be more like those young inventors that Hugh described in his story. To meet fast-moving trends, we’ll need to be ready to explore unexpected collaborations and embrace unique perspectives on our work.
Read profiles of Hugh Lee, Arianna Rehak, and David Caruso in “Association 4.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation”