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Leading to compete in the digital world

Manesh Prabhu, SVP & Chief Technology Officer, People’s United Bank

Leading to compete in the digital worldManesh Prabhu, SVP & Chief Technology Officer, People’s United Bank

Like playing a football game, everyone wants to be in the end zone where all the glory is. It takes real leadership to understand and undertake the hard blocking and tackling needed to create the required organizational capabilities to reach the end zone.

Edward Deming, considered the father of Quality Management, put it: People on the factory floor cannot penetrate the ceiling of performance that is defined and limited by the environment-design of product, equipment, its maintenance, processes, procedures, training, etc. All that people on the factory floor ask for is a chance to work with pride.

“A goal that lies beyond the capability of the system cannot be achieved except by the constant improvement of the system, and driving the necessary change is the responsibility of Leadership”

We can’t hold developers, product managers, business analysts, scrum masters, system engineers, or support technicians responsible for the handicaps placed on them by the organizational system through outdated tooling, delivery, and support models. A goal that lies beyond the capability of the system cannot be achieved except by the constant improvement of the system, and driving the necessary change is the responsibility of Leadership.

On a fundamental level, leadership is about paying attention – you have to understand what you are supposed to manage. Leading to compete in an increasingly digitally-driven world is about taking responsibility for designing and improving the organizational systems, processes, tooling and practices so that your greatest assets – your people – can mobilize their minds, feel pride in their work and have a platform to compete. As any effective leader will know: the only thing you can do by yourself is: Fail. Leadership has to resist the temptation to go for the Hail Mary passes by looking to quickly implement buzzwords of practices & solutions that get good press or create unicorn job descriptions and create impossible leadership roles. Instead, effective leaders should take on the hard task of acquiring, nurturing and developing talent, building the teams, and positioning the individuals to maximize their effectiveness, motivate and co-create the organizational purpose that everyone can rally around.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

To achieve superior performance in a digital era, management has to think a new - keep abreast of modern methods of technology delivery, management practices and innovation such as adoption of cloud computing, containerization & micro-services architecture, low code platforms, robotic process automation etc. and act a new by modernizing delivery and operational practices thru adoption of Design Thinking, DevOps, Agile methodologies, ups killing and refreshing talent. The old adage of “the future belongs to him who invests in it!” holds true, investing in developing management competencies and leaders at every level is equally important as developing various digital competencies.

Every enterprise is unique in some ways: in its culture, customers, products/services, distribution networks, etc. The approach you will want to take in adopting best practices, tools and methodologies has to be done with the understanding that “Fit Matters”. In the very insightful Harvard Business Review article “Which of these People Is Your Future CEO?” Boris Groysberg, Andrew Hill, and Toby Johnson published based on their study of how military experience prepares managers for leadership, it provides a very interesting perspective on how different approaches maybe needed among organizations, or specific to functions and teams based on the identified gaps to reach one’s aspirational state. The U.S Navy & Air force tends to be stronger on process and lighter on flexibility, on the other hand, the Army and Marines are stronger on flexibility and somewhat lighter on process. The hypothesis is that the even a minor mistake can have devastating impacts on a ship, so is not reacting to fluid situations that are typical of ground warfare and missions Marines undertake. The key learning here is that Fit matters and we have to tailor our practices to the characteristics of the organizational situations we have.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” – Charles Darwin

 Like a great football team that can outcompete with their ability to respond tactically according to the play on the field, high performance teams create the most valuable capability in any situations of change – “responsiveness”. It takes leadership to build high performing teams who can form the core of the organizational capability to delivery with agility. High performance teams are empowered to make tactical decisions, communicate effectively and are encouraged to let sparks of new ideas fly and formulate new solutions without risking interpersonal conflicts. The organizational capability thus created is: “Agility & Responsiveness” - a true competitive advantage to compete in the digital world. 

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