The future of business is real time.
What does it take to run a real-time business? In my opinion, if one wants to create a business that is run in real-time, they need to take inspiration from how professional sports teams are run.
CEO plays the role of the general managers of the team, answerable to the owners (board of directors or shareholders), have a vision for the team and communicate it to the clearly to coaches and players.
The coach is responsible for the team composition and with the support team is primarily responsible for one thing only – train the players so well, that they are able to adapt to any situation that they face while playing off.
Sure, the coach can still help by suggesting and getting the right combination in the field, adapt and suggest changes in the strategies, but again if the players are not able to execute the same in real-time, the strategies will fail.
Managers are the coaches who train the players, with the other support functions like HR, training, finance make the support team. Manager’s role is to ensure that the players have trained enough that they are able to adapt to anything that the opposition can come up with.
Customer facing employees (or front line employees) are the players who need to be able to adapt and adopt to everything that the customer or the competition throws at them.
They need to use their training to win the match. The captain on the field needs to make on-the-spot decisions based on how the competition & the customer react.
In this model, the most important set of folks are these customer facing employees, as it is they who need to be able to react in real-time based on what they encounter in the field.
So, if businesses want to transform themselves into real-time enterprises they will need to treat their employees as their most important assets. They need to be trained well and should be able to choose the right play based on their reading of the situation. Their managers (coaches) can suggest the play to use based on their readings of the situation, but the responsibility to run the play still rests with these employees. So, just like the players, these customer facing employees should be empowered enough to take decisions on the spot and act on them without having to go back and forth for an approval.
In this model, the organization realizes the importance of their front line employees and so tailors everything in the organization to enable these employees to go out there and take decisions that is right for them and the organizations. This means providing them with the right information at the right time in the right format. This is where technology can play a very important role in the organization. Any technology that enables availability of the right information at the right time in the right format to front line employees, serves its purpose.
It is KEY that these employees know the intent of the organization and have practiced different plays (Strategies) to achieve this intent so many times, that these have become a part of their sub-conscious.
The other critical piece in this model is also the fact that team work at the front line matters even more. The team will be only as strong as their weakest player. So, it is critical that everyone in the front line understand the intent and their roles in the plays that the organization has trained them for to achieve the intent. Each of them need to play their part.
This also means that decision making will need to be local at the team level and not at the corporate level. The corporate only provides the intent and ensures that every function in the organization is there to support the team to go out and give their best.
This also means that the front line employees are also the highest paid people in the organization. This is a radical shift from today’s model, where they are the lowest paid in the organization and it considered that higher you are in the hierarchy, the more you get paid as your contribution is considered to be more important.
This shift could be the most important to do as this is a cultural shift of magnitude so huge that you can equate this to an earthquake of magnitude 8.5 on the Richter scale.
This model also means that you need to do away with a large chunk of mid-managers as they do not have a role to play. The organization needs to become lean, nimble and fast.
Everything that the organization does needs to serve one and only one purpose – “Enable the front line employees to execute their plays flawlessly”. If a task or a process or a program does not serve this purpose, it is not done. Full Stop.
The question is if it is possible for any organization to follow this model at all? Is this practical?
I think it is. If the football teams, baseball teams, soccer teams, cricket teams around the world can do this, I am sure that other businesses can also execute this.
The question is not – “Will businesses move towards this model?”
but the questions is – “who will be the early adopter for this model?”
Start-ups are an obvious choice, but I think they do not face the challenges that this model solves and hence i would think that are less likely to adopt this.
The businesses that have had some successes and now want to grow big and compete against the biggest and the best organizations in the world are more likely to adopt this model as this provides them with an clear competitive advantage against their larger competitors.
Also, as they are just starting to compete at that level means that their systems & processes are still being defined and hence the resistance to change will also be the least.
Do let me know your views on this topic by commenting below or tweeting your thoughts to me at @rmukeshgupta.