Business leaders will continue to face uncertainty in the future, whether geopolitical, economic, technological or regulatory. This uncertainty, or “turn,” could manifest as changes in customer expectations, a data breach, or a law redefining your product or market. Turns, in one form or another, are guaranteed. But what is not guaranteed is how an organization reacts to and prepares for them.
Lead and lean into the forces of change rather than be led by them
Consider the path of a race car driver. To most, the turns in the track are a dangerous place and the temptation to brake early is strong. But to others, the turns are an opportunity to outpace competitors. The winners brake late and accelerate into the turn to win in the end. These drivers are not taking blind risks — they trust the skills and plans they have developed.
For organizations, this can mean the difference between exiting a turn as a successful organization and exiting a turn poorly positioned. Technology and service providers face a changing set of fundamentals. In times of such change, many leaders will adopt a wait-and-see approach to turns. That means by the time they act, it’s too late. Others will attempt action and take on risks that they do not fully understand or without being prepared. A few will follow their beliefs about the future, make the tough decisions and mobilize their organization for success.
“General managers face making decisions in the context of multiple turns every day,” says Mark McDonald, VP Analyst, Gartner. “While every turn changes direction, organizations and general managers face their own unique situations and changes in direction.”
Lead and lean into changing forces
Consider how organizations responded to the shift to services-based licensing and computational models. Those ready to win in the turns embraced the realities of the new model, built for it first and marshalled resources toward the future. Others seek to straddle their business model, wait for customers to pull them into the future and, too often, find their revenue challenged.
For technology managers, the key is leading and leaning into the forces of change rather than being led by them. Turns require changes beyond the normal capacity of a general manager. For example, you cannot cut costs alone to win in a turn — you must invest savings in solutions for the future. When key talent leaves, you cannot just muddle through with current plans.
The key to winning in the turns is preparing in three vital areas: Strategy, cost and talent.
Strategy: Prepare to act confidently amid uncertainty
The key to strategic planning during (or in preparation for) a turn, is focusing on the strategic decisions that need to be made and less on the overarching strategies. Focus on the execution without getting lost in the roadblocks. In the same vein, make sure you’re bringing data to the table and being a part of the solution. You don’t want to simply be assigning things to do to others.
General managers are in a unique position because they engage with customers, sales, engineering and product. This means they’re also in a unique position to focus on leading indicators and look for trigger events and binary changes in the market that indicate a turn is coming. Use your relationships and perspective unique to your position to help guide the organization.
Cost: Allocate resources and execution with discipline
It’s tempting during a turn to reduce spending by curtailing product investments, laying off staff, cutting capital investments and reducing training. But companies prepared to win in the turns recognize that the business cycle is not binary. It is not growing or in recession — it’s a series of multiple events. Cost optimization, as opposed to across-the-board spending cuts, enables a company to manage costs but also reinvest the resources into the organization.
Technology managers need a solid view of the cash flow and cash position, while preparing the organization for tighter product development budgets and greater customer demands. Even more importantly, watch how much discounting and service accommodations are costing the business. Ensure products are priced appropriately, and use analytics to gain insight into deal structures, quote configuration and sales compensation. In a turn, you want sales teams focused on connecting with the customer, not negotiating a transaction.
Talent: Position people to sustain progress on transformation
Having the right team is key to winning in the turns. This means creating a high-performing, agile and flexible team with a high level of digital dexterity. Turns put even the best employees at risk for disengagement as they are asked to do and contribute more and more. General managers must truly understand how to engage employees and drive job satisfaction.
As leaders of product organizations, general managers play a major role in organizational transformation and the culture shift to increased service orientation. Create a culture that supports this new strategy with agile and DevOps techniques and build resilient teams.
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