As a leader, it’s so easy to obsess with operational functions of the business during times of disruption or distress – in this case, a global pandemic – that it can create knee-jerk, often short-term decisions that could inherently damage your long-term vision, your business’ culture and your raison d’être.
Having lived and worked through four recessions, I personally understand the rapid change in leadership mindset that can occur when a firm goes from peacetime and growth to one of survival and all-out war. According to author Simon Sinek, people look to leadership to serve and protect, to “set up their organizations to succeed beyond their lifetimes1.” But in the modern landscape, most organizations place an unbalanced focus on near-term results that may ultimately prove to be self-defeating, like casting aside your umbrella in a storm because you haven’t been getting wet. In short, business is no finite endeavor. This pandemic lays plain for all to see the game we are really playing.
Finite vs. the Infinite: What is the Infinite Game?
A finite game is one with fixed rules, objectives and time horizons, the goal quite simply is to win1. But how do you “win” in business, or against a virus for that matter? Did Singapore “win”, or did they have strategic measures in place that allowed them to move through the disruption more smoothly? Is New York City “losing;” has Italy “lost”? Of course not – there is no metric or rule by which a city or country would lose to this disruptor. They can be battered, bruised, decimated even, but they will persist and stay in the game.
With no defined time horizon, no clearly-defined rules, and with players that may enter and exit at any time, the primary objective of an infinite game is quite simply to keep playing1. The goal for businesses, just like cities and countries, is to have the will and resources to stay in the game, through thick and thin.
Getting through the thick of it: running towards bad news
Forget about technology for the moment, bad news is the preeminent change agent. Even Winston Churchill espoused the transformative powers of bad news with his dictum, “never waste a good crisis.” Let us not be mistaken – we are in brutal times, and I would prefer not to have this type of bad news for anyone to run towards, but let us continue…
“People take their cues from the leader, so if you’re okay with bad news, they’ll be okay, too. Good CEOs run toward the pain and the darkness; eventually, they even learn to enjoy it.”
~ What You Do is Who You Are, Ben Horowitz
In business, we have to open ourselves and our teams to embrace bad news to get ahead of it. From bad news, roadblocks are revealed and underlying issues come to light, many times sparking momentous shifts in approach and innovation. But it is the initial willingness to dive into discomfort that is the defining characteristic of personal leadership, it shows up “in all kinds of essential ways: making difficult decisions; taking responsibility for them; apologizing for mistakes.2”
Welcoming bad news fosters resiliency and allows transparency to appear through a different lens. And with that, trust flourishes. According to Sinek in his 2019 book, The Infinite Game, “Trusting Teams, it turns out, are the healthiest and highest-performing kind of teams.” He continues, “Good leadership and Trusting Teams allow the people on those teams to do the best job they can do. The result is a culture of solving problems rather than putting Band-Aids on them1.”
So get going, start running.
Building trust, resiliency and culture through a bias for people and an “experience” architecture
There is much to be said about driving culture in an organization, and at the very core of culture, is human nature. People are hard-wired to feel that they are valued and are part of something bigger than themselves; that they are contributing to the core purpose, or “Just Cause1”, of the company.
“When hard times strike (and hard times always strike), in companies with a bias for [people], the people are much more likely to rally together to protect each other, the company, the resources and their leaders. Not because they are told to, but because they choose to. This is what happens when the will of the people is strong.”
~ The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek
It is no wonder we are seeing employee experience a critical component to success within the enterprise today from two different consideration sets – the heart and the mind.
At the heart of the impetus is the foundation of trust, enablement, and partnership that truly fulfills not just the Way people work but the Why. When people are given responsible freedom and provided with the support to flourish, when they can work within a trusting team – safe to express ideas, ask for help and be open to learning – people will put forth the will to give their all. Likewise, the business reciprocates and fosters the relationship, their environment and their growth.
The mind on the other hand is the model linking customers to the core of the business – its purpose for the services and products it provides – which is essentially service-oriented, i.e. customer-centric. The Digital OneOffice is the “experience” architecture, bringing customers and employees together into a unified state where supporting customers and anticipating their needs is native to the entire organization. At its core, OneOffice is about making customer, employee and partner experiences the centerpiece of the strategy, playing host to the new duality between who is servicing the customer and who is the customer:
Service is the tie that binds the heart and mind. Teams who are connected to the company, its leadership, its customers and each other are far more likely to come together for the greater good in the face of adversity and hardship. “The same things that help the company survive and thrive during good times help make the company strong and resilient in hard times.1”
Beware the “imposter cause” as your point of purpose
According to Sinek, finite-minded companies espouse what he considers to be an “imposter cause,” confusing growth, arbitrary metrics, or successful products and services with a strong company, which may very well become obsolete. They understand customers change, but safeguard resources and existing operating models in the face of disruption. These elements can be particularly true in the enterprise technology arena, where deep resources and services are modeled around two interconnected enterprises – the client and the service provider itself.
Directs the business model, with products and services advancing the cause. Its attributes are durable, resilient, timeless, beneficial and idealistic.
Whole Foods: Our Purpose is to Nourish People and the Planet
Netflix: We want to entertain the world. If we succeed, there is more laughter, more empathy, and more joy. (Netflix > Culture)
Business model is directed by existing resources or the relevance of current products and services
Garmin: We will be the global leader in every market we serve, and our products will be sought after for their compelling design, superior quality, and best value.
Vizio: To deliver high performance, smarter products with the latest innovations at significant savings that we can pass along to our consumers.
We are riding the massive new wave of outsourcing transformation – changing the way services are delivered. Who can guide us through the new abnormal? Who is prepared for the future?
An infinite mindset is crucial to current and long-term success. As noted by TCS’ Rajesh Gopinath in my recent “…In the flesh” interview, “The formula that has worked, and which will continue to work, is this unrelenting focus on the customer and unwavering belief in our own talent. The waves will keep changing, but you need to define yourself as surfing the current wave. And, as the wave changes, you’ve got to keep on readjusting yourself. But the value proposition is unwavering in its focus; it’s to make technology work for our customers.”
Partnering in this space is critical for the current wave and those to come. Even as the pace of digital-first has vastly accelerated, we are in a journey – not a race. In today’s environment, enterprises and provider partners need to stay tuned to the vision, look at business continuity in a virtual model and then apply the technologies that can best advance the organization through the turbulence and beyond. “An inifinite-minded leader does not simply want to build a company that can weather change but one that can be transformed by it.1”
The Bottom-line: Transformation finally has its flaming platform. The phoenix has arrived.
Did you ever think your enterprise could move to a 100% work-from-home environment with less than three weeks’ notice? This crisis is forcing businesses to flex – vastly accelerating the digital-first environment, dramatically cutting redundancies and improving processes at scale. There is a massive amount of change happening, and out of change comes real transformation. After years and years of complacency due to the relentless growth (and papering over the cracks of 2008), all of today’s organizations now finally have a burning platform to change how they operate globally. In fact, the platform is positively on fire!
Within the chaos of transformation, even a highly disruptive one, the core is steady and still; it is what you ultimately serve through your work – the direct connection between the business, what it purposefully provides, and its customers. An infinite mindset in business is essentially customer-centric, it’s your model, resources and processes that will shift in response to the environment. Technology, quite simply, is the great enabler.
As borders close and cities continue to shelter in place, the alarming and far-reaching impacts from this pandemic can ultimately be seen as a unifying event. If our goal is truly to stay in the game, then let go of what needs to go, embrace the brutal, protect and empower your people and restructure the new normal with laser-focus on the Cause and your customers – all of them. “Disruption is not going away anytime soon, that’s not going to change. How leaders respond to it, however, can.1”
Pictured: HFS CEO Phil Fersht with The Infinite Game author Simon Sinek, circa 2017
1 The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek
2 How Great Leaders Deliver Bad News, Erika Anderson (Forbes)