The Who Is Where All the Leverage Is

Leading the journey to becoming a more agile business based on a well-structured, integrated and holistic multi-year plan is easy to say, but it’s very hard to achieve without an extremely talented team. Decades of transformation work have continuously reinforced the idea that if you have the right WHO – Structure, Leadership, Culture and Talent – in place, that team will be able to figure out, articulate, lead and deliver the WHY, WHAT, HOW and WHEN that makes the most sense for the organization.

Furthermore, within the WHO, we at The Feld Group Institute would argue that Leadership matters the most. The power of a great leadership team lies in its ability to build a great culture and structure while being able to identify, attract and retain the best talent. If an organization fails to get the leadership right, it will never achieve its desired results, no matter how clear and compelling the agenda is.

These are the 4 components of WHO that MATTER.

Structure – how the team is organized and the decision rights
Leadership – who sits in key leadership positions
Culture – how and how well the team works together
Talent – skills and competencies of the IT workforce

Structure Matters

The way the group is organized should reflect the accountability, responsibility and decision rights that are required to get the mission accomplished. The IT structure should align with business capabilities. Those capabilities that need to be unique across business units or departments can be owned by leaders and an organizational structure that we call “verticals.” For the capabilities that can be made common and would be leveraged and reused multiple times across those “verticals,” they can be owned by leaders and an organizational structure that we call “horizontals.” Very few enterprises are fully decentralized (unique) or totally centralized (common). Therefore, designing the structure toward the Future Vision capabilities is a critical component of a successful transformation. Being explicit about roles, responsibilities, decision rights and conflict resolution (RACI) is foundational to success in this kind of matrix and collaborative organization.

Leadership Matters

It matters who the leaders are that occupy the vertical and horizontal positions. It takes a different type of athlete to have the deep knowledge of the business vertical versus the technical savvy and pattern recognition skills to negotiate and implement at the horizontal intersections. Good entrepreneurs in highly decentralized teams and leaders that are successful administrators in a highly centralized structure will struggle in a large matrix where there are critical dependencies and services delivered and consumed in order to deliver the business outcomes required.

Culture Matters

The dependency model, matrix organization structure and team sport described above is what makes culture so important. It’s impossible for precise and detailed RACI models or rule books to cover every possible situation and interaction. It’s equally difficult to have such exact plans and rigid approaches in an agile and fast-churning world of business and technology. You can get close with these kinds of tools, but conditions are always fluid and heterogeneous. This gap must be covered by a culture based upon a team-oriented workforce and an unselfish and supportive mindset. As with basketball, you can have great athletes, a great coach and a terrific game plan, but you still need to play the game. That’s culture, or chemistry, is what differentiates true championship teams.

Talent Matters

In the end, this is a technical business that requires planning, designing, coding, testing and running. An organization must have the right mix of skills, levels, roles and competencies. It’s not about having more people. If we have too many people, the wrong people or the wrong mix (too many of this and not enough of that), it can be very difficult to be productive or deliver at all. It’s about having great people in the right mix and doses.

Digital Transformation, especially for a large, complex legacy company, can be very challenging. This can feel as daunting as moving the world. Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” I believe that our leverage on this move-the-world kind of challenge is the WHO – and especially the leadership. Find the best leaders, continuously work to develop your leaders, and they will make the rest happen.

Author: Charlie Feld, Founder, The Feld Group Institute
Connect with Charlie Feld on LinkedIn

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