When we began building Derisk, we wanted to ensure that we crafted the platform in close consultation with our target customers. Over the last year, we’ve spoken with more than one hundred corporate strategy and innovation leaders. Here are the top five things we’ve learned:
1. Uncertainty is only growing...: Goldman Sachs is “open-sourcing” its software. P&G is selling integrated hardware, software, and service solutions. Ford just hired a chief digital information officer as it seeks to become a software and services company. The rapid pace of technological change creates new opportunities and threats all the time. And so it’s increasingly likely that leading companies will need to transform radically in relatively short periods of time if they are to remain leaders, much less to survive at all. “Who do we need to become?” is the critical question leaders must ask and the set of possible answers grows each day.
2. ...along with the impact of decision-making biases. Growing uncertainty only increases the influence that cognitive and emotional biases have on decision-making. When it comes to placing bets on future scenarios, the only thing leaders know for certain is that they’re wrong, they just don’t know how wrong. But “getting it right” is crucial to survival in big companies. The result is a lot of maneuvering. We don’t say what we really think. We disregard disconfirming information. We try to blend in with the crowd. In the end, given that it’s nearly impossible to be right, biases thrive - most people do what they can to avoid being clearly wrong. And that makes it even less likely that companies will successfully navigate the tremendous uncertainty they face.
3. Before customers buy, stakeholders decide…: Many strategy and innovation leaders and their teams now recognize the importance of embracing “outside in” frameworks and methodologies. Instead of “straight lining” their organization into the future, they seek to answer the question introduced above: “Given what it will take to win, who do we need to become?” Instead of prioritizing solely what their organization can build today, they deploy some combination of human-centered design, lean startup and agile development techniques to conceptualize and build “What the customer really wants.” Yet all of this good work goes to waste when they can’t get internal stakeholders onboard. And this happens all...the...time. Ironically, change agent teams are more likely to be successful if they focus less on delivering “What the customer really wants…” and more on delivering what their internal stakeholders want.
4. ...yet while stakeholder engagement is critical, it’s maddeningly difficult. So, to be successful, strategy and innovation leaders and their teams need to stay in lockstep with their key stakeholders. Yet everyone’s busy and so it’s nearly impossible to schedule individual “walk the square” meetings. Then, when you finally have a meeting, you’re lucky if the executive across the table (or on Zoom) is paying half attention. And when you finally get everyone together in a meeting to make a decision, most of the time gets spent going through the pre-read materials instead of discussing what to do next and why. To top it all off, at least one key stakeholder will inevitably take a position counter to that shared within your individual meeting. The meeting will then end with everyone nodding their approval, before leaving to kill your initiative. It’s often a “Just can’t win…” scenario.
5. Ultimately, it’s much easier to acknowledge these challenges, then it is to solve them. It’s hard to think of a strategy or innovation leader with whom we’ve spoken who didn’t validate the four points above. There’s consensus that in a world of growing uncertainty, “how we make decisions” has to change. We started Derisk because we believe that new, data-driven, stakeholder engagement tools are critical enablers of the solution. We’re also cheering on the leaders taking personal risks to drive the culture change required to cross the “Knowing there’s a problem…” to “Doing something about the problem…” gap. Unfortunately, this stuff is just as hard as it is important and progress is slow. That’s why we need to celebrate each little win. Publicly praise the person who raises the tough, but fair concern. Publicly reward the person who does the painful, but right thing by shutting down their flawed initiative. Do your best to protect and reward those willing to say and do the difficult things that put company interests ahead of their own. After all, shouldn’t those two things be aligned?