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Where Have All The Business Mentors Gone?

Meghan M. Biro

Where have all the business mentors gone?

Apparently, there are far fewer than before, and it’s taking a toll on companies. At Toyota, a lack of mentors had a directly negative effect on the brand. After rapid expansion meant there were not enough senior managers able to take junior leaders under their wing, the ethos suffered greatly.

Mentoring — otherwise known as knowledge sharing — is a critical part of strategic management. But there are misassumptions afoot, that it’s an old-school system that no longer fits. So let’s do a course correct:

Myth #1. Millennials don’t want mentors

Very loud buzzer sound here. Actually, millennials are calling for mentors themselves. 94% of those in the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey said they felt that their mentors were giving them good advice. In terms of retention (a particularly vexing issue with this group), 68% of millennial employees who said they planned to stay were their organization for at least five years had mentors,32% did not. Even in terms of the apparent qualities millennials all share (and that’s debatable) mentoring matters: it offers this feedback-loving generation access to direct and personal feedback; and it paves for challenges, such as supervised stretch assignments.

Myth #2. CEOs don’t need mentors

Say again? From a purely visual standpoint, perhaps it’s hard to envision the C-suite looking upwards. But a recent look at how CEOs take on challenges found that the opposite is true: while the options are fewer, mentors are critical. The Harvard Business Review study found that new CEOs hit the ground running by seeking counsel and feedback from top veterans outside the workplace. The critical decisions they face are often breaking new ground; the best sources for information were advisors within the specific context of the problem. Of 45 CEOs with formal mentoring arrangements, according to the study, 71% said they were certain that company performance had improved as a result.

Myth #3. A social and mobile workplace takes the place of mentors

Actually, the new hyper-networked, constantly connected workplace is that way because it’s in our nature to seek guidance and expertise. The social and mobile workplace demonstrates just how much we value mentors. Sites like LinkedIn provide access to mentors outside the physical confines of the workspace — and the concept of following thought leaders further underscores our quest for guidance. But the access to direct supervision is lost in this context, as is the face time. We need both.

Myth #4. We have better ways of improving performance

Do we? If performance reviews are considered part of that, think again. The pernicious Q.P.R. (quarterly performance review) at Yahoo may have been intended to provide constructive criticism and empower employees to improve their performance, but it clearly has another effect entirely. Conducted by peers using a questionable ratings system, it fostered a workplace culture of competition and mistrust, resulted in countless employees being “transitioned out” (a euphemism for layoff here), and as we know by now kicked up a mighty expensive legal hornet’s nest.

Myth #5. Mentoring isn’t transparent enough

This objection has to do with a perceived elitism in which less favored; less connected employees are left out of the equation, but it’s a weak argument at best. If transparency has to do with aligning employer brand (as in: values and story) with employees, then mentoring is an ideal conduit. In terms of a democratic workplace, mentoring establishes an authentic conversation between the experienced and the neophyte, bridging a knowledge gap instead of reinforcing it, and enabling genuine communication.

Again, here’s the disconnect. We are still looking at mentoring within the woodgrain frame of its old incarnation — a pat on the back by a senior buddy who sees his younger self in his protégé. But mentoring 2.0 is something altogether different, with cross-gender mentoring, women mentoring women, reverse mentoring in which Generation Z shows a Boomer how to use the Twitter, global mentoring, and all manner of supervision, guidance, sage advice, hands-on leadership, and more.

All are part of how we transfer knowledge across the ranks, and all will grow up new generations to take our place. Without this process, the workplace is certainly more vulnerable to a brain drain. What I think will be interesting: seeing how metrics track the gaps in mentoring across an organization; how new analytics can increase old human interaction, and effectively drive true engagement. Myths hereby busted, please go take someone out for coffee.

For more insight on the power of mentoring, see The Best Managers Are Really Coaches.

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

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How To Design Your Company’s Digital Transformation

Sam Yen

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features a cover story on design thinking’s coming of age. We have been applying design thinking within SAP for the past 10 years, and I’ve witnessed the growth of this human-centered approach to innovation first hand.

Design thinking is, as the HBR piece points out, “the best tool we have for … developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

This means businesses are doing more to learn about their customers by interacting directly with them. We’re seeing this change in our work on d.forum — a community of design thinking champions and “disruptors” from across industries.

Meanwhile, technology is making it possible to know exponentially more about a customer. Businesses can now make increasingly accurate predictions about customers’ needs well into the future. The businesses best able to access and pull insights from this growing volume of data will win. That requires a fundamental change for our own industry; it necessitates a digital transformation.

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

It starts with the customer and an application of design thinking throughout an organization – blending business, technology and human values to generate innovation. Business is already incorporating design thinking, as the HBR cover story shows. We in technology need to do the same.

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Design thinking plays an important role because it helps articulate what the end customer’s experience is going to be like. It helps focus all aspects of the business on understanding and articulating that future experience.

Once an organization is able to do that, the insights from that consumer experience need to be drawn down into the business, with the central question becoming: What does this future customer experience mean for us as an organization? What barriers do we need to remove? Do we need to organize ourselves differently? Does our process need to change – if it does, how? What kind of new technology do we need?

Then an organization must look carefully at roles within itself. What does this knowledge of the end customer’s future experience mean for an individual in human resources, for example, or finance? Those roles can then be viewed as end experiences unto themselves, with organizations applying design thinking to learn about the needs inherent to those roles. They can then change roles to better meet the end customer’s future needs. This end customer-centered approach is what drives change.

This also means design thinking is more important than ever for IT organizations.

We, in the IT industry, have been charged with being responsive to business, using technology to solve the problems business presents. Unfortunately, business sometimes views IT as the organization keeping the lights on. If we make the analogy of a store: business is responsible for the front office, focused on growing the business where consumers directly interact with products and marketing; while the perception is that IT focuses on the back office, keeping servers running and the distribution system humming. The key is to have business and IT align to meet the needs of the front office together.

Remember what I said about the growing availability of consumer data? The business best able to access and learn from that data will win. Those of us in IT organizations have the technology to make that win possible, but the way we are seen and our very nature needs to change if we want to remain relevant to business and participate in crafting the winning strategy.

We need to become more front office and less back office, proving to business that we are innovation partners in technology.

This means, in order to communicate with businesses today, we need to take a design thinking approach. We in IT need to show we have an understanding of the end consumer’s needs and experience, and we must align that knowledge and understanding with technological solutions. When this works — when the front office and back office come together in this way — it can lead to solutions that a company could otherwise never have realized.

There’s different qualities, of course, between front office and back office requirements. The back office is the foundation of a company and requires robustness, stability, and reliability. The front office, on the other hand, moves much more quickly. It is always changing with new product offerings and marketing campaigns. Technology must also show agility, flexibility, and speed. The business needs both functions to survive. This is a challenge for IT organizations, but it is not an impossible shift for us to make.

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

1. We need to better understand the real needs of the business.

This means learning more about the experience and needs of the end customer and then translating that information into technological solutions.

2. We need to be involved in more of the strategic discussions of the business.

Use the regular invitations to meetings with business as an opportunity to surface the deeper learning about the end consumer and the technology solutions that business may otherwise not know to ask for or how to implement.

The IT industry overall may not have a track record of operating in this way, but if we are not involved in the strategic direction of companies and shedding light on the future path, we risk not being considered innovation partners for the business.

We must collaborate with business, understand the strategic direction and highlight the technical challenges and opportunities. When we do, IT will become a hybrid organization – able to maintain the back office while capitalizing on the front office’s growing technical needs. We will highlight solutions that business could otherwise have missed, ushering in a digital transformation.

Digital transformation goes beyond just technology; it requires a mindset. See What It Really Means To Be A Digital Organization.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

How Productive Could You Be With 45 Minutes More Per Day?

Michael Rander

Chances are that you are already feeling your fair share of organizational complexity when navigating your current company, but have you ever considered just how much time is spent across all companies on managing complexity? According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the global impact of complexity is mind-blowing – and not in a good way.

The study revealed that 38% of respondents spent 16%-25% of their time just dealing with organizational complexity, and 17% spent a staggering 26%-50% of their time doing so. To put that into more concrete numbers, in the US alone, if executives could cut their time spent managing complexity in half, an estimated 8.6 million hours could be saved a week. That corresponds to 45 minutes per executive per day.

The potential productivity impact of every executive having 45 minutes more to work every single day is clearly significant, and considering that 55% say that their organization is either very or extremely complex, why are we then not making the reduction of complexity one or our top of mind issues?

The problem is that identifying the sources of complexity is complex in of itself. Key sources of complexity include organizational size, executive priorities, pace of innovation, decision-making processes, vastly increasing amounts of data to manage, organizational structures, and the pure culture of the company. As a consequence, answers are not universal by any means.

That being said, the negative productivity impact of complexity, regardless of the specific source, is felt similarly across a very large segment of the respondents, with 55% stating that complexity has taken a direct toll on profitability over the past three years.  This is such a serious problem that 8% of respondents actually slowed down their company growth in order to deal with complexity.

So, if complexity oftentimes impacts productivity and subsequently profitability, what are some of the more successful initiatives that companies are taking to combat these effects? Among the answers from the EIU survey, the following were highlighted among the most likely initiatives to reduce complexity and ultimately increase productivity:

  • Making it a company-wide goal to reduce complexity means that the executive level has to live and breathe simplification in order for the rest of the organization to get behind it. Changing behaviors across the organization requires strong leadership, commitment, and change management, and these initiatives ultimately lead to improved decision-making processes, which was reported by respondents as the top benefit of reducing complexity. From a leadership perspective this also requires setting appropriate metrics for measuring outcomes, and for metrics, productivity and efficiency were by far the most popular choices amongst respondents though strangely collaboration related metrics where not ranking high in spite of collaboration being a high level priority.
  • Promoting a culture of collaboration means enabling employees and management alike to collaborate not only within their teams but also across the organization, with partners, and with customers. Creating cross-functional roles to facilitate collaboration was cited by 56% as the most helpful strategy in achieving this goal.
  • More than half (54%) of respondents found the implementation of new technology and tools to be a successful step towards reducing complexity and improving productivity. Enabling collaboration, reducing information overload, building scenarios and prognoses, and enabling real-time decision-making are all key issues that technology can help to reduce complexity at all levels of the organization.

While these initiatives won’t help everyone, it is interesting to see that more than half of companies believe that if they could cut complexity in half they could be at least 11%-25% more productive. That nearly one in five respondents indicated that they could be 26%-50% more productive is a massive improvement.

The question then becomes whether we can make complexity and its impact on productivity not only more visible as a key issue for companies to address, but (even more importantly) also something that every company and every employee should be actively working to reduce. The potential productivity gains listed by respondents certainly provide food for thought, and few other corporate activities are likely to gain that level of ROI.

Just imagine having 45 minutes each and every day for actively pursuing new projects, getting innovative, collaborating, mentoring, learning, reducing stress, etc. What would you do? The vision is certainly compelling, and the question is are we as companies, leaders, and employees going to do something about it?

To read more about the EIU study, please see:

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @michaelrander

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About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Program Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur.

How Much Will Digital Cannibalization Eat into Your Business?

Fawn Fitter

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers predicts that 40% of companies will crumble when they fail to complete a successful digital transformation.

These legacy companies may be trying to keep up with insurgent companies that are introducing disruptive technologies, but they’re being held back by the ease of doing business the way they always have – or by how vehemently their customers object to change.

Most organizations today know that they have to embrace innovation. The question is whether they can put a digital business model in place without damaging their existing business so badly that they don’t survive the transition. We gathered a panel of experts to discuss the fine line between disruption and destruction.

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qa_qIn 2011, when Netflix hiked prices and tried to split its streaming and DVD-bymail services, it lost 3.25% of its customer base and 75% of its market capitalization.²︐³ What can we learn from that?

Scott Anthony: That debacle shows that sometimes you can get ahead of your customers. The key is to manage things at the pace of the market, not at your internal speed. You need to know what your customers are looking for and what they’re willing to tolerate. Sometimes companies forget what their customers want and care about, and they try to push things on them before they’re ready.

R. “Ray” Wang: You need to be able to split your traditional business and your growth business so that you can focus on big shifts instead of moving the needle 2%. Netflix was responding to its customers – by deciding not to define its brand too narrowly.

qa_qDoes disruption always involve cannibalizing your own business?

Wang: You can’t design new experiences in existing systems. But you have to make sure you manage the revenue stream on the way down in the old business model while managing the growth of the new one.

Merijn Helle: Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are putting a lot of capital into digital initiatives that aren’t paying enough back yet in the form of online sales, and they’re cannibalizing their profits so they can deliver a single authentic experience. Customers don’t see channels, they see brands; and they want to interact with brands seamlessly in real time, regardless of channel or format.

Lars Bastian: In manufacturing, new technologies aren’t about disrupting your business model as much as they are about expanding it. Think about predictive maintenance, the ability to warn customers when the product they’ve purchased will need service. You’re not going to lose customers by introducing new processes. You have to add these digitized services to remain competitive.

qa_qIs cannibalizing your own business better or worse than losing market share to a more innovative competitor?

Michael Liebhold: You have to create that digital business and mandate it to grow. If you cannibalize the existing business, that’s just the price you have to pay.

Wang: Companies that cannibalize their own businesses are the ones that survive. If you don’t do it, someone else will. What we’re really talking about is “Why do you exist? Why does anyone want to buy from you?”

Anthony: I’m not sure that’s the right question. The fundamental question is what you’re using disruption to do. How do you use it to strengthen what you’re doing today, and what new things does it enable? I think you can get so consumed with all the changes that reconfigure what you’re doing today that you do only that. And if you do only that, your business becomes smaller, less significant, and less interesting.

qa_qSo how should companies think about smart disruption?

Anthony: Leaders have to reconfigure today and imagine tomorrow at the same time. It’s not either/or. Every disruptive threat has an equal, if not greater, opportunity. When disruption strikes, it’s a mistake only to feel the threat to your legacy business. It’s an opportunity to expand into a different marke.

SAP_Disruption_QA_images2400x1600_4Liebhold: It starts at the top. You can’t ask a CEO for an eight-figure budget to upgrade a cloud analytics system if the C-suite doesn’t understand the power of integrating data from across all the legacy systems. So the first task is to educate the senior team so it can approve the budgets.

Scott Underwood: Some of the most interesting questions are internal organizational questions, keeping people from feeling that their livelihoods are in danger or introducing ways to keep them engaged.

Leon Segal: Absolutely. If you want to enter a new market or introduce a new product, there’s a whole chain of stakeholders – including your own employees and the distribution chain. Their experiences are also new. Once you start looking for things that affect their experience, you can’t help doing it. You walk around the office and say, “That doesn’t look right, they don’t look happy. Maybe we should change that around.”

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. 

To learn more about how to disrupt your business without destroying it, read the in-depth report Digital Disruption: When to Cook the Golden Goose.

Download the PDF (1.2MB)

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Digitization Of The Supplier Network: Grinding Away Competitive Edges

Kai Goerlich

Competitors with advanced digital capabilities are invading markets with new disruptive business models – and a range of new challenges across all industries. Prices are falling and changing quickly. Margins are thinning. Resources are increasingly volatile while the balance between supply and fast-changing customer demands are next-to-impossible to match. All the while, 30% of industry leaders are at risk of being disrupted by 2018 by a digitally enabled competitor, according to IDC.

Under these conditions, companies are beginning to ask whether their supply networks should be open to the digital world. Will they accept the risk of being copied and losing competitive advantage? Or will they secure their best practices in supply chain and logistics?

Using an analytical framework of 15 ecosystem factors, we compared traditional companies against digital newcomers. Our ad hoc study revealed that digitization influences business systems on several levels, but standard best practices are not one of them.

Network resiliency

In most supply chains, the hierarchical model is still living and prospering. Digital newcomers usually create a web-like structure across the entire business. While the traditional approach may guarantee price stability and quality, this web structure allows a much faster ramp-up and exchange of partners – making it more resilient to change.

Dependencies

In traditional networks, the business is likely evolving around mutual advantages. Very often, there are tight, symbiotic business connections with limited sets of partners. New digital networks are operating with an increased focus on leveraging opportunities. Plus, partners are encouraged to participate, widen, and promote the network – even if they do not directly contribute to revenue or profit margins.

Brand management

Web structures are especially attractive to companies that find it difficult to access traditional value chains. In general, classic supply chains cannot keep up with the speed of change nor deal with new and unexpected supply-chain partners in future digital networks. And as “new and unexpected” translate into “interesting and exciting” for consumers, companies may encounter significant branding issues.

Path dependency

Digital newcomers usually have a lower path dependency, such as mode of action. Unfortunately, this can be attributed to perspectives and business plans that are not based on decades of experience in one business. Of course, knowing a business for many years has its advantages as well – but only if knowledge is successfully transferred into the digital world.

A new way to operate

As pointed out in an earlier blog, digitization is proven to be a shortcut for some traditional processes and functions. In turn, embedding best practices into supply-chain and logistics processes and avoiding any transfer of knowledge as long as possible may appear to be an obvious solution. However, according to our findings, it might not be the best path to dealing with changes related to digital transformation.

While digitization may indeed wash away former competitive advantages, it also empowers companies to use their vast knowledge and connections to get on par with digital newcomers – on a new and different level. For example, most traditional best practices are now outsourced and can be easily applied as a service. But more important, instead of waiting to be disrupted by digitization, businesses can become as flexible as possible to enhance the customer experience and build loyalty.

For more on disruption without damage, see 4 Ways to Digitally Disrupt Your Business Without Destroying It.

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Idea Director of Thought Leadership at SAP. His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.