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enterprise alignment

The Need For Speed

Why companies are turning to digital tools to help accelerate productivity and engagement.

by Rich Price

In 2022, spending on digital transformation — the process of using digital technologies to create new business processes, culture and services to meet rapidly changing business realities — was estimated to have reached $1.6 trillion and is forecast to reach $3.4 trillion within three years. Digital transformation is about enabling (revolutionizing) "organizational speed," where companies are accelerating their structural/organizational ability to rapidly prototype, rely more efficiently on automation, draw on AI and machine learning and optimize distributed and virtual collaboration.

As one of the most insightful minds in this space, BCG's George Stalk, explains, "across the business landscape, speed is becoming more important than size, and the basis of competition is shifting from scale to pace or tempo." Stalk has been at the center of this seismic shift in adopting agile ways of working — "to set priorities, allocate resources, and empower teams to make decisions more quickly." The goal, he explains, is to achieve "fast execution." As Stalk defines it, "fast execution is about minimizing hierarchy and unleashing creativity and judgment of the people closest to the work." This requires "increased autonomy." But "autonomy without alignment can rapidly lead to chaos."

In the second half of the 20th century, a former fighter pilot turned Pentagon strategist Col. John Boyd developed a framework called OODA (observe, orient, decide, act). OODA was developed by Boyd after he observed that some US fighter pilots in the Korean War had a far higher kill rate than others and were less likely to be killed themselves. Boyd observed that  pilots that were able to shorten their OODA loops consistently caught their opponents off-guard. This approach was, in many ways, the precursor to "agile," and it highlighted the ways in which speed of decision-making could overcome raw power and size. Stalk and his colleagues at Boston Consulting Group built upon this framework with their adjusted "SODA" loop - scan, orient, decide, act. In a modern business environment, individuals and organizations that are successfully disruptive are the ones that are able to "scan the landscape, orient themselves to new circumstances, decide how to respond and act quickly."

According to Stalk, there are "four fast strategy imperatives" that are required for "fast execution." 1.) Communicate a consistent mission — have a well-articulated, simple north star, a fixed point in a changing world, that guides the company forward. 2.) Establish a shared strategic context — create a common understanding of the strategy that drives the company. Put another way...strategic alignment. 3.) Lead with strategic intent — traditional top-down decision making typically takes the form of annual strategic plans. As Stalk explains, "this traditional top-down approach is fundamentally incompatible with the fast strategy needed to complement the fast execution of agile." Instead, "in an agile organization, everyone is expected to exercise judgment," so "simplicity and clarity are essential to balancing autonomy and alignment." 4.) Design for speed — create the conditions that enable feedback and learning loops that drive continuously iterative strategies.

We have built InspireHQ around a similar set of imperatives — we call "The Three C's" — Clarity, Coordination and Conviction —  designing it create that balance between autonomy and alignment. 

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