In this guest post, Bronwyn Van Der Merwe (pictured below), managing director of Fjord Australia and New Zealand (part of Accenture Interactive), details the four traits of a ‘living business’ – something she believes organisations have to become in order to transform successfully.
The digital age has created a plethora of challenges for modern organisations, from adopting new technologies, to navigating increasing amounts of data and competing against new digital entrants.
In this new age, customer experience has become the battleground. For example, we are seeing retailers such as luxury e-commerce platform Net-a-Porter provide ultra-premium service through personal shoppers and customised packaging. Similarly, Apple’s Genius Bar provides expert hands-on customer support and hardware repairs, demonstrating its commitment to a great customer experience. As innovative organisations race to deliver new products and services to the market to remain relevant to their customers, this is in turn creating rising customer expectations across all industries and all areas of our lives.
These expectations are now spreading into the workplace, as the demand for rewarding brand experiences extends from the consumer to the employee. However, evidence shows a growing disengagement from employees. For example, according to a 2018 Aon report on trends in employee engagement, globally only 27 per cent of employees are highly engaged. This is no coincidence – as rising expectations pervade all aspects of our lives, they also leave us expecting more of our working environment – an expectation that is too often left unmet.
In order to stay relevant and prosper in a fast-changing world fuelled by the digitisation of everything, and rising customer and employee expectations, we see organisations embark on digital transformations. They race to implement a new set of emerging technologies or launch new products and services to the market, however, they don’t tend to take into account the paradox that whilst technology changes fast, people don’t.
These factors result in transformations that fail in the long run, costing businesses billions, with some reports quoting that up to 70 per cent of digital transformations undertaken by 2020 will fail.
At Accenture, we believe that in order to be successful at transformation organisations have to become a ‘living business’; one that is responsive, emotive, ambitious, and able to constantly adapt to the needs of the market, but equally importantly, the needs of their evolving workforce.
We think there are four essential human characteristics of a living business, called the vital signs.
This is the set of behaviours, beliefs and values that shape the experience of interacting with a company – whether as a customer or colleague. Personality reaches deep inside a business – it’s what you stand for and why you exist. It should be colourful and opinionated. All organisations have personality, but the main question is: how much do people reflect it and feel empowered by it?
Instinct addresses how an organisation takes decisions and adapts to change. It’s the nervous system that rallies people across structures and hierarchies to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. For instance, are employees trusted to make decisions without needing to seek approval from management each time?
This is the essence of what the company does. It’s a combination of its people’s skills and talents, that makes its offering unique and inimitable. How set up is your organisation for nurturing talent and skill?
The four vital traits are underpinned by this final trait: relationships. Relationships that span across a business’s ecosystem, including customers, employees, suppliers and the wider society. Great businesses have always been founded on great relationships, and this is more important than ever today.
The vital signs provide a useful framework for the diagnosis of symptoms of organisational dysfunction. Using a design process to identify and act upon these symptoms allows organisations to optimise these traits to become a living business.
Some organisations are already competing for the best talent in the market by recognising that their employee experience is critical to retaining competitive advantage. Australian online retailer The Iconic employs a head of employee experience rather than a traditional head of HR, taking a ‘people first’ mindset. Airbnb orchestrates the physical, emotional, intellectual, virtual, and aspirational aspects of their employees’ work life to create an outstanding experience. Its head of employee experience transcends marketing, communications, real estate, corporate social responsibility, and the traditional HR function.
Whether it’s the design of new services, digital transformation or re-evaluation of the purpose of the business as a whole, brands that create a successful living business, with humans at the heart, re-wire their organisation for perpetual change. Not a one-off, but an enduring capability to keep up with and even outpace the world around them.