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Disruption – the wrong word for a powerful new way of doing business

I’ve written before on the need for businesses to roll with the punches in this unending age of disruption. Be more tortoise. So it was interesting to listen to 4 massive, long established businesses talking about how they were responding to change.

Strategy

Fran Brosan

FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN

Fran’s focus is advising clients on the strategic role that digital communications and technologies can play in strengthening business performance. She is author of Omobono’s award winning research programme ‘What Works Where in B2B Digital Marketing’ and has 3 IPA Advertising Effectiveness Awards to her name.

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The occasion was the rather lengthily titled ‘The Art of Self-Disruption – an incumbent’s guide to re-invention in the age of disruption’ (phew). It was ably hosted by LinkedIn in their swish new building in Farringdon. The brands were RBS, SAP, Microsoft and BP. Together they have successfully navigated 493 years in business; from RBS’s impressive 292 years to the ‘arriviste’ Microsoft which only has 44 years on its clock. Still, not to be sniffed at.

With collective revenues of £455bn these businesses don’t look like they are going to go out of business any time soon. 77% of the world’s transactions run on SAP software. Our reliance on fossil fuels isn’t going to evaporate overnight. Microsoft’s operating platform is ubiquitous. And people will continue to need banks no matter how they interact with them on mobile.

Despite this, every panel member, Emma Isaac from RBS, Maggie Buggie from SAP, Richard Potter (I wonder if he gets called Harry from time to time?) from Microsoft and Jurgen Bloemers from BP saw innovation as a key part of their remit – whether or not it was in their job titles.

And despite the apparent success of the status quo, every company was deep in self-disruption. The simple reason of course is the need for self-preservation. As Mark Wilson, ex CEO of Aviva said, if you don’t cannibalise your own business, someone else will.

What became apparent during the evening is that disruption had far deeper results than just gaining commercial advantage. From listening to customers, to embracing diversity of thought, it seems that pursuing money for the sake of money is no longer the way to do business in the age of disruption. And the new way of doing business is resonating in ways that the word ‘disruption’, with all its negative implications of change and discomfort, doesn’t do justice to.

Listening to the comments from the excellent panel, four themes emerged for me. They aren’t necessarily complete answers to the question ‘How do you successfully self-disrupt’ but they do highlight the things you need to consider when doing so.

1. Focus your business on your customer.

  • If you want to be in business in the future, find out what your customer wants.
  • If you are going to be different, it needs to be for a reason.
  • Innovation is only going to be valuable to you if it’s valuable to the customer.
  • Help them with a post purchase reward to cement loyalty to new services.

2. Don’t do it on your own.

  • Go to market with your customers – they know their market better than you can.
  • Collaborate with your competitors – particularly in service of the customer
  • Partner with the ‘hyper-scalers’ and use the power of the crowd
  • But (top tip) ensure you know what your IP is and protect it.

3. Put your people at the heart of it

  • Putting your staff first is at the heart of business success.
  • The story of change has to be the story of changing the workforce, and the culture.
  • Authentic leadership is critical. Leaders must be seen to behave with purpose in mind, not just profit.
  • Your brand story has to be shared internally and has to be authentic at the point of interaction.
  • But (another top tip) remember that innovation needs process. If you are to make it ‘sticky’ both culturally and in business terms, then you need to make sure there is a properly managed beginning, middle and (hopefully successful) end.

4. Harness diversity

  • Diversity of thought is invaluable – from gender to economic status. And for now it’s still an advantage humans have over AI!
  • Get your senior management out into the 3rd sector, if you really want to get a different point of view.
  • Welcome input from everyone, from every walk of life. You’ll get as much from working with disadvantaged people as they will get from you. And not in a ‘making you feel good way’, in a ‘this will fundamentally improve our product or service’ way.

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