How Adopting A 'Living Organism' Business Model Will Drive More Post-Pandemic Growth

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Today’s True Leadership For The Future of Work” 

As many experts, management consultancies and research studies are sharing, the global pandemic has exposed cracks in trusted business models that guided top companies for decades. Decision-making, innovation, and responsiveness to both employees’ and customers’ needs, for instance, simply haven’t kept up at the pace that’s needed. Digital technology has evolved from a marginal outlier to societal mainstream, offering leaders hope for exponential progress, disrupting traditional business and creating new champions, while leaving others behind. 

According to Jeff Kavanaugh, global head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute—the research and thought leadership arm of Infosys—in today’s new normal, businesses need to respond more like a living organism, adapting in real time to its environment, from far-reaching global crises to shifting markets and customer preferences.

Kavanaugh is also a professor at University of Texas at Dallas, and author of the bestselling book Consulting Essentials. He has co-authored the new book The Live Enterprise: Create a Continuously Evolving and Learning Organization with Rafee Tarafdar, CTO-Strategic Technology Group at Infosys. Their new book reveals how a more resilient operating model can overcome critical challenges while driving post-Covid-19 growth.

Here’s what Kavanuagh shares:

Kathy Caprino: How has the coronavirus pandemic challenged businesses’ operating principles?

Jeff Kavanaugh: The global pandemic accelerated existing trends and exposed the greatest strategic challenge of all: resilience.

Over the last 30 years, large companies have tried to be more like startups… and failed. All despite embracing trends like digital transformation, lean startup, and design thinking. As a result, traditional responses to change are no longer enough.

What’s changed? Emerging technologies like cloud, mobile, open source, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT) have gone mainstream, forcing businesses to think bigger, decide sooner, and act faster than ever before.

Today’s customers and employees are more than just aware of sustainability and equality—they demand action from business, and a ‘build back better’ mindset where large enterprises take responsibility beyond their role to drive the bottom line.

Caprino: So what do you think is needed most now to help companies become more competitive and adaptive? 

Kavanaugh: Our book, The Live Enterprise, is based on the metaphor of a living organism, and shares practical examples drawn from nature. And some surprising phenomena can inspire the most powerful business outcomes:  Flocks of birds, for example, teach us an operating model with simple rules, no center or leader, and resilience via small units that sense and respond with agility at scale. An octopus teaches us about decisions at the edge; gray wolves in Yellowstone Park teach us about responsive value chains, and the neuron forest in our brains shows how to drive decisions swiftly and accurately in the face of disruption.

To be competitive, companies need to continuously evolve and learn, much like nature. As a new operating model, the Live Enterprise is driven by nature’s genius, applying lessons throughout. Nature can be seen as a mentor with some 3.8 billion years of experience—and the very best R&D program of all.

Caprino: In your book, you share that employee experience is the next frontier of corporate performance. Can you explain?

Kavanaugh: Employees need to be positioned at the center of an organization, shaping a collaborative environment that’s personalized to align performance, motivation and purpose.

Employee experience (EX) was traditionally overshadowed by customer experience (CX), but now organizations understand employees are their greatest asset, whose experience drives business success. And user centricity helps a live enterprise focus to deliver better experience and productivity.

Three elements combine to make this work—heart, focused on a better experience; brain, focused on efficiency and continuous learning; and machine, focused on measuring, learning, and continuous improvement. Data is captured only once—if the information already exists in the enterprise, then users should not be asked to enter it again.

The result is an intelligent, personalized experience that understands the user’s context and adapts based on their usage patterns. The platform brings understanding to the user experience, monitoring usage patterns and frictions to shape continuous improvement.  

Caprino: How can companies build intuitive decision-making capabilities?

Kavanaugh: Intuitive design starts with connected knowledge that links data and interactions of an organization so that it’s available to all. Then it adds a digital brain, which takes all this information and quickly makes intuitive decisions and quickly pushes them out. And business value increases when value chains are more responsive and intuitive.

Sensory awareness also allows us to reimagine processes through five sentient principles: proximity to source (the right decisions at the right place); zero latency (the right decisions at the right time); instant simulation (the ability to produce instant what-if analysis); micro-feedback (continuous data flow), and guided practice (best practice that changes behavior).

Caprino:  You discuss automating routines in your book. What is the key value of that, for organizations, especially in times like now? 

Kavanaugh: Automating routines allows for intuitive decisions and responses with minimum human intervention, so we can focus on more advanced decisions not suited for machines. This helps organizations make swift, accurate decisions, while applying resilience in the face of disruption. With cultural change, businesses can transform employees’ routines and behavior over time.

Micro-change management delivers small, lasting change by addressing micro-problems with small, hyper-productive, agile teams. With features and functions released every six weeks, new routines can gradually drive larger changes in corporate behavior.

Caprino:  How can companies capitalize on the shift from full-time employees to ‘employees + machines + gig’ economy, as you mention?

Kavanaugh: The modern organization has gone through a profound shift from full-time employees to also embrace part-time employees (or the gig economy) and extreme automation. This combination of hybrid talent—full-time employees, gig workers and automation—is much like an evolving symbiotic ecosystem in nature.

The optimized allocation of work will boost productivity, allowing full-time workers to focus on innovation and problem-finding (including diagnosis and high-empathy tasks) while machines will do routine work, solve problems and find solutions with efficiency. Meanwhile, gig economy workers will address peak demand and offer specialized skills.

Caprino:  What about “reskilling?” How does that fit in, in the future of work?

Kavanaugh: With a virtual workforce, traditional boundaries between full-time talent and freelancers will blur for many companies. In the future workplace, watch for hybrid teams that reflect diverse educations, geographies, backgrounds, and work schedules. Leaders can help teams advance by reskilling and upskilling (or sharpening current skill sets), prioritizing work, and improving the quality of jobs with better training and education.

Investment in employee development is critical, but cannot address the combined need for flexibility and automation. To provide corporate resilience and employee career development, organizations should deliver on four career architecture initiatives: 

  1. Remodel organizations for digital
  2. Jobs for digital
  3. Specialization as the new talent currency
  4. Building a skill-based talent ecosystem

That is why hybrid talent is the future, and a combination of employees, machines, and the gig economy provides the scale and flexibility to fulfill staffing needs. Depending on the nature of the work, the mix of hybrid talent—or ratio of employees, bots, and gig workers—will evolve over time. 

For more information, visit The Live Enterprise.  

Kathy Caprino is a career and leadership coach, speaker, educator, and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professional women build their most rewarding careers through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs and Finding Brave podcast.


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