Stephen R. Covey famously said, “If there’s one thing that’s certain in business, it’s uncertainty.” The prescience of these words is clear in a time when key decisions come with such a wide range of risks, possible outcomes and potential technology solutions.
And it’s also true that the problems themselves change and evolve; in my 15 years of working with businesses to enable change, I’ve never solved the same problem twice. Businesses are continuously looking to innovate to gain a competitive advantage or adapt to market conditions.
This two-part series will explore how business analysis can help organisations to solve complex problems for competitive advantage. Part 1 will look at:
- How the way change is implemented is evolving;
- The benefits of building a great support team; and
- How an external view can provide a clear roadmap for an organisation.
Part 2 will take these practices into my recent experience to walk through how business analysis can leverage a global supply chain for competitive advantage.
Evolving ways to implement change
Businesses transform for a reason; PESTLE analysis gives us a constructive way to structure these. There are a multitude of reasons why an organisation might want to change, including HIPPOs (the HIghest Paid Person's Opinion) and it is vital that decisions are questioned and made with as much verified information as possible.
PESTLE Analysis - drivers for change and how change is made
Operating in a free market or under greater regulation, such as changes to employment laws or foreign policy.We are seeing a push towards nationalism and protectionism within territories that makes operating consistently across borders more challenging
Changes to Tax structures, contract payment terms and customer spending powerThe economic fallout from Covid-19 is predicted to exceed that of the 2008 financial crisis. Debt levels will be high whilst interest rates are expected to stay low, propped up by governments intervention and quantative easing
Cultural and lifestyle changes, target customer and talent recruitment demographics
The global push for improved equality, equity and opportunities for all is driving behaviour and mindset changes.
The new opportunities presented from R&D, innovation and the need to build more resilient and available solutions.Markets are seeing rapid acceleration with 24/7 operating and immediate delivery through Internet of Things, AI and the prevalence of automation
Health and safety, consumer protection and antitrust laws are having greater impact on operations with pressures from the media and staff.When prioritising solution features the cost of must have regulatory requirements alone can make delivery uneconomical. There is an expectation of public good in the commercial sector.
The effects of Climate Change on markets and employees is the biggest challenge facing organisations in the medium term.Businesses are expected to operating sustainably and invest in solutions that have a positive impact on the natural world.
However, the ways in which businesses implement change are evolving. Command and control and HIPPOs are becoming less prevalent in growing and successful organisations. Instead, leadership team consensus and engagement are mainstream in deciding how to satisfy shareholders. An effective change programme will engage HR, IT and Finance teams to work together with business operations to implement new ways of working beyond the responsibilities of the CEO.
The benefit of building a great support team
Successful CEOs invest in advisors beyond their executive team of CFO and CIO, to include coaches, mentors and consultants. No matter our seniority we crave simplicity and the easiest puzzle to solve. With the weight of data and information available, leaders can struggle to have the thinking space to manage it all. Big data analytics and AI can help process the data, but still struggle to factor in all the variables considered in our PESTLE analysis earlier. It is the great people that the business needs to make the decisions that take the organisation towards achieving its objectives.
This is where the tactical introduction of business consultants can be most effective. It is important to remember the difference between Business Consultants and Business Analysts (BAs). Both are agents for change, can find inefficiencies in the organisation and advise on technology as needed. However, whilst a BA specialises in the elicitation and communication of user and market requirements the Business Consultant is able to understand these requirements in context and formulate a plan to transform the business.
The How an external view can provide a clear roadmap for an organisation
But how are Business Consultants able to provide advice on complex problems when internal teams cannot?
Increasingly, leadership teams are being faced with decision making where there are no correct answers but plenty of opinions. There are ‘unknown unknowns’ and ‘black swans’ impacting operations that go against all perceived knowledge.
A consultant can provide 3 benefits here:
- An external, unbiased and non-political perspective of the organisations operations;
- Reference a wider experience of existing market and competitor solutions; and
- Provide a clear roadmap of decision making based on analysis and reading the Narrative of the organisation.
Translating the Narrative is a specialist and uncommon leadership skill. It goes beyond actively listening and understanding the provided information to comprehending the story it is telling. This is partly considering the PESTLE context in which the organisation operates and partly projecting the trend of where the organisation is going.
For example, your staff satisfaction survey samples 60% of your workforce and the HR team provides an overall satisfaction metric of 80% for recommending your business to a friend as a great place to work. However, the HR recruitment team are also telling you that hiring great candidates is difficult because they think your organisation has a poor benefits package compared to other employers. You also remember your conversations with a Team Lead in operations who a couple of months ago was really engaged in their project, but when you spoke again last week was complaining about the prices in the staff canteen. Who do you believe? What is the real story of the organisation? Is the information politically motivated? You need to be able to read between the data points and see that there is a growing dissatisfaction in your staff base that, if left unchecked, could reduce productivity and drive an increase in recruitment costs.
Basing a decision on a narrative is risky and hard to quantify in terms of probability or costs. However, doing nothing is often not an option. Bringing in Business Consultants give the leadership team thinking capacity to process the narrative and presents solutions as a set of simple choices.
This drive for simplicity is becoming increasingly common for leadership teams. Historically, the preference was to be provided with options, Gold, Silver and Bronze to balance cost against benefit. Now CEOs are asking for black and white decisions to guarantee outcomes. What might have been spending £300k to minimise a risk, is now spending £500k (or not) to get a definite outcome and pass the accountability for risk mitigation to another party.
The true value of business analysis lies in its application to real-world problems. Part 2 will analyse how we can use business narratives to bring transformative, competitive change to global organisations.