How can understanding methodologies from other disciplines benefit business leaders?
During the day to day running of a business it can be hard to see how and where to effect change to see the best results. A lot of the latest ‘hot’ ideas are actually just new takes on existing methodologies that have been repackaged, and it can be hard to separate the really innovative approaches from the same old stories. This is a common challenge in business, finding how to look at things in a new way. How can we bring a different lens to business practices to improve things or find new ways of working? This is crucial, not simply for the sake of being different, but in driving innovation within an organisation, and this means casting the net wider. By looking outside your own industry and sector, and even outside ‘business’ itself, and identifying theories from other disciplines, leaders can apply different approaches and reap the benefits.
A great example of this is taken from archaeology. Understanding the current state of play is a critical first step for any business looking to innovate, change or grow. The practice of archaeology is focused on finding artefacts that have been long hidden, finding opportunities to understand what has gone before. The archaeological process can be distilled into four steps: Identify; Investigate; Reveal; Protect. Taking these principles into a business setting can be helpful when undertaking a discovery process, mapping and analysing current and past systems and processes and identifying areas for improvement and risk management.
The first step is to identify areas of risk or areas of opportunity in a business, using existing knowledge and tools. Viewing the business on a wider scale – getting the birds eye view as in archaeology – allows us to develop a greater understanding of systems and processes across an organisation, and how they integrate and feed in to one another. This wider view is extremely useful to uncover processes that have become cumbersome or require streamlining.
Once the areas have been identified, more detail is required. This stage is where we start to dig deeper (quite literally when it comes to archaeology!), to reveal the details of a process or business area. This is critical in building an understanding of what might be possible when it comes to transformation and innovation, highlighting the knowns, and the unknowns.
Following further investigation, the ‘reveal’ is the stage where a full As-Is picture can be collated, as well as clear To-Be future state proposals. This stage reveals the key opportunities for a business, as well as highlighting any particular areas of risk to be considered.
When it comes to archaeology, the ‘protect’ stage is very much focused upon preserving finds against erosion or further damage, however when applying this to business, the focus turns much more the protecting the business against these risks or low-efficiency operating models. At this stage, leaders should be looking to implement transformation projects, retraining programmes, or process reengineering to better mitigate risks and boost productivity.
Turning to engineering and manufacturing, the concept of setting up safety systems is very much like that of designing processes. The STAMP practices developed by Nancy Leveson from MIT are based upon the principles of system theory. Usually when problems occur, these are blamed on human error, however when using the STAMP methodology, the focus is switched to a failure of the process, and resources are directed to redetermine the process itself, rather than looking only to the people involved. This follows these basic steps:
- Control Structure: Process operators determine actions and outline these in a process model.
- Controlled Testing: Test these processes against the documented model – If the model is incorrect then failure will often occur.
- Process Control Failure Review: Review these failures of process not as user error but rather a failure of process control.
- Process Redesign: Use these learnings to design processes with constraints on component behaviour and interactions.
Applying these to a business context can help establish a structure for designing processes but also form a basis for understanding where processes might be going wrong. Placing the focus on the process error, rather than a human mistake, can be a useful tool when it comes to organisational change. Human behaviour is always the factor most resistant to change, and so applying this ideology can be persuasive and encourage buy-in from knowledge holders, as it encourages involvement to help solve the process problem rather than pointing fingers at individuals.
This method has obvious safety benefits, but also helps when it comes to creating accurate documentation. Building detailed documentation is a vital tool for business leaders, not only in demonstrating where costs and efficiency savings can be made and processes streamlined, but also forming a baseline process that can be adapted as needed. When it comes to any kind of innovation this will inevitably result in reduced waste and cost, and can be used to understand the current state and design the future state, building process efficiency and safety into systems design.
Growth is often the main objective of business leaders, and applying the theory of muscle growth used in strength training can help develop new ways of achieving this. Building muscle groups is usually thought of in three areas: growth, strength, and power. By using a variety of methods to work muscles in different ways, the goal is to develop these different yet complimentary objectives, ensuring versatility of ability, from strength, to stamina, to flexibility. By thinking of the business as a muscle, we can apply these objectives, with the aim of growing in a stable and sustainable way:
When thinking about sport, this is the hypertrophy stage, building the muscle size. Applying this to the business world, means thinking about this in terms of growth, both of contacts and network, but also resources. This could be an ongoing strategy of attending or hosting events, building up sales pipelines, or even expanding the offering or customer base.
Strength training is useful to build up the capabilities of a muscle group – the weight they carry, or the movement they support. In a business context this means looking inward, and ensuring the operating model is strong, flexible and scalable. Focus on internal policies, procedures and communications, and ensure systems and people are being used in the most efficient manner to deliver the best for your clients.
When it comes to power, this is where stamina and longevity come to the fore, that is, how much power is in a particular muscle. For organisations, the power is in the people: no matter how good the technology or system, without people these can generally only get you so far. Ensuring staff have a solid training programmes, with opportunities to refresh and review on an ongoing basis means that processes are adhered to, and can be improved and tweaked on a regular basis. Investing in learning and development will also mean having the best skilled people for the role, and can also be a vital tool when it comes to staff retention. Empowering your internal resources to learn and develop promotes innovation, and in turn helps the business develop and grow.
There are many other disciplines to raid for methodologies, and although these may not at first glance seem applicable or useful, on review they can offer insights and approaches for business leaders. These can all offer different ways to look at things, and provide ideas on how to approach change and growth within an organisation.