Executive Summary: The idea that technology will disintermediate many jobs, even companies, is not new. What is new is the realization that your average manager, even senior manager, has little or no insight into which new technology will overtake them and/or their company or how to manage when it appears on the horizon. This is not entirely their fault. What would help is someone at their side helping them understand the larger picture.
A couple of weeks ago I was watching a morning financial news program. One of the guests was the CEO of a relatively new private jet service. He was incredibly enthusiastic about plans for the company to essentially become the Uber or Lyft of the aviation industry. The remarkable thing about his presentation was not that he was planning to “roll up” other small, private aircraft services, but that technology, a software platform that his team was developing, would allow virtually all small carriers to link with him. Thus, for the cost of development of this software, he could transform from a late entrant in the private jet space to the dominant player. The cost would be a tiny fraction of what it would take to buy out the other small players even if that was possible.
That got me thinking, what else was “lurking” out there that the average manager, even senior manager, wasn’t thinking about that could result in them or their company disappearing virtually overnight? Answer: Tons.
Nate Pitzer, Founder of Find Technologies answered the question: “How many startups are there in Silicon Valley (including San Francisco)?”, with an estimate of between six and nine thousand. If we assume a conservative doubling of those numbers for the entire US and quadruple them for all global startups, we are talking about anywhere from twenty-four to thirty-six thousand companies. The possibility exists that any one of them could take down a company in short order. The probability exists that together they will cause the elimination of thousands of current jobs.
With that as a back drop and with the understanding that most managers, at all levels, are focused on getting today’s job done, almost none of them have time to think about the much larger picture. Those that do are usually focused on incremental improvement of what they are already doing, e.g., updating the sales forecasting software. This can be disastrous for them and catastrophic for their companies.
I can hear the arguments against this perspective even as I write this: “We have an entire department devoted to long range planning”. “Our executive team spends a substantial percentage of their time focused on the future”. And so on…. While I agree that many companies try to anticipate the future and some even get it largely right, that is not the point. Often the best laid plans do not “trickle down” to the individual contributor and first- and second-line manager level with any kind of clarity. The result is that implementation of any plan designed to meet the future head on is watered down to the point of futility. (See my earlier post: Buzzwords – Transformation.)
Without the much larger team aligned with the plan, successful implementation almost never happens. A simple example: According to an article published in Forbes Magazine, that summarized a KPMG study an astounding 83% of mergers failed to boost shareholder returns. (George Bradt, Senior Contributor, Forbes, January 27,2015.) The sad part regarding this study is the fact that these failures were almost entirely “human capital” related. If it is nearly impossible to successfully implement a forward-looking initiative such as a merger, where much is known and an integration planned for, how do we expect to anticipate, absorb and respond to the likely comet heading directly towards Company HQ from “Silicone Valley” or points East?
At least part of the answer could be to provide both executive and first and second line managers with a resource specifically designed to help them see the larger picture. Executive coaches have been around for a long time. There are even a handful of “superstars”. Tony Robbins and Marshal Goldsmith come to mind. Even these and similar highly competent coaches usually focus on the here and now or on how to “fix” a “broken” manager. What I am suggesting is a coaching initiative that is specifically designed to focus on the prospect for disintermediation by working with first- and second-line management on plan implementation in a transformative environment. That is, the coach would be specifically tasked to help managers at the “coal face” transform the organization. I believe the “ROI” on this investment would be astronomical.
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