Predator Organizations 1/2
Executive summary: Predators and organizations share a lot in common. The executive who can build and operate a predator organization is clearly at an advantage when making critical decisions.
Predator and prey: Simplifying the complex
As an executive, you need to be able to make critical decisions affecting the whole organization. As organizations can be very complex — consisting of many elements with intricate interactions between them –, it is easy to get distracted by the details. In order to keep the essential in mind, think of your organization as a living organism. With this, you can perform a quick check of the large scale consequences of your options before finalizing a decision.
To introducing the organization–organism analogy, picture a predator chasing its prey. To be able to catch the prey, the predator has to be completely in sync with its environment. It has to consider many parameters in real time, some changing slowly (terrain, weather, …) some fast (wind direction, movement of the prey, …). Falling out of sync for a second, and the prey is gone. Continuous perception, flexible planning based on past experience and fast reactions are all crucial for success.
The successful predator
Your aim is to make the organization a successful predator. For that, you need to consider only a few critical variables:
Drive: What is considered to be the ultimate success?
- Organism: Due to the workings of evolution, an organism achieves overall success if it has a lot of healthy offspring that live long enough to reproduce.
- Organization: The meaning of “ultimate success” is laid down in the mission statement. Why does your organization exist in the first place? When would you say that it is a success story?
Goals: What do I need to do now in order to move closer to the ultimate success?
- Organism: The goal is catching the prey. Today’s hunt is a piece in the sequence of goals like finding food, escaping predators, finding a mate, nursing offspring, guarding the territory, etc…
- Organization: The goals are captured in the vision and in the strategy, describing how the organization will fulfill its mission. While the ultimate success is largely stable, the actual goals and priorities have to fit well into the reality of the present. The vision and the strategy have to be revisited regularly and have to be synced up with the environment in order to stay effective. This ensures that the organization is always moving on the shortest path towards success.
Environment: The set of things you need to consider in order to make the right decisions at the right time.
- External environment: External physical conditions (temperature, humidity, …), weather, terrain, other organisms, …
- Internal environment: Hunger, pain, sickness, …
- External environment: Customer interests, requirements, competition, regulations, work market, technologies, market opportunities, …
- Internal environment: Available employees, skills, resources, team dynamics, collaborations, company culture, initiatives, …
The environment determines the opportunities, risks and constraints. The reason why agile is a topic today, is that the environment changes much faster nowadays than it used to in the past.
Brain: The complex decision making system syncing the goals and the execution with the environment.
- Organism: The “wet brain” is a complex network of neurons and brain regions. The interactions between the nodes are of electrical and chemical nature.
- Organization: The network of employees and teams create the “social brain” of the organization. The nodes interact by means of various forms of human communication. Proper organization, processes and tools ease the communication, inappropriate ones block it.
The brain has to perform the following tasks:
- Perceive: Continuously gather information about the external and internal environment
- Define: Set goals, priorities and actions to be taken
- Decide: Make rapid decisions in order to adapt to the changing environment
- Store and recall: Learn from experience and apply what has been learned
As decisions change the environment, these steps constitute a feedback loop. To be successful, the feedback loop has to execute faster than the environment changes. The faster the environment changes relative to the cycle time of the brain, the harder it is to act according to the reality of the moment.
Becoming the predator
The predator analogy can readily be used if you have a highly effective, efficient and flexible learning organization. Should this not yet be the case, take the following steps in order to set up a predator organization:
Drive: We move in the same, well defined direction as a single unit
- Create a simple, unambiguous mission
Capture it in writing in a clear and concise way.
- Make sure that the mission is maximally visible
Every employee should know it by heart. It has to be clear for every potential customer.
Goals: We all work on, and only on the right things every minute, in order to reach our destination
- Build a clear set of vision…
… consisting only of major, meaningful objectives needed to achieving the mission
- Forge a lucid strategy…
… representing your current understanding of the shortest path to fulfilling the mission
- Ascertain that the vision and the strategy is transparent and visible
Every employee has to be able to see where she contributes to the big picture. Each member of the organization has to fully understand the parts of the vision and the strategy relevant for her work. They shall know enough context to be able to make the right decisions during their everyday work
- Define processes that prevent straying
Don’t allow the vision and the strategy to go stale! Always keep them synchronized with the latest understanding of the internal and external environment
Environment: We understand both ourselves and our surroundings, so we can adapt
- Separate assumptions from facts
Actively work on identifying and testing assumptions
- Secure a strong, continuous information inflow, …
… both from the external and internal environments. Ensure that new information is used to validate/invalidate assumptions and to steer the goals accordingly. Set up the right metrics to gain access to quantitative, traceable insight
- Optimize for rapid internal flow of information
Set up simple, easy to navigate processes and tools to accelerate internal communication. Make sure that key information reach the decision makers in a timely manner. Double-check that the organization’s culture and structures support the efficient spreading of information
In the upcoming second part of the article we will take a look at operating a predator organization once it has been set up.