Predator Organizations 2/2

Executive summary: What makes the network of your employees work as the brain of a hunting predator?

Owl attacking prey


This post will only make sense if you’ve read the first part [1].


The predator–organization analogy

The organization–predator analogy has been detailed in the first part of this article. Even though the analogy would work well with almost any organism [2], I have used the hunting predator as a compelling picture with which most of us would easily identify.

Summary of the predator–organization analogy
Predator Organization
Drive survive and reproduce fulfill the mission
Path to success sequence of goals vision, strategy
Next goal prey next step in the strategy
Action hunting working

External environment real world conditions market conditions
Internal environment own biological conditions conditions within the organization

Control network “wet brain” “social brain”
Brain node neuron individual employee
Cluster of nodes brain region team
Inter-node communication electrical and chemical interpersonal


Behaving like the predator

Once you’ve set up the predator organization as detailed in [1], it’s time to turn on its social brain to determine its goals and to hunt them down one after the other. For this, the network of employees has to be kept focused on the four critical functions of the predator brain:

Perception: Continuously gather information about the external and internal environment

  1. Know your market and customers
    Identify all the assumptions in your business and work out quick ways to validate or invalidate them.
  2. Know yourself
    Know where you are on the journey towards achieving the mission and the vision of the organization. Check if the management is in touch with the teams and that there’s two way communication between them. If an employee identifies an impediment, does it get communicated and removed? Your processes shall ensure a rapid way to raise and escalate issues.
  3. Establish proper metrics
    You need to have simple but meaningful metrics in place, updated regularly. Get rid of vanity metrics [3].
  4. Be aware and anticipate
    Would you be aware in time, if the environment was to undergo a significant change? (e.g. new enabling technology appears, new competitor product is about to conquer the market, competitor recruiters start aiming at your best talent, …) Do you understand how this will affect you? Are you prepared? Make sure you always have a Plan B and know when you have to switch to it.

Definition: Set goals, priorities and actions to be taken

  1. Set your goals clearly. Make them transparent to all employees
    It’s not enough if it’s clear to you. Others have to know about it and have to interpret it the same way you do.
  2. Keep your direction always relevant both on a tactical and on a strategic level
    Prepare to revise the goals (tactics), the vision and the strategy if need be. Have decision making policies in place that enable the organization to do the revision quickly. If you do adjust the direction, make it transparent and explain the employees why the update was needed. After a while it will be clear for everybody that the direction of the organization is not cast in stone, but subject to continuous optimization.
  3. Prioritize all your goals, tasks, actions, etc…
    There shall be no two items having the same priority. It means, that the result of a clear prioritization is always a strictly ordered sequence. Having such priorities as “high”, “middle”, “should do” or “can do” shall only be used as intermediate tools towards achieving a real priority list. Be ready to change priorities as new information arises.

Decision: Adapt to the changing environment by quick and efficient decision making

  1. Measure and minimize your decision latency… [4]
    …, i.e. the time elapsed between the need to make a decision and the actual act of deciding.
  2. Have a clear and effective decision making process
    It takes a miracle for a committee/board to have such a process. Go for single individuals as decision makers, who will also serve as central points of communication for all the stakeholders interested in a decision. These decision makers shall also actively look for input from others to make better decisions, but shall not wait until consensus forms.
  3. Measure and minimize the time until a decision takes effect
    If it takes too long, than you probably have problems with the decision making process, leadership and transparency. Look for warning signs like second-guessing or overrule by more senior decision makers.

Storing and recalling: Learn from experience and apply what was learned

  1. Measure and maximize employee retention rate
    As employees are the neurons in the brain of your organization, low employee retention results in severe brain damage to it. Know why people join the company, why they stay and why they leave. Understanding the decisions of your best talents takes more than taking exit interviews never ever to be read.
  2. Build teams
    In real teams communication is a triviality and the knowledge of senior members gets automatically disseminated.
  3. Build great places to work
    You need offices that enable your employees both to mingle and share experiences, as well as to concentrate and generate knowledge. This is possible if you combine classical small offices with central places to meet and relax. Home-office and asynchronous part-time can indeed be better than a bad office, but are very far from being the optimal solution.

Managers shall focus 100% on the above activities, while non-management teams play a double role as both “brain regions” and “muscles”, carrying out the actions the network decided to take. For this, the organization has to have well defined, lightweight processes in place that govern the predator brain behavior.
Now is the time to think about your organizational structure and processes, using the organism analogy. Is your organization set up to successfully compete for the resources as the ultimate predator? If not, it’s time to change, before the alphas get all the prey.


Remarks and References
  1. Predator organizations 1/2; link
  2. To recognize the similarities between organizations and biological organisms is not new. In fact, it goes back to at least a century to the roots of tektology, general systems theory and cybernetics.
  3. On vanity metrics, see Eric Ries, The Lean Startup, Currency, 2011. Or just do a Google search.
  4. More on the decision latency theory in Jim Johnson/The Standish Group, CHAOS Report 2018
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