Leaders Transforming Organisations Exponentially

By Dr Arul Aruleswaran|10-09-2020 | 7 Min Read
No two leaders are exactly alike and neither is the process of transforming organisations.

Reflecting again on the question that was raised in my recent article, “Does every organisation need to have its own Steve Jobs?” Also discussed previously was the stages of leadership an individual need to go through before leading an organisation that is capable of becoming disruptive.

Looking at the trends, one would agree that these disruptors are start-ups that have its own humble beginnings, that we all read about and cherish their successes.

The adage in this day and age is to rely on data, algorithms, artificial intelligence and collaboration with external parties, therefore reducing the reliance towards in-house expertise and talents.

So, what would the direction be for in-house experts? How should a mature organisation develop its in-house experts to become leaders that can lead, transform and disrupt the market exponentially?

One scenario that is often reflective of successful older organisations, is the leadership’s mindset of having to wait and see before taking any actions.

Most leaders start to act only when a clear threat to the organisation is identified, however in most cases, it is often too late, for example, Blockbuster Inc., Kodak Inc. or even Toys“R”Us, to name a few.

The exponential speed of how disruptive organisation changes the landscape of the market and for its customers, leaves older organisation with hardly any time to respond to the impact on its business.

Gartner in their book titled Leading Through Digital Disruption, highlights the importance of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) in an organisation being equipped with the right tools, techniques and methods to drive digital disruptions.

They go on to state that CIOs can lead the organisation to overcome the challenges of digital disruption and equip peers to recognise and deal with digital disruption.

To become a disruptor is without a doubt challenging. However, businesses with an established market and brand name ought to consider leveraging on the knowledge that they have about their business such as the relationship with their customers and also existing disruptive technologies that are available out there and become a complementary disruptor.

Disruption by any means is to add value to the customer, and solving customer problems. Companies such as IBM (who acquired the Weather Channel for its global-scale platform and data) or Facebook (who acquired WhatsApp and Instagram) are successful for not only being a disruptor but also recognising and embracing the need to be part of the eco-system by becoming a part of the complementary disruption (source Leading Through Digital Disruption).

Leadership characteristics

Again, focusing on leadership, it is interesting to understand the various types of leadership. In HBR’s Top 10 on Leadership, the paper by David Rooke and William Torbert articulates the seven different types of leadership characteristics and only 15 per cent of the leaders from thousands that were surveyed over 25 years, have the characteristics to lead transformation. These characteristics are Individualists, Strategists and Alchemists.

Leaders with such characteristics have the capacity, capability and competency to innovate and successfully transform the organisation. The summary of all seven characteristics is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Leadership Characteristics

Key points that can be summarised are:

1. Individualists (10%) use communication and resource management skills as the leverage to drive people in organisations to drive transformation.

2. Strategists (4%) focuses on vision, organisational constraints and perceptions that exist across multiple levels of the organisation and creates a shared vision to encourage personal and organisational transformation.

3. Alchemists (1%) have the ability to use data and information to communicate with clarity to both management and employees uniquely whilst reinventing themselves throughout the course of transformation.

Fifty-five per cent of leaders can be characterised as Opportunists, Diplomats and Experts and thirty per cent are characterised as Achievers.

What is important is that these characteristics can be transformed and evolved. This is driven by the individuals’ ability to learn new skills and knowledge.

Organisations in industries that are susceptible to disruption also need to develop leaders and allow them to evolve through planned and structured development programs.

A common theme that can be observed in organisations that disrupt are always focused on solving customer problems. Problems are therefore seen as opportunities, and the acquisition of new skills and knowledge is a necessity for the growth of the individual and the organisation itself.

An aspect to understand how organisations transform is to understand the environment that it creates to solve customer problems and leverage on the technologies available. It is important to understand the context of ‘creating an environment’.

B.A.S.E model for change

The work by a scientist in Asia, Dr Thun Thamrongnawasawat, discussed several years ago about Brain BASEd Leadership and created the B.A.S.E model for change. Discussions of change was centred on four levers of change that are driven by cognitive behaviours, which are Belief, Action, Social and Environment.

The concept discussed that when any of the four levers are moved, the brain will automatically align the other levers to adapt itself to the change. The biggest lever of change is the environment that an organisation creates. And there are many more concepts that further suggests the need to create the right environment.

Another interesting concept for a leader to understand in creating the right environment is the clarity of the vision and the purpose of transformation. Or simply put, why transform, how to transform and what is the purpose?

In creating an environment for change, a leader often communicates a BHAG – A Big Hairy Audacious Goal! An idea conceptualised in the book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James Collins and Jerry Porras.

Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP)

For successful disruptive organisation, the term Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP) conceptualised by Ismail Salim in his book Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it), examines the internal and external factors that need to be driven in order to create the environment for disruptive change, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Massive Transformative Purpose


The concept is explained again by using the brain as the levers that drive change, similar to the work done by Dr Thun and also the methods practised by Peter Drucker when solving problems and advising organisations on change.

The MTP concept highlights that the left side of the brain is driven by internal attributes with the acronym IDEAS and the right side of the brain is driven by external attributes with the acronym SCALE.

It is important for leaders in organisations to create the right environment so that the organisation is constantly producing IDEAS and testing these ideas with digital interfaces, visualising data with dashboards, constantly improving through experimentation with teams that have the autonomy to develop the ideas further and communicating the ideas through social media platforms.

Once the idea is proven to be successful, the next step is to see how it can be taken to market and scaled whilst maintaining cost-efficiency.

This can be achieved through keeping direct cost low by having staff on demand, working through communities and crowdsourcing of data and information, leveraging on algorithms and assets and always engaging the customer to keep the net promoter score high.

The left side of the brain requires structure, logical sequences and data to understand what the problem is, how big it is, what the root causes are, how it can be solved and developed further in a sustainable way.

The right side of the brain, however, uses no fixed approach and requires the clarity of thought and the use of the subconscious mind. The disruptive solution can be considered a correct solution if both the right and left side of the brain comes to a common conclusion.

Leaders with the characteristics of Strategists and Alchemists tend to gather all relevant factors and data before arriving at the root causes and solutions. They also use their subconscious mind to think and analyse before making the final decision. This approach has the tendency to lead to the change and outcome that today’s organisation call disruption.

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Arul is currently an independent consultant working on improving the component level supply chain for a popular electric vehicle brand and also enabling the disruption of delivery services with cloud based technology solutions. He formerly was with GEODIS as the regional director of transformation and as the MD of GEODIS Malaysia. In GEODIS, he executed regional transformation initiatives with the Asia Pacific team to leapfrog disruption in the supply chain industry by creating customer value proposition, reliable services and providing accurate information to customers. He has driven transformation initiatives for government services and also assisted various Malaysian and Multi-National Organisations using the Lean Six Sigma methodology.

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