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Lessons from the biggest companies of our time

These are companies who are bigger than some countries! While this chart show two year old stats, you see the trend. As at August 2018, the top seven companies are now all tech companies.

No you don’t have to aspire to being an Apple, or a Google, or an Amazon, or a Facebook, or an Uber. But yes, we can learn something from them.

Less bricks, more customers

Their physical assets pale in comparison to their digital assets. Their ‘product’ or service is less a physical one, and more about information delivered in a timely and relevant fashion via the web. 

A customer is often buying something tangible, that can be felt and touched and engaged with, but theses companies are not selling that tangible thing. Rather they are taking a percentage of the transaction in return for offering an easy means for the customer and the provider of the services or tangible goods to connect.

 

Because the service is digital and the user/customer interacts with it via a computer, tablet or phone, it is easy to add the social layer so users can share their happy moments with their friends and family, thus making others aware of the service, and expanding their user base.

With a few exceptions, these companies have no brick and mortar retail face. All your interactions with the service is done digitally, by sharing text, images and voice interactions.

This means that each interaction can be measured and learned from (machine learning), to make the service more efficient at what it does and can deliver. This can include better user experiences and with analytics, insights that are only possible from interpreting large amounts of data.

Principles

Theses companies have digitised a service and offer it better, faster and cheaper. Now the analogue companies are being relegated to suppliers who meet the demands coming through the others tools – think about calling up an Uber. After you use the Uber app, the job is sent to the most appropriate driver, most commonly the closest one with the appropriate vehicle to meet your needs. Your payment goes via the app, after you step out of the vehicle and some (OK the largest) percentage of the payment gets sent to the driver.

This is the very definition of disruptive innovation. More and more of the core services we think of today as unshakeable cornerstones of society, will soon be gone. When I look at the speed at which blockchain technology is evolving, I doubt it will take 20 years before banks (as the places where wealth is stored), have become a thing of the past.

For a 20 year old, that might not seem significant, but for those of us whose parents, and theirs before them, grew up with banks, and so many other trust services like them, this is ground breaking. Certainly a great deal of jobs are being made obsolete, but don’t worry, we’ll invent more and different ways to add value to a society that has the potential to be even a more fair and equitable where peer to peer trade and exchange is more common.

They have also found ways found ways to attract and keep a big talent pool. Jobs are becoming less about the physical things we do, and I wouldn’t be recommending anyone bet on making a career out of driving (of cars, trucks and buses). But if someone asked what coding language to learn, I might venture to suggest you would have ample opportunities if you had some well developed skills in Python.

Skilled coders are the people in short supply and as such employees will invest heavily to attract and keep talent, to enable them to keep refining and developing their service. Just take a look at these companies implementing four day work weeks.

Theses companies use the best hardware available, and are in the game of constantly improving their software – both internal for business processes, and externally facing their users. Make no mistake, the talented individuals working there are not using last years hardware, and they know how to get the best out of the business process software they use too.

There is such a high degree of specialisation in the technology world, that people need tools that let them collaborate easily. This is essential if they are going to build anything of value. Software installed on your computer, with annoying updates and patches is something from the dim dark past. Now software as a Service (SAAS), is delivered via the web and constantly being updated and improved.

Google is not only the company that offers search and maps and stores our photos tidily in the cloud for us to access from any device, but it is the provider easy-to-collaborate-on, business tools (docs, sheets, slides and more) needed by today’s innovative and fast growing companies.

What can you do

So you want to grow your business profit, well you could start by building a metrics dashboard of key lead and lag measures.

What lag measures are you tracking, that tell you if you are growing and by how much? And what lead measures do your team track to know they are acting in ways to most likely, and positively, influence the lag measures towards the goal(s) you’ve set?  

A football game scoreboard used to only display lag measures [Crystal Palace 1 – Arsenal 0], but watching a football game on TV today, one can be forgiven wondering how they track all those measures and metrics you see flash across the screen! In 2014 I visited the offices of Neighbourly, when they were just getting started on their NZ social network. High on one wall was a bank of four monitors, each with two metrics displayed in large bold font that almost filled the screen. Last year, they completed the sale of the company to Fairfax, a media company looking for a digital strategy. 

Craft your vision, and know it inside and out.

If you want to grow and are willing to changes things up a bit, you’ll need a clear vision of what your future looks and feels like.

Where do you want to be in three years time? I heard recently that human beings have a tendency to overestimate what we can achieve in one year, by underestimate what we can achieve in five years. So dream big.

Practice expressing your vision clearly and concisely to others, because to build it, you are going to have to attract talent to help you. If you are clear and consistent in your communication of where you are headed, you stand a much greater chance of getting there. The vision will help you over the humps along the way.

Give your team the best possible tools.

The good thing is, they don’t always have to be the most expensive. Even school staff using inexpensive Chromebooks, means users can access the SAAS tools they need to manage curriculum, maintain rosters and attendance records, and collaborate and communicate with peers and students. With even a modest internet connection, they can operate at a respectable speed, and not be held back by slow and outdated PC hardware and operating systems.

An office that is not using SAAS tools for the core of its operation will not be an attractive environment for the Gen’s X,Y & Z, who have higher expectations of their technology and will give their best when they can collaborate with others while positively influencing the world through their work.

Manage change

Engage all the players and invite them along on the journey. It’s amazing how easily people will put up with something that is less than ideal, and yet when asked and when changed they are super grateful. So engage your people regularly if you want to keep making the system and the service better.

This will require regularity of contact, so schedule the meetings, and even plan the ‘spontaneous’ bumps, where you can ask “what can we do to make things better for you?”. Let them know why things are changing and invite them to share your vision, so they can be helped over the inevitable difficulties as new systems replace old ones.

Build a culture of constant steady improvement.

It’s not always about the big changes, though they can have their place, and even be inevitable and logical at times. But imagine a year in which every week, there was some small incremental improvement in the business processes. Imagine 52 small, but felt and experienced, improvements – every year.

If there is a culture of regular meetings and an agreed upon process of accountability for actions coming out of those meetings, you can expect great things from your team.

There will be times when you have to bite the bullet and migrate data from outdated software to a new operating system. This can be highly disruptive to staff who have an obligation to focus on production and customers. So where possible, take it steady and make sure you have your core leaders of change in place to support the rest of the team.

Migration and training are core to a gentle transition, and your care on this matter will engender respect from your team.

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.

~ Charles Darwin

 


James Samuel consults with businesses to help them lay solid digital foundations, so their business can scale. This includes appropriate tech, digital literacy, social presence, search, and business intelligence. He lives beside the beautiful Abel Tasman Park in New Zealand.

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