Originally published: Forbes | By Michael B. Horn | Jun 22, 2017
This piece was coauthored with Alan Todd, founder and CEO of CorpU, the strategy activation company. He is a former Inc. Magazine/Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
In 2005, two American amateurs, using only their personal computers, won a worldwide chess tournament against a field of supercomputers and grand masters. The two players were seemingly at a disadvantage – possessing both inferior technology and talent. Yet they beat some of the most powerful minds and computers on the planet.
That’s because the amateurs, as Tom Simonite explained in the MIT Technology Review, were experts in another area: collaborating with computers. By knowing when to leverage the technology and when to rely on their own creativity, they developed what Simonite called “a greater combined intelligence.”
The concept called human-machine symbiosis is, in some ways, simple: computers can’t do everything well and neither can humans. Think about a plane’s autopilot. It can make thousands of mid-course corrections at speeds faster than any human. It cannot, however, recognize when it has been given the wrong coordinates as an end point.
It’s an idea with applications far beyond chess, and one that savvy executives should be paying attention to. Today’s performance management tools are failing miserably. Existing enterprise technologies are simply layered on top of legacy management theories. The result is that modern management isn’t really all that modern. Instead of innovation, the tools are often still focused on efficiency and mass production.
The average employee now works with 10 other people across an enterprise in order to complete a job. But, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 7 out of 10 employees can’t even accurately pick out their company’s strategy when given a list of options. And if an employee can’t identity a strategy, they certainly can’t implement it.
The gap between strategy activation and implementation reflects a dearth of management innovation over the last fifty years. As management expert Gary Hamel points out, the founders of “modern” management – from Daniel McCallum to Henry Ford – were all born before the end of the American Civil War. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that, despite billions of dollars being invested in enterprise technology, 70 percent of new strategies fail.
What if, rather than layering technology on top of outdated management theories, technology enabled a new paradigm of management? What if the development and implementation of strategy were actually one and the same?
The convergence of humans and technology now enables the application of predictive analytics and big data to inform strategy, while also fostering a corporate culture that emphasizes collaboration and transparency. It’s true that data is, by definition, backward looking and that algorithms can’t anticipate and adjust to organizational behavior, determine criteria for success, or identify non-linear approaches to problems. But the combination can help executives spot trends and understand how employees on the ground are actually acting on newly conceived strategies to enable rapid iteration and a more emergent approach to making strategy.
When partnered with human insights, technology is beginning to enable managers to tap organizational superintelligence. Consider Dow, where virtual idea tournaments crowd-sourced insights from across the enterprise and led to $88 million in supply chain cost savings and efficiencies. Or MasterCard, where 15,000 employees now engage with one another across business functions.
These companies are on the verge of unlocking the first major change in management since the industrial revolution through the application of technology that helps bridge the gap between strategy development and execution. Their work is enabled by the widespread adoption of mobile computing, and the convergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning. It draws upon advances in natural language processing and machine learning to track and quantify employee sentiment. Over time, thousands of conversations and ideas generate deep analytics that can, for the first time, allow business leaders to respond, iterate, and evolve strategies in real time.
Strategy activation is about sharing information, identifying obstacles, and taking collective action – while continuously analyzing feedback to understand and answer employee questions, as well as overcome barriers and seize opportunities as they arise. It’s about facilitating clear communication around strategic goals and objectives, and providing the opportunity to engage in structured dialogue and disciplined collaboration about new strategies. The result is a shared vision, with increased clarity, enthusiasm, and commitment to achieving strategic goals.
We are on the precipice of a seismic shift in how the best management teams lead their organizations through strategic change and execution. There will be winners and losers. And the changes are coming fast.
This post is inspired by Augmented Management Intelligence, which explores how mobile computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are beginning the transform the practice of management.