Digital transformation in the current era is not about technology: Geoffrey Moore

Digital transformation in the current era is not about technology: Geoffrey Moore

In an exclusive interaction with Human Capital, Geoffrey Moore, bestselling author and advisor who consults both startups and high-tech enterprises such as Salesforce, Microsoft and Google, shares how organisations can make the most of wherever and whenever work happens, why we need both leadership and management to thrive in 2021 and beyond, and how to implement agile at scale.

Between waving goodbye to the office, adopting a part-office/part-remote working model, and bringing everyone back to the office, the middle option of implementing hybrid configurations appears to be the dominant choice among organisations. How can “being the first fool” help organisations get the most out of hybrid work?


The “first fool” thing to do here is set aside our personal preferences for the moment and take an outside-in approach to this question. This begins with asking: What do our customers need us to do? This can apply to internal customers as well as external ones. Where do we need to be to best serve them? The next step is to ask this: What work model gives us the best chance to create great outcomes?


Only after answering these two sets of questions do we get to think about ourselves and ask what work regime will enable us personally to deliver our best results over what looks to be a prolonged period of pandemic challenges. We have to take care of ourselves if we are going to serve others.


You say that the value of good leadership is often “over-celebrated” while the importance of good management is “under-appreciated”. How do you differentiate between leaders and managers? How can they complement each other for driving business success in 2021 and beyond?


For me, leadership is required under conditions of disruption when the normal rules of operation can no longer be relied upon. Management is for all the other times— which turns out to be most of the time. That’s why both need to be honoured equally. The former is about turning the corners; the latter is about accelerating on the straight stretches. You cannot win the race without doing both.


You often talk about a paradox: 1) An organisation cannot digitally transform without software, and 2) Software cannot digitally transform an organisation. Can you explain that?


Digital transformation in the current era is not about technology. It is about rearchitecting your enterprise end to end, migrating away from a product-first to a customer-first mentality. You still have the same supply chain, but every function must reorient to adjust to a customer-first approach. You cannot do this without digital systems to detect, analyse, and respond to customer-side signals.


At the same time, just installing such software does not make your organisation customer-centric. That requires everyone in the chain to reprioritise their workflow end to end. As with leadership and management, you need both to win.


Even though embracing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) is a no-brainer for any organisation that wants to succeed and stay competitive in the marketplace today, many business leaders find it challenging to act beyond mere “tokenism”. What are some common mistakes you see tech companies making on the DEI front?


Creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce runs counter to the default tendency of all societies to organise around homogeneous social networks. There is nothing wrong with these networks—it really is how we are—but when it comes to recruiting, engaging, enlisting, hiring, and supporting, we are woefully inexperienced, and the number of referral relationships we can rely on are few. Nonetheless, solving the DEI challenge is the single most constructive social contribution businesses can make. We need to mount a bigger effort than we first realise.


The biggest mistake companies make is relying on their existing recruiting channels to expand their apertures. It is not enough. We need dedicated DEI recruiting—full time, year-round. We need to create on-ramps to bring potential candidates into our field of view. And we need to develop DEI-sensitive management skills to retain under-represented minorities and support them in giving us their best.


Collaboration is a tricky thing to get right. In an effort to become a better team player and create more alignment, people often end up dodging conflict, unwilling to take a contrarian view or engage in intellectually stimulating debates. Do you think low-conflict discussions are a sign of trouble? What are your top tips that organisations could use to crack the code on effective collaboration?


Collaboration cultures are at their best when they put themselves in service to their customers and hold each other accountable to doing fully right by them. In this sense, they align not with each other but rather in relation to the customer as true north. This allows them to engage in contrarian views and conflicting opinions as long as these dialogues are in service to their mission. Yes, it is important to get along with colleagues, but not at the cost of abrogating your responsibilities.


According to a popular statistic, only one in 200 startups succeed to become scaleups. From a people and culture standpoint, what are the most common pitfalls startups should watch out for as they start scaling?


Like a developing fetus, a scaling organisation needs to bring different systems to scale in sequence rather than all at the same time. So hiring the right person for the right job at the right time is the pathway to success.


At the outset, this calls for a leader to drive breakout innovation— that’s what kicks off a new wave of technology adoption. Then it calls for pairing a consultative sales pro with a professional services wizard to win those first few radiating customer references. Then, to cross the chasm, you need to hire a domain expert who is well connected to the market segment you are targeting and back them up with an engineering leader who can reprioritise the roadmap to crush the target use case. Finally, if you have timed things right and there is a tornado market building for your core offer, you need a killer sales leader and a ruthless VP engineering to capture as much market share with as standard an offer as possible in the quest to emerge as the category leader.


A key challenge facing many large companies is how to remain nimble and agile in a rapid, ever-changing landscape. What would your advice be for implementing agile at scale?


This is embarrassingly selfserving, but here goes: Read Zone to Win! The purpose of the book is to give established enterprises a framework for incubating next-generation businesses while managing their core businesses in parallel. The key idea is that there are legitimate “zones of interest” that support each endeavour—the Performance Zone and the Productivity Zone support the core business, and the Incubation Zone and Transformation Zone support the next-generation opportunities.


Each zone has its own mission and management model, and the key learning is that each model creates success in its home zone and leads to failure when applied in any of the other three. So, the key to implementing agile at scale is to zone your enterprise and then make sure you are applying the right model to the right undertakings.



Ankita Sharma is working as Senior Editor with Human Capital. With 6+ years of experience, she has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire.


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