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Game Changers for Organizations

We want to approach strategy using choices, direction, and iterative experiments, establish a growth mindset in organizations, and work towards a common purpose or goal with leaders and teams sharing the same values, principles, and mindset; these are some of the game changers for organizations to become more innovative, deliver faster and better, and have happier and more engaged employees.

Erik Schön, head of delivery assistance & chief improvement coach at NetEnt, spoke about Seven Game Changers - Agile Experiences from NetEnt, Ericsson and FramFab at the Agile People Sweden Conference.

InfoQ interviewed Schön about game changers for organizations.

InfoQ: You talked about seven game changers for organizations. Why these seven, what makes them stand out?

Erik Schön: The seven game changers that I highlight truly reflect a totally new way of thinking, acting, deciding and doing things, hence they are highly relevant for the culture transformation journeys that organizations are starting and which are highly needed to facilitate their digital transformation journeys.

In R&D, we have seen how the principles and practices of Lean and Agile have fundamentally changed how we think and do things. Now, I began looking for game changers in business outside R&D inspired by Donella Meadows’ fundamental insight that the most effective way of intervening in a system is the power to transcend paradigms – this gives you much greater leverage than e.g. changing measurements, ways of working, or, organization structures.

Then I wanted to cover several aspects of the business – customers, organizations, strategy, leadership, ways of working, learning, and, finance - so that people in different parts of organizations would start realizing that there are game changers relevant for them to consider - gently nudging e.g. controllers and CFOs to be curious about beyond budgeting; project and program managers to be curious about flow efficiency, and, the HR community to be curious about autonomy for alignment and growth mindset.

In essence: I wanted to find a diverse set of game changers to inspire everyone to change, improve and innovate in their own domain of experiences and knowledge. These seven game changers also happen to be the ones that I’ve experienced - or was missing - over the past 20+ years.

InfoQ: How can we work with strategy when things are uncertain and continuously changing?

Schön: In a stable environment, it makes perfect sense to work with strategy the way you play chess: a rather slow moving game of thought with very strictly defined rules, pieces and moves, and, an all knowing chess master who makes the moves that the pieces just execute. However, in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world where the rate of change will never be slower than today, a much better way to play the game of strategy is as a fluid game of football where – given a general direction - the players act independently and as a team, innovatively trying highly different approaches depending on the opposing players’ moves and quick feedback on how things are going.

In other words, we move from strategy as a destination and planning, to strategy as choices, direction, and iterative experiments. Here, a general idea of which direction to take (and why) combined with initial assumptions followed by quick, iterative prototypes and experiments to validate or invalidate assumptions about customers, business model, technology, product, or, service offering is needed to "outlearn" competition.

The results of the (in)validation of hypotheses will help us make the right choices with respect to customers, business model, technology, product, or, service offering and to pivot in a new direction if needed. We see how startups, GE, LEGO Group and Procter & Gamble all use quick iterations together with customers to make explicit choices and validate assumptions early through trials, prototypes, and experiments.

InfoQ: Preferably, teams should have much autonomy but in larger organizations, teams need to collaborate with each other and with their stakeholders. How can they do that?

Schön: Alignment happens when leaders and teams share the same values, principles, and mindset and work towards a common purpose or goal. Autonomy helps teams to work independently of leaders and each other. The stronger alignment we have, the more autonomy we can grant.

The leader’s job is to communicate what customers need or which problems should be solved, and why to secure alignment. The team’s job is to – autonomously - collaborate with each other and other teams to figure out the best solutions, and to implement and deliver these solutions.

Alignment for autonomy works for individuals, teams and even organizations; in fact, the bigger the organization, the more important alignment for autonomy gets — to decentralize in order to unleash innovation close to customers, and to close the gap between developing the strategy and implementing the strategy. We see how companies like Spotify use alignment for autonomy to get speed, innovation, and engagement in their software development teams to make awesome services for their customers that are aligned with the overall company strategy.

InfoQ: How does alignment for autonomy look at NetEnt?

Schön: At NetEnt we want to combine discipline, i.e. the ability to complete things, to get SH*T done, done, done and dusted, with initiative in order to create what we call a Challenger Culture where self-driven employees take wise decisions where it matters. In essence: we want everyone to be a leader!

The ingredients to make this happen are: direction (vision, mission, strategies, goals, behaviors/core values), clear expectations on individual/team goals and behaviors, full transparency around direction, knowledge (we are honest about what we know/don’t know, how we share knowledge and help each other) and information (everyone feels that they can easily access whatever is needed and that nothing is withheld from them); and instant feedback on results and behaviors. All this is very much inspired by Jim Collins’ "Good to Great".

InfoQ: What can organizations do if they want to establish a growth mindset?

Schön: They can get inspiration from organizations that are already trying! If you look at Microsoft that is going all-in on growth mindset, their CEO Satya Nadella’s new mantra is "don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all". Hence people in Microsoft don’t need to prove they’re the smartest people in the room, but instead are supposed to learn, since the learn-it-all will always trump the know-it-all over time even if they start with less innate capability.

At NetEnt, we rely heavily on our core values and associated behaviors to guide our daily interactions and recruitment. They are applicable for everyone — developers, CEO, office coordinators, … and the values are realized through giving and receiving feedback daily, conversations in regular one-on-ones and development talks, and celebrating persons showing these behaviors in all hands meetings. Growth mindset is covered by the following behaviors: I seek answers, take initiative and follow through; I dare to challenge (and be challenged); we learn and grow from successes and mistakes.

InfoQ is covering the Agile People Sweden conference with write-ups, interviews, and articles. Summaries of the sessions can be found in Morning Sessions from Agile People Sweden and Afternoon Sessions from Agile People Sweden.

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