Disruption – Corporate Style

Disruption – a very unique word in the Corporate dictionary, which goes by many ‘synonyms’ such as innovation, dynamism, proactiveness, transformation, priority, out-of-the-box idea, even bravery!

To fully understand the nature of disruptive behavior and its impact in a typical organization, let us take a look at a few everyday scenarios in the office. As with everything else in the corporate environment, the higher the level at which this occurs the broader and deeper its effect.

Scenario-1:

Mary, Executive Assistant to the VP Sales, is busy putting together, for an important proposal due that morning, the plethora of spreadsheets containing a bewildering array of pricing options designed to confuse, sorry educate, the potential customer on the choices available to them. In comes Jane, the recent graduate from Harvard Business School and newly appointed marketing executive, asking Mary for sales data for the last ten years, with territory-wise, product-wise, sales manager-wise breakdown, for a pricing model that she is building. Mary tries to tell Jane about what she is working on and the associated deadline but Jane will have none of it and mentions that none other than the CEO is waiting (in the coffee room right then!) for the numbers. Poor Mary drops what she is doing and spends the next four hours digging out and tabulating the information required by Jane. Then, when she gets back to her original proposal with barely 30 minutes left for the deadline, she misses out on a crucial discount that the VP, Sales has authorized at the last minute, which in turn makes the company’s bid extremely noncompetitive and a prime candidate for rejection by the customer. In the meanwhile, Jane is back at her desk, happily listening to her iPod, smug in the fact that she has a chance to submit her report a week ahead of schedule, an act sure to get her some brownie points from the CEO and the VP of Sales!

Scenario-2:

Amber, the Administration Manager, is busy getting the final details sorted out for an upcoming conference to be attended by all the Regional Managers from across the country. All the RMs have cleared their calendars and rearranged many of their customer meetings to attend this important annual meeting in the company. Two days before the scheduled conference, Brian, the Executive VP, Operations, well known for his dynamism (read, craziness), receives a call from his friend, who happens to be a senior executive in a customer organization that regularly provides multi-million dollar business year after year. Brian’s buddy and Linkedin connection, will be in town – you guessed it – on the same day as that of the conference and wants to catch up with Brian. Brian, without batting an eyelid agrees to have a ‘business review’ meeting with his friend and asks a shocked Amber to reschedule the Regional Manager’s conference. Amber starts to say, “But Brian, we have 30 people coming from ……” but Brian cuts her short with, “Customers take precedence over everything else” and dismisses her. It is past midnight by the time Amber manages to cancel all arrangements for the conference and finishes hearing an earful from all the irate RMs!

Net Result: Over two hundred thousand dollars in cancellations; hundreds of hours wasted across the organization; inability for the senior and mid level managers to interact and understand the company’s goals and direction at the right time.

Scenario-3 (saved the best for last!):

It has been crazy busy in the Development unit of the software products company.  Everyone is busy completing all the planned functions and components of the first general release of their Price Optimization product, which, based on excellent feedback received during beta testing, promises to be a winner all the way. The CEO, Karl, has just returned from an executive summit, in the Caribbean of course, hosted by a leading management consultancy firm.  His head full of powerpoint slides and colorful graphs from the summit, Karl summons the Director of Development and his senior team members and informs them of his vision. Karl wants the Price Optimization product to include processing and correction algorithms in response to dynamic feedback from the Social Media sites. The collective groan from the audience is audible several offices away. One Development Manager summons the courage to stand up and ask, “We have been working on finishing the current version of the product for more than a year and the Sales people have already starting selling. Integrating with Social Media sites is a huge change that involves not just more coding and testing but a complete redesign of the architecture to use Big Data and related technologies. This could delay the product launch by a year or more, in addition to increasing development costs by at least 75%”. The CEO replies in classic style, “We need to be proactive to the future needs and demands in the market. Our company has always been known for innovation and the ability to adapt. You are the best brains in the industry. We can make it happen. I am sure our customers will understand the delay. Come on guys, let us not waste time, just make it happen! I am announcing the launch of our new product tomorrow”. The stunned Development team starts gathering its belongings (and its spirits!) before leaving the conference room.

Fast forward to nine months later: The product is in a mess as more revisions to features have occurred. Customers are unhappy as they see no realistic product offering in the horizon. The Development team and, in turn, the Sales team are disillusioned and busy updating their resumes!