True leadership is key to transformation

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The AT&T model was built on migrating geese. Birds that fly in a “V” formation, the lead bird changing often as the focus changes, at any point in time each bird is a leader, a follower, or a scout. Picture: SUPPLIED

“Flight of the Buffalo” was a groundbreaking concept presented to employees of $US90 billion ($F203.9b) colossus AT&T in the ’90s.

CEO Jerry Stead travelled the globe including Sydney where he delivered the theme “Flight of the Buffalo — Soaring to Excellence and Learning to Let Employees Lead”.

We implemented locally in a comparatively small enterprise in Australia.

The model is not only for very large organisations.

When you lead a program or a group trying to bring about positive change remember one thing — don’t be like the head buffalo where you expect to be in front and have all the others follow you.

When one decides to go somewhere, the rest of the herd usually follows, even if the decision and actions that follow can be fatal.

When the lead buffalo jumps over a cliff, the others are likely to follow to where certain death awaits.

Whether its digital transformation, digitalisation, digitisation, ERP and CRM programs or technology projects, the old leadership paradigms of manager-led planning, organising, commanding, co-ordinating, and controlling no longer work.

That approach leads to organisations functioning like a herd of buffalo, loyal, and getting slaughtered in the fields of public and private sector business.

A foundation of leadership is key

These projects can go in different paths.

The first leads to becoming a senior executive leader of the organisation.

The other leads to technical management of keeping the lights on, speeds and feeds, and doing it cheap.

The former requires true leadership, the latter attracts managers.

The Flight of the Buffalo approach presents a leadership model based on strategies for learning to let employees lead by providing focus, changing the context to remove obstacles to success, a sense of ownership, and stimulating self-directed action through learning.

This approach is imperative if organisations are to be successful with digital economy programs.

There is a need for a vision and strategic plan.

While execution must be rapid and manageable, the idea is to do things in stages.

First get the buffalo into formation on the ground and start changing leaders as the task demands.

Next, grow wings on the buffalo and take a few test flights that are short distance and achievable.

Then strengthen the wings and take longer flights with more tasks and complexity.

In the fourth stage, transform fully into birds and take flight to migrate.

With a cohesive strategy across the enterprise or whole of government the leadership has the basis for pulling together in the same direction and avoiding unnecessary costs of duplication of effort and creating new silos of information.

Organise like a flock of migrating birds.

What you need to be like is as a group, a flock of migrating birds.

The AT&T analogy was built on geese.

Birds that fly in a “V” formation, the lead bird changing often as the task (focus) changes, the lead bird gives up the lead and follows behind the new leader as each bird in the formation takes the lead role.

All still heading in the same direction.

At any point in time each bird is a leader, a follower, and a scout. In the world of business these lead birds would be the CEO, the chief information officer, chief revenue officer, chief data monetisation officer, the chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, and lead operations managers.

Not all these roles are separate individuals, not all these roles are necessary, and certain officials can act in more than one role.

In government any one of the ministers and assistant ministers, permanent secretaries and heads of departments would be in the formation.

A critical factor is good governance of technology, data, business process, policy and of course an enterprise vision and strategy.

Customer or citizen focused business model

One of our core areas was the development of a customer-focused-business model.

Every department contributed to the localized business model, understood it with clarity and executed within their own “jurisdiction” – the model allowed for autonomy, individual integrity of business operation and integration to the C-Suite and board.

For instance, each department could have access to their own set of data, each ministry would have access to their own set of data and access to each department.

Each ministry would have the ability to share selected or all data with another ministry based on negotiated agreements.

And at the higher levels of the prime minister’s office access would be at ministry, department level and integrated whole of government data.

That all may sound daunting, but only if you haven’t taken the initial step of getting into formation on the ground and taking flight via the staged process described earlier.

Some of the key principles leading to success: Lead don’t just manage, understand the business and your environment, create a vision and
supporting strategy, interweave technology and business strategy, build a new lean, nimble ICT organisation and decommission the old over time, develop a high-performance team, identify and manage risk, constant communication of value measures to the executive.

Tackle the hard stuff early.

These are some of the points to consider seriously and to act on rapidly if we don’t want to be here, in the same place, asking the same kind of questions we’re asking today, in three to four years.

We cannot afford to fall off the cliff again.

• Naleen Nageshwar is a data and digital strategy consultant. A Fijian citizen
based in Sydney, he runs his own consulting practice Data4Digital and is
managing partner Australia, NZ, and Pacific for AlphaZetta Data Science and
Analytics Consulting.
• For questions and feedback to naleen@data4digital.com

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