The Few, the Proud
A few days ago, in its commentary section, the Wall Street Journal reported on an interview with General James T. Conway, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
In the interview, Gen. Conway muses on the way the tactics and equipment of the Marines are changing, in response to the unique nature of the responsibilities they have in Iraq and the evolving nature of their mission.
One way the Marines are clearly changing is in the vehicles troops use to patrol in Iraq. "If you look at the table of equipment that a Marine battalion is operating with right now in Iraq," Gen. Conway explains, "it is dramatically different than the table of equipment the battalion used when it went over the berm in Kuwait in '03, and it is remarkably heavier. Heavier, particularly in terms of vehicles. ....these type of things, make us look more like a land army than it does a fast, hard-hitting expeditionary force."
In short, wars have a tendency to change the culture of the militaries that fight them. For the Marines, the cultural change they fear most is losing their connection to the sea while fighting in the desert.
In the midst of all this change, Gen. Conway is worried about preserving the essential character of the Marine Corps, even as the rest of the world changes around it. As an organization, the Corps faces one of the most daunting management challenges in the world: keeping individual Marines highly motivated and getting them to excel at a difficult, dirty and dangerous job, in the face of low pay and extreme working conditions. It is critical to preserve this esprit de corps, even while gearing up for new missions for the modern battlefield.
What does this have to do with modern corporate organizations? While the specific conditions are very different - no bullets or humvees are involved - companies have also been facing a set of discontinuous shocks in the last few years, and their pace is only increasing. In many ways, corporate leaders are facing major changes with challenges similar to the ones facing Gen. Conway, to which they must respond quickly and effectively, without losing their own organizational culture and common knowledge.
What do these discontinuities represent? Given below are five significant challenges facing corporate organizations in 2008 and beyond. None of these are new but their trends are rapidly accelerating. For a company to survive and compete effectively, it is imperative that its leaders have a strategy to handle each one.
1. Outsourcing Partnerships:
Corporate outsourcing has been growing rapidly over the last ten years. Initially it started simply as a way to find talented technical workers quickly and at low cost.
Recently, though, this trend has been evolving; outsourcing vendors are now seen as strategic partners who participate in the corporate vision of the Enterprise and share in its successes and failures. Bringing these outsourcing partners into the fold (especially if they are off-shore) is neither quick nor easy.
2. Hyper-Informed Consumers:
The average person in the United States and other developed countries already has unprecedented access to information, more so than at any other time in history; this access is now spreading across the rest of the world following the proliferation of mobile phones.
Coupled with a corresponding increase in the willingness and enthusiasm of users to consume that information - e.g. watching the quarterly interest rate changes by the Federal Reserve is now a national pastime in the U.S. - this means that consumers are now exceptionally well-informed.
Companies must act accordingly; they must either join the online conversation as equal partners (as Cluetrain suggests ), or be left out.
3. True Globalization:
Increasingly, corporations find their talent, their suppliers, and most importantly, their customers, at an international level and compete for them with other multi-national conglomerates, both domestically and abroad. As Thomas L. Friedman's popular book says, the World has become Flat again.
This change brings a whole new set of challenges with it; only organizations with a truly international mindset can survive and thrive.
4. Communication and Collaboration across Distributed Teams:
With this new diversity of cultures, geographies and perspectives within the Enterprise, it is even more critical to get teams to communicate openly and to embrace a shared vision.
The recent uptrend in the use of Enterprise 2.0 strategies and tools is a positive development in addressing this need. These tools help to bridge the gaps; they promote collaborative design and development, and enable rapid dissemination of information among international teams spread across geographical boundaries and many different time zones.
The speed and flexibility with which these distributed organizations can respond to changes in market conditions, is now a major competitive differentiator.
5. The Dominance of Search:
As commerce shifts increasingly online, the use of the Internet for research, analysis and selection of vendors, and for making purchases, is increasing rapidly. In the future, it is expected to become the primary way users find information.
This means that if a company does not show up near the top of search results for the major search engines, then essentially it doesn't exist for new prospects and even for previous clients. Addressing this challenge requires a significant change in Marketing philosophy. Companies can no longer coast on the strength of their brands; they must continually invest time and energy in refining their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies.
These five trends go together and strengthen one another; so do the challenges associated with them. This positive feedback means that the changes are only going to accelerate in the future.
How is your company addressing these challenges? Add a comment below and let us know!
(Note: This post previously appeared on Profy.com )