|This is a guest article by CGI's technology partner Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Electricity. It’s a critical enabler for every industry and yet as business leaders we know that how we use electricity is where our competitive advantage lies, not in each of us creating our own power.
This is the world of technology that we now inhabit. The cloud gives each of us and our organisations access to an incredible breadth and depth of technology, all there to be used and paid for when we need it, not requiring procurement ahead of time.
Taking advantage of this starts with leadership, and not just from those leaders directly accountable for technology.
So, what does this leadership look like? The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Enterprise Strategy team regularly engages with our customers on these types of questions. As former C-suite executives and equivalent from large commercial and public organisations who have led transformations, we take our own experiences and combine these with insights we glean from the over 1700 customers we talk to annually.
There are many patterns that successful organisations use. I’ll highlight six of the leadership characteristics here which differentiate organisations that successfully capitalise on the agility that cloud computing can unleash, enabling new opportunities and accelerating decision-making.
Leaders consider their peers their number one team
A transformation, even if preceded by the word “digital,” is not the sole domain of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Transformations change how work gets done, often through the introduction of new technology. Focusing solely on the technology leaves organisations vulnerable to creating great technology that isn’t used, or technology that doesn’t solve real needs.
Too often the C-Suite in organisations can act as a team of leaders: each leader defining what their function needs or translating an overarching company strategy into isolated goals specific to their own function. Progressive organisations consciously create a leadership team: a team that defines goals for the whole organisation and then understands the role of each function in achieving them. They deeply consider which initiatives need to be accelerated and throw their collective weight behind these, rather than being preoccupied with defending their function’s budget, headcount, and priorities.
Technology profoundly impacts how most executives think about and perform their roles. The Chief Marketing Officer needs to understand how to tap into the rapid proliferation of communication and commerce channels, how to process real time feedback, and how to develop a holistic view of the customer through data. The Chief HR Officer needs to define and embed an agile culture supported by appropriate hiring, incentive, and performance management processes, and invest in meaningful ongoing training programmes. Chief Financial Officers need to understand how to use automation to drive efficiency, retool financial processes for agility, and invest strategically in the cloud and data to grow the company, not just to reduce costs.
To capitalise on the ubiquitous role technology can play, the level of comfort and understanding of technology and data from the executive ranks on down needs to improve so decisions can be competently made. These competitive decisions cannot simply be outsourced to others. Those organisations investing in education and creating an environment of learning and curiosity are seeing significant returns in everything from profitability through to employee and customer satisfaction. They are the ones that are able to rapidly derive actionable insights from data.
Leaders focus on outcomes
The cloud enables teams to use the right tool at the right time for the right problem. Traditional procurement activities are eliminated by offering over 200 services based on a pay-as-you-use model. Want to experiment with machine learning (ML) to personalise offers for your customers? You can quickly apply one of dozens of ML tools available in the AWS cloud, or fully-fledged services such as Amazon Personalize, to test your hypothesis. Successful experiments can be put into the hands of your customers globally in minutes; unsuccessful ones can be switched off having provided cost effective learnings.
We find this works even better when cross-functional teams are given a business outcome to achieve and the autonomy to do so. Internally we call these teams “two-pizza teams” as they are small enough to be fed with two American-sized pizzas. These teams improve motivation and accountability, while accelerating the ability to learn what your customers really want. Being close to the customer enables two-pizza teams to not only understand what customers want, but also to understand their context well enough that teams can invent on their customers’ behalf.
Leaders create safety
These two-pizza teams break with the prevalent 19th century organisational model where employees are there to execute the commands of their leaders. These teams encourage individuals to become confident leaders themselves. They develop the confidence in setting and testing hypotheses rather than following rigidly defined project plans, enabling innovation at speed. It requires that senior leaders create an environment in which teams focus on business outcomes rather than avoiding blame. This psychological safety is a precondition for any high-performing team and organisation. It requires a tolerance of failure in the pursuit of new ideas that will propel your organisation forward.
Leaders remove barriers
I love the phrase in Amazon that “dependencies are defects.” It sounds contrarian given that most organisations promote collaboration, but I don’t see this as contradictory at all. It’s not uncommon to find, say, developers waiting for up to 80% of their time for other teams to complete a task before the developers can resume doing they are meant to be getting paid to do. Leaders in agile organisations are vigilant for sources of waste, whether unnecessary meetings, teams waiting on others, rework, or bureaucratic ceremonies that have taken on a life of their own. They continually and incrementally chip away at these barriers, prioritising speed over the false comfort of extensive planning.
Leaders own their culture
I joined AWS from a career in technology, but also with a deep appreciation of the role culture plays in the success of companies. Culture in Amazon is nurtured at the senior most levels of the organisation. Our 16 leadership principles inform everything we do: hiring and promotions through to how day-to-day work gets performed. These principles form a guardrail which unifies the organisation regardless of the individuals roles we have. The culture is more than a set of barely remembered mantras used to decorate a corporate website, rather it forms the fundamental essence of what powers the company, focusing everyone on what “good” looks like.
For many leaders it is an uncomfortable time, where expectations of them from their own employees and society at large is changing. The confluence of cloud-based technology and new leadership paradigms is creating an incredibly exciting time where the future belongs to those who embrace the changing role of leadership.
About the writer
Phil Le-Brun is a Director of Enterprise Strategist and Evangelist at Amazon Web Services (AWS). In this role, Phil works with enterprise executives to share experiences and strategies for how the cloud can help them increase speed and agility while devoting more of their resources to their customers. Prior to joining AWS, Phil held multiple senior technology leadership roles at McDonald’s Corporation. Phil has a BEng in Electronic and Electrical Engineering, a Masters in Business Administration, an MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice, and a PGDip in Data Science, Technology and Innovation.