I live in Pittsburgh – known for our bridges and three rivers, voted next best city for startups, and host to one of CGI’s Innovation Centers. It’s also the birthplace of Andy Warhol, where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood got its start, and home of Pirates baseball, Penguins hockey and Steelers football.
Now that the NFL season is in full swing, a recent decision by my hometown football team got me thinking about the parallels between the business of football and CGI’s clients who are required to constantly rethink how they get things done to remain competitive in the face of change. The decision by the football team’s leadership was to give up next year’s first round draft pick that would have allowed them to potentially replace our franchise quarterback after a season-ending injury. More about that in a minute.
A football franchise is a business that demands continuous reinvention to adapt to fluctuating internal and external factors. From coaching and personnel changes, player injuries, trades and retirements, to NFL rulings, contract negotiations and the need to keep employees and fans happy, a team that rests on its laurels won’t remain competitive with other entertainment options for very long. Each new season brings the challenge of reinvention and the promise of a newly leveled playing field for any team in which to excel.
Although their strategies are not executed on the gridiron, our clients also experience disruptions and face barriers in their respective fields to becoming digital organizations. They struggle with balancing legacy and new technology investments, scaling innovation, increasing agility, complying with changing regulations and improving employee and customer experiences, to name a few. Change has become business as usual, and business and IT leaders must empower their teams to adapt quickly. Transformation is never one and done.
Now let’s return to the quandary of our injured quarterback. On September 16, following the second game of the season during which the injury occurred, Monday morning reports were filled with speculation about the team’s inevitable search for a new quarterback of the future. If you lose a key player, you immediately start looking for a replacement right? In a move that stunned commentators, pundits and fans alike, team management announced that, instead, they would acquire a second year defensive back from another team in exchange for their first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The trade left the team without a first-round draft pick for the first time since 1967, and eliminated the possibility of replacing their franchise quarterback via the draft. However, it also solved an equally large problem on the defensive side of the ball. A benefit completely overlooked by many.
For any organization, the loss of a key contributor is a common scenario that all leaders must address. But, each organization’s process for managing the unexpected is unique. Although I have no way of knowing what went on in the team’s boardroom, the surprising, but well-calculated decision and outcome suggests to me they may have considered some of the same questions we ask our clients when seeking to inspire new ways of thinking and uncover alternatives that offer a better solution. At CGI, we pull up a chair and sit on the same side of the table as our clients, with the challenge in front of us, to co-create solutions together.
We help them dig deeper, to be curious, and ask the right questions – all to make sure we’re solving the right problem the right way. This is similar to the team’s recent roster moves – addressing the problems with the defensive back while having an injured quarterback was on everyone else’s mind. Their leadership concluded that fixing their defensive challenge will free up more time and resources to address the quarterback problem – which is a more complex issue that will require careful consideration, as the wrong choice will have more grave consequences.
Our approach brings our clients and us together to:
- Be curious and ask the right questions – What is the problem we are trying to solve? Is this the right problem for us to be solving now? How can we look beyond the obvious? How can we meet customer and employee expectations? What will the decision do for their experience? How will the decision impact the client’s brand? Asking the right questions can lead to new insights.
- Embrace change as an opportunity to propel your vision –- Managing change requires strong, decisive leadership that provides an opportunity to evangelize the vision across the organization. Effective leaders also don’t let detractors derail progress in bringing the organization on board and building enthusiasm for new, unexpected opportunities.
- Build for the future, but don't ignore the present – Balancing short-term objectives with long-term strategy requires both discipline and flexibility. When faced with the unexpected, change can open new opportunities to achieve both.
- Trust your people and understand your organization’s capacity for change – In the case of the football team, leadership had faith in its current staff to step up and accept the challenge. Create the right environment for employees and they will adapt well to change.
So did the football team’s leadership make the right call? Two games after the trade, early indicators are highly encouraging. The newly acquired defensive back has assumed the mantle of a starting safety, and the untested back-up quarterback has quickly stepped up as hoped, and is emerging as a team leader.
As a fan, these actions and outcomes give me confidence in the football team’s leadership and their ability to make informed decisions based on longer term priorities. And, while I still hold out hope for a winning season, I understand whether it's a football team rebuilding their roster, or a client trying to progress their digital strategy, transformation is hard work.
So if my hometown football team needs to take a bit more time to work through these changes to settle in, I’m good with that. I know the effort will be worth it in the long run. And, if need be, I’m prepared to wait for a return to winning ways next season and beyond.
Business is a lot like football. Both require strong leadership and the ability to make tough decisions, often thinking several steps ahead. In order to lead a successful transformation, you need to instill confidence, not just with your team, but with your customers. That way, during times of change, everyone can be on the same winning team.
Are you ready to take the field? Learn more about CGI Next in our new viewpoint, Getting unstuck: Traction for transformation