We have learnt a lot running Cyma over the past 6 years - which is great because inquisitiveness and lifelong learning is one of our values. My personal learning journey has been about keeping a business alive in a changing and competitive environment. Here are a few of the things I have learnt along the way, some may be obvious, but no less important, and some I hope are new and helpful.
State your vision and create a strategy
Last month I presented at the DX Summit in Auckland in collaboration with Malcolm Fraser from Future Cities Institute. The subject was the importance of vision, strategy and governance in successful digital transformation. The presentation addressed the concern that, because it is ‘digital’ transformation, you might not need any of that old school strategic thinking and accountability.
Of course transformation needs to be guided by vision and strategy, and managed through good governance, whether it is digital or otherwise (whatever that might be).
No matter what you are doing, it is essential to have some level of strategy, and that needs to be guided by an overarching vision. That is to say, you need to know where you are going and you have also need to have an idea of how to get there. And you need good governance to help you along the way - to keep you on track and to help change direction when needed.
This certainly applies to running a business. Only more so. But it is harder. The good thing, however, is that some is far better than none. And you can always change it, in fact you should change it. The vision, strategies and values that we identified for Cyma have helped us make some very tough decisions and give us good reason to stick by those decisions.
Adapt and evolve
We have continually adapted how we work, especially at an operational level. In a startup business there is never enough time to do everything, and you never have all the information you need - you just have to make do with what you can do. Our processes were skinny at best and our decisions were far more intuitive than informed.
As we have grown from 3 to 30 people we have made every effort to grow our internal capabilities. We developed new processes, identified accountabilities, tooled up as needed, replaced tools that were no longer appropriate, and even brought in our first non-billable staff.
Disrupt or be disrupted
The world is changing, and it is changing far faster than we imagine and in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine. And disruption affects everyone, from primary industries through to IT service providers. We have felt this in obvious ways, such as the need to understand disruptive technologies (AI, blockchain, etc) and the increase in cost of highly skilled people. We have also felt it in less obvious ways as we battle with horrendous travel times in Auckland, a younger and everso different workforce, and increasingly diverse clients.
It is both exciting and stressful. The only way to deal with disruption is try to be ahead of the game, at least somewhere, at least some of the time. This means disrupting yourself, not to be mistaken for adapting and evolving.
There are plenty of example of companies that didn’t embrace disruption either through lack of understanding or fear of cannibalising revenue. Kodak, Borders, Blackberry, to name just a few. And there will be uncounted numbers of small and medium size business that fail for this reason.
For this to work, disruption needs to be part of your thinking, at all levels of the organisation. This means that you need to support change, truly support change, and that is not simple.
Make change and innovation part of your vision and values
The heading is a winner for anyone playing buzzword bingo while reading this blog! Vision and values help define and establish your organisation’s culture, and to be successful your culture has to support change and innovation. Embedding this into your vision also ensures that change is supported from top to bottom, and most importantly at the executive and governance levels.
There are many ways to encourage innovation within an organisation. Making it part of everyday behaviour and thinking is one part of it. It also needs to be facilitated through activities and forums. These can be periodic meetings where ideas are suggested and considered, more structure innovation hubs, or simple online community discussions. Anything can work once the behaviour is there.
One of the key reasons why I stopped being an employee at large companies and joined Vijesh and Michael to create Cyma is because nowhere I had worked supported failure. They all wanted success, immediately if possible, otherwise tomorrow will do. But none of them were willing to accept failure. And when they did fail, it was hidden, never discussed, and certainly never learnt from.
Of course, you can’t fail all the time and you certainly don’t want to fail big. So you need to be smarter about the decisions you make and understand what you are committing yourself to. Again, this is not simple, but there are some things you can do to help. For example, making Two Way Door decisions helps ensure that there is always a way forward, or at least a way back to the start. If risk is limited in this way then it becomes easier to do things for anyone in the organisation. Coupled with appropriate approval processes, a collaborative and change oriented culture, and with vision to guide decisions, things can really get moving.
I would be misleading you if I let you go away thinking we do all of these things all the time. I don’t think any organisation can do that, and we certainly do not. I don’t even think that there is any value in doing everything always. But we do some of these things most of the time, and all of these things some of the time.
What has helped us work out what to do and when, is good governance. This has developed over time as we grown as business owners and leaders. To start with we struggled to differentiate between doing, managing and leading. Today we have a effective governance and executive structure, appropriate for our size. We use governance to make strategic decisions and challenge existing decisions, and we use the executive structure to make it happen. We are now ready for non-shareholder directors and execs to help us.
Have fun at work
Whilst aspects of our jobs are certainly serious, it is important to still have fun and build relationships. We celebrate all sorts of things and endeavour to recognise the good things in the moment. We do things for individuals, for the team, for their families, and for the wider community of people we interact with. It all takes time and effort, but it is rewarding.
After 6 years, and even after some particularly tough days, I still can’t think of anything else I would rather do.