The I2ACT Philosophy
Explaining the concept behind an
integrated business & growth strategy
Organizations are living organisms, continuously changing in form and shape, existing in an environment that is evolving at all times, at various rates. Depending on the industry the organization operates in, the rate at which these changes happen, varies significantly: some seem to be in continuous flux, other seem to be evolving more in steps with sudden bursts of change. The technology industry is a clear example of the former, whereas the travel industry operates more within the latter model.
The I2ACT philosophy is an all-encompassing way to connect all aspects a corporation or organization: it covers WHY the company exists, WHO it deals with and HOW it operates. These aspects of business management are captured in 7 critical key elements that are all connected with each other: Innovation, Assertiveness, Communication, Team, Accountability, Customer and Target.
Regardless the way the industry evolves, organizations (and their leadership teams) can, to a great extent, determine their own success by focusing on these interconnected areas of organizational behavior, which all come together in one common theme: ensure that everyone in the organization takes action and does not leave matters unattended.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Innovation means a “(the use of) a new idea or method”. In essence, it is means doing things in a way they haven’t been done before. Many people associate innovation with new inventions or new technology, but a lot of innovations are coming from taking a different approach to existing products, processes or services.
The invention of the telegraph allowed for instant long-distance communication and the development of the semiconductors formed the foundation of the birth of the personal computer. But other businesses and industries in essence grew from existing ideas: taxi companies have existed for many years, but by combining mobile technologies with car owners, Uber created the “ride-sharing” industry.
So, innovation does not mean looking for the next invention, but continuously reviewing and optimizing existing processes & solutions, anticipating changing industry trends and understanding the impact these will have on customer needs, and at all times challenging the status-quo. And do so at all levels of the company. Some industries are prone to focus on this more than others, driving different dynamics, but in the end, change will happen.
Voice your opinion. And more importantly, listen to and understand other’s opinions also. Create an environment in which employees, suppliers, customers, partners, in short anyone who deals with the company, feel safe to share valuable feedback and information regarding the company, the operations, the products or services, the market, … in an objective way. The more insights one can obtain, the better the understanding and view on the business will be, allowing for faster implementation of more accurate and optimal solutions.
It is very important to encourage all teams across the organization to share their views, speak up and provide constructive criticism on all items. Strong ideas are not exclusive to top management, they often are developed on the work floor, by people who want to improve the functioning of the organization. But too many times these efforts are stifled by a culture that does not allows for employee input and feedback. Encouraging assertiveness in the organization will increase the flow of new ideas, driving innovation.
Assertiveness does not mean being rude or insulting, but being honest and direct in a constructive way. If done well, it will greatly improve internal and external communication and team cooperation. Employees will become more engaged and employee satisfaction scores will increase significantly.
Effective communication is one of the crucial components of any successful company: continuously interacting with its employees, effectively relaying its messages to its customers and listening to its market’s needs, exchanging information with its eco-system partners, it is an ongoing process in which crisp and clear messaging is crucial, as well as taking the time to listen and understand.
Effective communication is a two-way stream, it is an interaction that encourages a full exchange of ideas and opinions. One will not achieve effective communication without assertiveness. The best results will be achieved in a direct, person-to-person interaction, so nonverbal signals can be picked up. Obviously, that is not always feasible. But too many times, sending an email message is confused with communicating. Communication is a continuous and interactive sharing of information, on multiple layers (verbal and nonverbal), email messages are a one-way stream of information delivery, on a single layer. It is hard to capture the underlying tone or sentiment from an email, often leading to incorrect interpretation.
If you want to build successful teams, create strong employee engagement and have profitable customer interactions, effective communication will be key.
“We are in this together” must have been one of the most used quotes during the COVID-19 crisis. Whereas during the crisis it was used as a token of empathy and support, this statement very much applies to any successful company: success isn’t the work of one individual, it is the combined result of many employees’ efforts, working together as a team towards a common target.
A company is one team, comprised of multiple smaller (sub)teams. Every team needs to cooperate in order to achieve its target or goals. Depending on the goals and requirements, teams can be structured differently and with different skill sets. But to be successful, a number of conditions need to be fulfilled for every team:
it needs a clear purpose or goal, so team members have a sense of direction
team members need to feel a sense of accountability for reaching the target, so they will fully commit themselves to achieving results and success
the team needs to create an environment in which assertive communication is possible and encouraged.
Goals of sub-teams need to support to overarching targets of the division, and ultimately those of the company, and the team efforts should all be focused on achieving their team goals for the company to be successful. Coordination of these efforts is of the utmost importance, meaning all teams will need to practice effective communications to achieve the overarching, corporate goals.
Ensure the teams are accountable for reaching their targets. Allow them to share in the success of a task well accomplished and celebrate these successes with them. Should targets be missed, have the team take ownership of the failure and as a group investigate what can be done to prevent this from happening again. Do not assign blame, so you continue to drive innovation instead of stifling it. Communication around progress and potential deviation should be open and honest, allowing full transparency in the projects in progress.
Accountability is assigned to people to ensure action is taken and goals are achieved. And it should sit with the teams taking the actions, not with higher management or in a different group. Don’t move accountability or responsibility to a different level or entity, it will reduce the sense of urgency and undermine the team’s confidence and decision-making. Trust every team with reaching their own goals and targets, in their own way, and hold them accountable for the result. Measure the output and drive results by accountability, not by trying to control or drive behavior.
Without clients or customers, the company would not have a way to reach it target or to fulfill its purpose. Continuous engagement with its customer is key for the company to understand where its market is going to, how it needs to adjust its offering for the future and what the competitive forces are. It is a continuous effort and interaction that includes all segments and divisions within the company: this is not reserved to the sales team, but includes the marketing staff, the finance teams, the operations, manufacturing and/or logistics departments and the development groups. They all interact with the customer from a different angle and on different levels. Bringing these various views together will provide the organization with a much more complete insights into market dynamics and enables it to rapidly adapt its product or services to the changing market condition and be successful in the long term.
For many departments, the customer is located within the company: HR services the various departments by recruiting and retaining a highly skilled workforce, IT ensures employees have the appropriate equipment to operate and business intelligence teams ensure accurate and relevant reporting is delivered timely to the appropriate people. Goals will need to be developed and communicated in such a way that the output these teams provide, supports the overall success of the company. Sometimes these departments are viewed as operating on their goals or are receiving support requests from other groups with the organization, which might serve the purpose of those departments but not necessarily contribute to the overall company goals. Clear guidelines, targets and communication should be provided regarding these internal support teams, so their working and performance can be supporting the overall goals and targets set by the organization.
Setting targets is like entering the destination in a GPS: it sets the end point for the journey. One can enter intermittent waypoints, but they are all aligned so the final destination is reached. For organizations, goals can be set for the short, middle or long term, but without these goals, it will be hard to define what success looks like. It will also prevent monitoring the progress the company is making or benchmark it against what others in the market are doing.
Communicating the company targets and engaging the teams to actively participate and taking accountability in achieving these, is primordial for the organization’s success. Teams who have no sense of direction, can and will not function effectively. Again, the GPS analogy applies: the person driving from point A to B will only feel in control of the driving when informed what point B is, rather than feeling commanded around at every corner, with no clear endpoint in sight. The driver will also be able to anticipate and understand the remaining driving distance and time, and possibly avoid any traffic jams ahead by circumventing them, rather than just following orders on when to accelerate, brake or make a turn until being told the destination has been reached. Employees need to understand the organization’s goals to be engaged and effectively perform their jobs, the paternalistic model in which staff are exactly told what to do and just had to execute is no longer working.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that there targets are communicated regularly and in a consistent way. The SMART model lends itself very well for this, as it allows for effective communication, puts a clear framework around the accountability and allows to engage the entire team:
Simple: The “keep it simple” principle is key in target-setting, don’t overcomplicate goals. Rather have two simple goals, than one intertwined one with the risk of confusing people of the ultimate target
Measurable: make sure the goal is measurable in an objective way, and communicate the metric or calculation used. This way progress can be tracked consistently by the entire team, transparency is provided, and quick action can be taken in case of under- or overperformance
Attainable: the team should be able to see a path to reach the target and be given the means and resources to succeed. The plan should clearly outline the actions to be taken and identify the individuals or groups accountable for executing the actions. If such a plan can not be built, the target can and will not be attained
Realistic: reaching for the stars is great, but how many people actually get into space? Setting unrealistic goals does not engage people, it discourages them and reduces the effort. There is a big difference between putting up a challenge and setting the team up for failure: the former will lead to team engagement and builds team spirit, the latter will lead to low morale and ultimately undermine leadership
Timely: there should be a clear deadline to achieving the task, it should not be left open-ended. Providing a clear timing will enable the teams to plan accordingly and attribute the right level of resources to the tasks at hand.
Goals should not only be set for the entire organization, but also for the teams and the individuals. Employees will perform much better if they understand their contribution to the organization and will actively participate in the continuous innovation efforts to improve their, and in consequence the company’s, performance.
The organization should also create a process to continuously evaluate the progress towards the targets, both on an organizational as well as on an individual level. This is not a “once-a-year” activity, but should be done on regular intervals throughout the year, depending on the volatility of the business environment the organization operates in. Continuous communication around results and regular employee feedback is crucial to ensuring the organization remains on track. The times of the proforma annual performance review has long passed, employees expect continuous feedback & information.
Now all of this means little if there is no action taken, no activity happening. This is why the Nike slogan “JUST DO IT” is still one of the best slogans ever used in a marketing campaign, as it captures the essence of the need for action: get things done, make it happen, be active. Unless teams start acting, nothing happens, and it will not achieve its goals. There will be no innovation, no successful customer engagements and very likely, the organization will not last much longer.
The organization needs to ensure it empowers its staff to be active and to deliver results. It needs to create a cultural that allows for trial and, as might happen, for error: employees should be encouraged to act to reach it targets, and if such initiative leads to failure, that should be tolerated, as long as the failure is communicated quickly and leads to an open and honest (assertive) conversation in order to prevent the failure from repeating itself and leads to the development of a better solution (innovation).
This might require a mentality change within the organization, both with staff (voicing their opinion and actioning their ideas) and the management team (being open and responsive to new ideas and trust their teams with their tasks and activities), but this is essential for the organization to succeed. As soon as people feel that the company’s culture is creating such an environment, the flow of ideas and number of initiatives will grow exponentially, leading to continuous innovation, effective communication, and ultimately to the organization achieving, and possibly surpassing, its goals and objectives.