A Corona-push to future-proof your organization

Designed to cope with rapid change - a Corona-push
Even before Covid-19, future-oriented leaders realized that bureaucracy is a too heavy burden for sufficient agility and adaptability. Which is why they look for ways to transform their whole organization into a highly adaptable, entrepreneurial, yet efficient organism - that also scales easily and enables mind-blowing growth.

Corona is nudging, or rather pushing us all in that direction. Darwin still rules: 

"…the species [or organization] that survives is the
one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing
environment in which it finds itself." 

Life after Corona
What we’re now experiencing globally is frightening and putting your company to the test. While viruses will come and go, bear in mind there are several paradigm shifts –that are changing the game, the speed of the game and how we play:

  • AI and robotics are changing and challenging what and how we work.
  • Digital elements increase complexity and allow breath taking, exponential business growth.
  • Our planet is suffering, requiring urgent remedies.
  • Customers expect great experiences and care more about sustainability.

Future-oriented leadership
In this world - what does smart, future-oriented leadership look like? And why care? You care because of mind-blowing business opportunities and because of unexpected competition coming from easily scalable companies – some even growing at an exponential pace. That’s why smart leaders and boards ask:

“How can we efficiently – and at a low cost – work smarter to ensure speed and organizational readiness in the disruptive AI era?”

From 1D ---> 3D organizations
Apart from technology solutions, new ways of working, leading, executing strategy, and creating value are emerging. To facilitate agility and adaptability, while being highly efficient, we’re moving from traditional, one-dimensionally run organizations, pushing past the two-dimensional matrix structure, over to agile, networked-based three-dimensional organizations.

 We’re moving from hierarchical, one-dimensional (1D), line-organizations, past two-dimensional (2D) matrix-structures, and over to three-dimensional (3D), networked organizations.

Here’s a great example:
Philosophically inspired by how internet is designed, Zhang Ruimin, CEO of Haier - a highly successful Chinese, multinational consumer electronics manufacturer (29 billion USD in revenue, 2016) took the controversial step in 2005 to liberate themselves from bureaucracy. They prepared for higher speed (agility, entrepreneurship, and customer-closeness) and transformed from being a traditionally driven organization.


Haier fundamentally reorganized all employees into an eco-system of thousands of self-managed micro-units.[1] Their people behave more like owners than employees. Each unit has a P&L (profit and loss) and are partly “paid on performance,”. They decentralized power and decision-making. To increase efficiency, they share some practices, e.g., target setting, contracting, and recruiting. Are they successful? Very much so. Beating their competitors by far also in Western countries.

This shows not only digital companies like Google can work this way. It seems that everyone can make the shift in a more non-bureaucratic organization. And many other companies have taken this bold step, for example, Netflix, Morning Star (who’re in the tomato agri- and food-processing industri), and Itera (a Norwegian IT-vendor).

An internet and Darwin-inspired organization
These modern 3D structures are typically networked through multi-disciplinary, more or less autonomous- and cross-collaborating team-of-teams. They are highly interconnected with customers and external partners – and cleverly supported by technology. This way of working increases adaptability and entrepreneurship, and facilitates rapid re-sizing, scaling, and even exponential growth.

Re-thinking your business

Covid-19 is slowing us down for sure. Yet, I can’t help but think that companies who now take the opportunity to rethink their business will speed up eventually and be more healthy for it. How you work, how the organization is set up, how skilled people are at coping with and driving change, or at problem-solving, collaboration, and decision-making matters a lot.This illustration is inspired by the work by Scott Simmerman, “The Square Wheels Guy”. As you’re reading this article, I know you’re not too busy to reflect over how you can work smarter in the AI era. Congratulations!

The winners’ secret
HOW you work is one of the most important decisions leaders and boards make in these disruptive days. It’s easy to think it’s all about technology, artificial intelligence, or right now about Corona. But, the winners’ secret is they know how to efficiently and rapidly unlock human intelligence and knowledge in a flexible, more or less self-driven organization. They use technology and digitilize wisely. Further, they align their business model with a future-oriented structure and culture to be flexible, innovative, and change-prone, to unleash their full potential, and enable rapid scaling of their business. What they do you can do too!

AI+EQ=true

We know technology is rapidly becoming more powerful, but people are critical for value creation - and more essential than before. As Kimberly Lein-Mathisen, GM Microsoft Norway, says so well:

“Artificial intelligence is like a speedboat. Along with [human] emotional intelligence, it gets the power of a supertanker.”

What’s exciting is that by constructively using the synergistic power of human and artificial intelligence, we may have a chance to solve even really complex and urgent challenges like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.


The future came very fast
The pace of development was already demanding. We see that the difference between quick and slow companies – and winners and losers – is clearer than before. The gap is widening. New conditions can be a threat, but also provide unexpected possibilities.  With Corona, my take is that companies who digitalize and have an agile and adaptable organization will further increase their competitive edge.

Flexible and robust

Many of us are forced right now to work from home. But truly working smart is about a lot more than being good at Skype- or Teams-meetings. It’s about creating a flexible, yet robust organization, that in addition to a focus on technology addresses the new exponential pace of value-creation, the need for a future-oriented, agile organizational structure, and uplevel people’s skills to be excellent at self-leadership, change, and collaboration.

  • Exponential pace and fast-scaling business models require a different mindset, leadership, and way of working.
  • Your organization’s structure is a barrier or blessing for sufficient agility and efficiency – transform your business into a cross-collaborative, agile, and entrepreneurial organization ready for scalable growth and disruptive change.
  • Your people’s (creative, collaborative, and emotional) skills and intelligence can be upleveled and unlocked to tackle complexity and rapid change – new leadership and ways of working can, and should bring out the best in your people.

Relevant, practical strategies
When I wrote ‘Working smart in the AI era’, I’d never heard of Covid-19, but wanted to help leaders future-proof, prepare for, and better cope with, disruptive times by making their teams and organization more change-capable, efficient, and innovative. More robust and efficient, yet flexible and agile. Little did I know how relevant the practical strategies of how to truly empower people and work smart(er) would become in these Corona-days!

We’re truly alerted to how vulnerable we are, our need for coping well with rapid changes, and for working in ways that are flexible, human-oriented, and sustainable. But challenges provide new opportunities. Now is a great time to rethink how to work smart and future-orient your business.

Stay safe with a clear mind and a warm heart.

* Working smart in the AI era has just been released on Amazon!

Just released: in Norwegian by Hegnar Media 'Fremtidsrettet ledelse'.

Efwa Hagström’s mission is to enable and empower leaders, teams, and organizations to drive positive change fast, and find those amazing solutions and services that help us and our world full of challenges - either they come from viruses, climate issues, or AI radically changing how we work. 

 [1] Hamel, G. and Zanini, M. (2018) ‘The end of bureaucracy’, Harvard business Review.

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