If you’re like me, your willingness to wait for your favorite brand caps out at about two days. Today, customers merely tolerate big brands based on how quickly and conveniently products get to their doorstep. If customers aren’t guaranteed nearly instantaneous delivery from their preferred brand, they will seek a “prime” experience elsewhere without a second thought.
In a world where speed, agility, and responsiveness win, an unexpected paradox has befallen massive companies: their size is making them powerless, suddenly fatefully vulnerable to small (but agile) competitors. Companies who spent years building global empires are finding themselves too big, cumbersome, and unruly for speed, while smaller, faster companies are gaining ground. The once beloved giants are at a crucial and existential fork in the road: they can foundationally reorganize and leverage their sprawl and size for unstoppable speed (quelling any smaller competitors, nimble or otherwise). Or, they can choose to ignore this new reality and remain big and slow, in which case their size will be their end.
Large companies who don’t want to embrace the necessary change will soon exhaust all their resources just trying to stay afloat. In desperate hopes of increasing velocity of output, their executives blindly throw expensive resources (money, time, and people) at their operations, without first confronting the reality that the vast majority of their operations are outsourced and outside their direct control. By trying to increase speed without first addressing this fragmented structure, brands find themselves in a turbo game of whack-o-mole. Instead of gaining speed and efficiency, they are increasing chaos and overhead.
The only way to keep up is to fundamentally restructure an organization and unlock the flow of information. The bad news is, this is really hard to do. The good news is, it doesn’t have to happen all at once. In fact, it cannot happen all at once. Operations are complex, convoluted, and dynamic. If you try to take it all on in one go, you’ll probably never get off the ground. There’s no “on/off” switch; only a series of changes and growth paths that need to evolve and be engrained in the fabric of your operations. First and foremost, this kind of change will require unwavering tenacity, grit, and visceral fortitude. Executives should expect the transition to test the core functionality — and sometimes dysfunctionality — of a business. To that end, they should not be swayed by the inevitable ups and downs of the journey.
Moreover, brands can start by threading the needle across their operation for specific products, initially prioritized by historical trends and eventually prioritized by predictive analytics. By hyper-focusing on only the relevant suppliers, manufacturers, and carriers for one high-value production channel, companies can begin to build “speed lanes” that are dedicated to moving products efficiently.
Today, global operations are so widely outsourced — between third party carriers, contract manufacturers, and thousands of suppliers and factories — that executives have no more access to quality information than their grandmas. Speed lanes connect cross-functional organizations and teams, so that they know about each other and can start pushing relevant information where it needs to go. In this way, companies can begin to orchestrate the frictionless movement of products from A to B. Grain to glass. Farm to table. Silicon to device. Speed lanes will serve as companies’ transition into the age of hyper-connectivity.
The next step will be to match these efforts with relevant technologies and behavioral processes that promote connectivity, information flow, and cross-organizational cooperation. Mission critical to this fundamental reorganization will be unrelenting leadership. The change is too great and pervasive to be treated with a “fire-and-forget” strategy. In the reshaping of businesses, CEOs must stand at the helm. There are no two ways about is: leaders who step up to embrace this change with grit and vision will survive the changing tides. Those who leave their teams to navigate alone are steering themselves and their companies toward unforgiving waters.