Over the entrance to the cemetery of complacent brands a sign will read: here rest those who rested on their laurels. It is a fast new world, and customers have already decided that “I want it now” trumps brand loyalty. They aren’t interested in the complex interdependencies of global product operations, from sourcing materials, to manufacturing, storing, and transporting goods around the world. But these complex interdependent factors are ultimately what are keeping brands from meeting these expectations of today’s consumers.
At it’s core, this is an informational- and organizational-flow problem. Disconnectedness — stemming from bad information networks and operational silos — is baked into the very foundation of modern businesses, making it impossible for these companies to know what is actually going on across their global organization. Teams are compartmentalized into non-collaborative orgs; processes are fundamentally (and detrimentally) internal to those orgs; and the supporting technologies serve to optimize for and solidify this isolation. In short, companies are making it structurally impossible to function at the speed of customer demand. It’s time to reshape companies at their roots: people, processes, and technology.
Breaking down information silos will inevitably reveal ugly realities that threaten existing people dynamics. Organizational antibodies will emerge, armed with an arsenal of defensiveness, delay, noncommittal responses, and passive aggressiveness. Such fundamental change cannot be sustained by executive mandates or grandiose launch events. It requires nothing less than what I like to call “visceral fortitude”— more commonly known as grit — among your leaders and across your entire organization.
Now, rest assured that being riddled with doubt doesn’t mean your team doesn’t have grit. Like all character virtues, grit is developed by choosing what is right over what is easy. One becomes “courageous” not because they are never afraid, but precisely because they’ve overcome their fear. One is triumphant not because there were no obstacles in their way, but because they faced the obstacles head on. This idea goes all the way back to Aristotle. If virtues were born (rather than bred) there would be nothing admirable about them. Similarly, if having grit was a natural instinct, there would be nothing notable about accomplishing our ambitions.
Pushing through and overcoming internal demons is how grit is honed, whether it’s forgetting the last time you had a restful night’s sleep, missing more family events than you’ve attended, or struggling with “imposter syndrome.” But you stick with it. That’s how you develop grit. True grit is a daily decision and it takes relentless commitment; it’s the decision to stick to your mission even when every bone in your body wants to quit.
Most of all, cultivating grit means confronting reality. Deep change takes time — unrealistic expectations and artificial schedules will break you when they are not met. Grit means understanding the breadth of the goal, setting milestones instead of deadlines, and getting back up on your feet no matter how many times you’ve fallen. And the stamina to continue facing the latest uncovered facts of your reality with conviction and faith, no matter how brutal. It’s easier to sweep issues under the rug, but much more productive to unearth them and face them head on.
Business operations are complex, convoluted, and ever-changing beasts that aren’t easy to corral. So when it comes to their digitization, do not expect to accomplish it with a simple re-org. This effort will test your commitment every single day. And it will test your people’s commitment. It will be the task of company leadership to empower teams and keep them focused on the big picture, rather than letting them get weighed down by the enormity of the project or the latest crisis. Your commitment to the path and your communication of its value will be the guiding light, and your grit will carry you through on occasions when that light flickers.