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How to build a self-driving Culture

How to build a self-driving Culture

  1. In the last vlog on culture of scalability, you talked about ‘driving’ rather than being ‘driven’. What does it mean and why is it important?

We are talking about the culture of scalability and growth. This idea has changed quite significantly over a period of time. 

Earlier it was all about capital deployed. The machines and the materials that had to be utilized to generate a profit. You may remember the classic by Charlie Chaplin “Modern Times” in which Charlie is continuously tightening the nuts on an assembly-line. He was completely driven, almost part of the machine, not doing any driving, himself.

In contrast, in today’s information age companies are nothing but the people and their ideas. How these ideas are generated and successfully executed are big differentiators for any company, especially start-ups. The CEO does not have a monopoly on all the ideas. In fact a team is hired for their intelligent new ideas. So it does not make sense for a CEO to tell the team how to get the work done.

The best chance for companies to succeed is to let people generate ideas and do the driving themselves. This keeps employees extremely engaged and enthusiastic, which is another differentiator for successful companies.

  1. Can the culture be completely self-driving? Shouldn’t there be some guidance? How do we build the right mix?”

The culture of self-driving allows employees to make mistakes and fail, followed by learning and correcting mistakes. Senior management may sometimes believe that they can prevent these mistakes by guiding the team. But this curbs the team’s initiatives causing long-term negative outcomes.

Guidance should come from objectives. 

All leadership have their objectives derived from organizational goals. The best way for leaders is to hire candidates who are aligned with your objectives. This takes away the need to motivate the team since the purpose is also aligned. These objectives are what I call the ‘What’. And companies tend to focus on the ‘What’. While self-driving comes from the ‘How’. The thesis here is that once the team is aware of the ‘What’ they are better than their bosses at discovering the ‘How’. This is considering that companies have the guard-rails in place for legal, moral and ethical issues.

  1. How would we know when we have succeeded in building a self-driving culture?

Let me talk about three factors, which are companies, employees, and the work itself.

For the companies, it is not just a higher chance of success in business. It is also the retention and engagement of the “self-driving” employees.

For the employees, it is professional growth. Once they have mastered the ‘How’ and hence achieved the ‘What’, self-driving employees convert that ‘What’ into a ‘How’ for the next higher level ‘What’. And so on and so forth. This is an unstoppable professional growth path.

For the work and how it is done better, I’ll give an example of the Apple Stores. A week before the launch of Apple Stores, the SVP of Retail Operations, Ron Johnson, approached Steve Jobs and said that their stores were organised like a retail shop around product lines such the iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple watch. If the business was organised around activities like Movies and Music, the stores should also be organized around Movies and Music. They in fact delayed the launch of Apple stores for this change and it is this move that created the Apple store that we know and love. 

The moral of the story is that if a business creates such “self-drivers” they create a perpetual cycle of success for themselves and the company.

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