The future-ready organization: A three-part formula
An Insight from the 2021 Catalyst Collaborative
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Build a new resilience with the information and intelligence you need to leap ahead in turbulent times.

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Leadership for a Networked World's Executive Director sits down virtually with Adobe Chief Financial Officer John Murphy, and Anaplan Chief Executive Officer Frank Calderoni to talk about shifts in cultural demands in today's dynamic times.

When the pandemic hit, the leadership team at Adobe wondered how it would affect their business. Would some revenue streams might falter or dry up entirely? How long would the disruption last? And what would the customer landscape look like when it was over? To act in time, Adobe could pull back their plans, trim the workforce, and hope they had the stamina and resources to wait out the crisis.

Or they could take action. Looking at their portfolio of product offerings, they identified a few bright spots of opportunity. Banks, for example, that had long refused to budge from paper signatures would suddenly need a secure way to sign documents online. Instead of holding their breath and hoping business would get back to usual, they moved quickly to pause projects that didn’t fit the new circumstances, ramped up segments with growth potential, and went to work helping their 24,000 employees feel confident that leadership was focused on the future and looking out for their best interests along with those of the company and thus shareholders.

Adobe may have been exceptional. In turbulent times, people and businesses have an understandable tendency to fall back on what worked in the past or to hunker down and wait out the storm. However, the depth and pervasiveness of today’s turbulence and disruption calls for a fundamental shift in capabilities and culture.

Yet evolving the organization is easier said than done. The noise and distraction of a highly changeable and uncertain environment can make it a challenge to get much done at all, let alone stay focused on what matters or create new ways of doing things. As a leader, how can you harness this moment to drive positive change? How do you bring everyone—employees, customers, partners—along on that growth journey?

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Episode 7 | 43 min

The Future-Ready Organization: A Discussion with Anaplan CEO Frank Calderoni and Adobe CFO John Murphy

Synopsis

Evolving an organization is easier said than done. The noise and distraction of a highly changeable and uncertain environment can make it a challenge to get much done at all, let alone stay focused on what matters or create new ways of doing things. As a leader, how can you harness this moment to drive positive change? How do you bring everyone—employees, customers, partners—along on that growth journey?

In this episode of the Chief Growth Officer Podcast Anaplan CEO Frank Calderoni and Adobe CFO John Murphy discuss how to keep a company moving forward in a period where the safe play appears to be waiting out the storm. These two transformational leaders share their tools and strategies to ensure their organizations continue on a successful trajectory.

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A three-part formula for evolving organizational culture

In a recent leadership forum, Anaplan CEO Frank Calderoni and Adobe CFO John Murphy discussed strategies to help leaders cut through the noise to focus on what matters in today’s atmosphere of uncertainty. They identified three core aptitudes where building new capacity can enable teams and employees to adapt more quickly and resist change fatigue.

Step One: Build Resolve

When employees know what they need to do and why, they have the certainty and resolve to stay focused even in difficult times. But how can leaders cultivate that certainty?

Communicate

Be transparent with employees. When people understand your priorities, strategies, and expectations, they can set worry aside and focus on what needs to get done.

It’s equally important to stay proactively engaged with customers and partners to understand their current and future needs. Working together lets you anticipate problems, get to positive outcomes more quickly, and build mutual trust.

Calderoni told the story of an Anaplan customer who joked their usage was going to skyrocket and crush the platform. While lighthearted, that open rapport surfaced a potential issue early and meant they could work together to make sure the systems were ready. Instead of being blindsided with explosive growth, it turned into a win-win situation.

Make it clear you care

Change and disruption bring risk and uncertainty. Employees will wonder, do you have their back? What if a bold new project fails? It’s essential to create a safe space for change, including allowing for the risk of failure, so employees can focus on what needs to get done.

“When the pandemic started, people worried,” said Murphy. “We said, ‘No, we have your back.’ We were very transparent about what needed to change and why. When we followed through on our priorities, it gave us a lot of credibility with employees.”

Demonstrate your character

To have values, the organization needs to know what those values are. Defining your values should not be a breezy endeavor or a dictate from leadership. Calderoni noted that nearly seventy percent of employees helped define Anaplan’s values. Clearly articulated values act as a framework for addressing difficult topics when they come up. When your values are clear, it’s easier to take a stand—and harder not to.

“Taking a stand allows you to act on your values and demonstrate your character,” said Calderoni. “Demonstrating character builds trust.”

Listen on multiple dimensions

Being able to speak honestly and feel heard is key to successful innovation, where everyone is in uncharted territory. That same openness based on trust applies to multiple dimensions including social and political issues, diversity and inclusiveness, and community impact. Work and life are not separate, so trust and candor have to span issues that impact both.

Create opportunities for employees to speak their minds and be heard. Adobe and Anaplan, like many organizations, maintain a variety of venues where employees can talk to each other and leadership, and share their concerns and experiences with the broader organization.

“It’s an incredibly motivating thing when employees feel they’re listened to, when they are heard, and they’re given a platform to share what they’re struggling with,” said Murphy. “It provides a productive environment for people to adapt to and participate in change.”

Taking a stand allows you to act on your values and demonstrate your character. Demonstrating character builds trust.


Frank Calderoni
Chief Executive Officer, Anaplan
 

Step Two: Innovate Faster

It might sound obvious, but to become more agile and resilient you have to actually change things. Making real change happen can be its own reward as employees can take action, see progress, and are inspired to do more. How can leaders drive real change?

Tackle bureaucracy

Spread decision-making throughout the organization by removing elements of the hierarchy to empower employees.

“People are energized by action,” said Murphy. “They want to feel like they’re trusted and moving forward. The more you can distribute decision-making power through your organization, the faster you’re going to be able to move. I think fatigue comes from waiting. Action is motivational.”

When the pandemic started, teams at Adobe went into crisis-management mode, leapfrogging layers of bureaucracy to do what had to be done quickly. As the crisis abated, teams slid back into their old ways of doing things.

“We said, ‘Wait a second. We don’t want to do that. We want to keep that speed and level of innovation,’” said Murphy. “We don’t need to have a meeting. We can let this team or leader make that decision.”

To go faster, stop

As innovation cycles accelerate, employees can feel pressured to work longer hours. But the goal is not more stamina, it’s more speed. Simply working more and faster leads to burnout. Real change is about finding ways to do things differently to speed up progress itself.

“Sometimes it’s best to stop and reflect,” said Calderoni. “What ideas might help you do your job better and faster? What changes could accelerate innovation?”

At Anaplan, engineers facing an ambitious timeline hit a wall. Exhausted and falling behind, morale began to suffer. Leadership decided to step in, but not to rally the team to work harder. Instead, they told everyone to stop. They had an honest conversation about what needed to get done, what was standing in the way, and what could make success possible. The team felt heard and were empowered to make changes to improve the situation, building trust, confidence, and satisfaction all around.

See around corners

In a competitive environment, the old ways don’t allow you to respond fast enough to change. Today’s organizations need flexible, intelligent tools to see around corners and support an agenda of rapid change and innovation.

“Companies used to plan based on their own historical information,” said Calderoni. “Now you have to bring external factors into your analysis so that you can have the competitive advantage of a more informed perspective.”

A key to this analysis is understanding and sharing customer needs and data. People are more willing to change when they know why change is necessary. Customer data is a noncontroversial, factual, transparent way of conveying the reason for a shift in priorities, timeline, or strategy.

Allowing the organization to hear firsthand what customers need and why lets teams understand that finding ways to deliver innovation faster is critical. It’s not an abstraction, it’s customers waiting for something they need now.

Better, faster tools lead to better and faster information and decisions. Greater visibility into not only the customer, but also processes and planning via analytics allows the organization to move with new speed, agility, and confidence.

Step Three: Redefine resilience

What is resilience? In the past, it’s meant having the elasticity to bounce back from a disruption. The faster you get back to normal, the more resilient you are. But what if we redefined resilience for these less “normal” times?

Today’s resilience needs to be ruggedized for a new era of uncertainty. It’s the ability to access insights, make changes, learn from results, and go forward in a better way. Not that you snap back to the old way, but that you leap forward, with the confidence that you will be resilient in your pursuit of the future.

This new resilience depends on three components:

Values: Change and innovation require a safe space where people can be honest about challenges and results, and where there is permission to experiment and possibly fail. The same habits that help build resolve—transparency, caring, demonstrating character by acting on values, listening—also support resilience. A clear shared purpose and leaders modeling and practicing inclusion builds a sense of belonging, trust, and ownership so that people want to make things succeed.

Intelligence: To have an advantage, you need flexible, intelligent tools. When everyone has easy access to information, with more insight and analysis, including external inputs, they can make better decisions and more accurate projections more quickly. With this new perspective, teams can experiment, see the results in real time, learn, and improve. Access to information and intelligence also motivates teams to embrace change.

“When you have access to intelligence and can connect it to a business outcome, it helps people get on board with change,” said Calderoni. “They’re energized by the sense that they’re moving forward.”

Positivity: Resilient leaders model optimism and a success mindset. Energy and enthusiasm are contagious. When leaders believe their teams can succeed, it builds confidence.

“As a leader, it’s our responsibility to demonstrate resiliency across any obstacle,” said Murphy. “For me, it’s keeping a positive attitude and recognizing that collectively, we have the skills and knowledge to overcome challenges.”

At the same time, it helps to acknowledge that leaders don’t know all the answers all the time. Transparency and candor about inevitable missteps or even failures, and what learnings can be applied going forward, creates the psychological safety innovators need to sustain tenacity.

No business can afford to rest on past success in today’s highly competitive and tumultuous environment, especially when forward-looking enterprises are adopting intelligence technologies to drive advantages that set them apart.

Employees and shareholders are looking for leaders to guide the way forward. As Calderoni put it, “Now more than ever, people are looking for change agents, those individuals that are going to stand up and take a different approach, even if it involves risk.”

Murphy put it more starkly: “Leaders that hunker down and wait for a crisis to pass, that’s the way even great businesses die or become irrelevant. You have to have the courage to face it head-on.”



Clips from the Podcast

In this first clip, hear Adobe Chief Financial Officer John Murphy respond to LNW Executive Director Antonio Oftelie's question about how Adobe responded to the rapid change in the working environment in response to COVID:

In this second clip, Anaplan Chief Executive Officer Frank Calderoni addresses the topic of companies taking a stand on social issues, and how it drives character:

As a leader, it’s our responsibility to demonstrate resiliency across any obstacle. For me, it’s keeping a positive attitude and recognizing that collectively, we have the skills and knowledge to overcome challenges.


John Murphy
Chief Financial Officer, Adobe
 

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