Innovation and the 2020 vision thing

via Flickr © GotCredit (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © GotCredit (CC BY 2.0)

Amdocs recently published a global survey of senior service provider executives to essentially find out what they thought of themselves.

To what end? Well, if we all agree that the service provider business model is experiencing a spot of difficulty (perhaps a full-blown identity crisis) then the big question being asked is: what leadership and other qualities are required to pilot the good ship Telco through the coming transformation?

Amdocs’s survey was undertaken by consultancy Telesperience and found that the overwhelming majority (83 per cent) of the senior service provider executives from the world’s largest SPs it quizzed, said they believed that industry CEOs needed to change their management style in order to remain successful five years from now.

The old ‘command and control’ or ‘inspired visionary leader’ style of management was no longer fit for purpose in a world being colonised by new business models whose success seemed to be linked to a more collaborative and open management style. Telcos needed to fight fire with fire by becoming more open and more innovative themselves.

An important part of this leadership transformation would involve the harnessing of ‘innovation’. Seventy three per cent of the executives thought that a CEO operating in 2020 (not too far off) should be driven by a ‘passion for innovation’ and, to quote the report  would provide the most value to the organization through driving ideas and strategy (first) and innovation (second), ahead of good corporate management (third) and good operational management (sixth).

But there is an apparent contradiction. It’s difficult to see how innovation (real innovation) can be fostered and executed without a huge dollop of risk. But according to the polled executives, an ability to take and manage risk was ranked way down (tenth) in the stack and in line with that a large majority of interviewees thought that the line-up of 2020 CEOs would be drawn mostly from a financial background - they’d be ex CFOs in other words.

So what would trip the 2020 CEO up? A lack of a clear strategy and an inability to support or execute change were thought to be the top two barriers to CEO success in 2020, with competition (third) and ‘lack of ideas’ a distant eighth.

Nevertheless CEO management styles would need to change from the currently favoured pacesetting (first) and visionary (second) management styles in which the CEO is expected to know where the company is going and lead it there by example, to coaching (first) and affiliative (tied 2nd place with pacesetting) styles, which value the contribution of teamwork and partnering.

It was thought that the most important skill the future CEO will have is the ability to create organisational structures that support innovation and change.

To me an ‘innovation’  is a thing which elicits the response,  ‘“Wow, never thought of doing that before’, exclamation mark! It’s about thinking up new things, a category which might have applied at the right time to the steam engine, the safety pin or the Mini (car, not skirt). It’s not having the marketing team come up with a slightly different billing scheme.

But while senior telecom executives almost instinctively clutch at the word ‘innovation’ in a “Yes we need more of that, whatever it is” mode, it’s possible - given the aversion to risk implied by those quality rankings - that we don’t quite yet have a bead on what ‘innovation’ is and what pursuing it might mean. After all, if every telco is suddenly being innovative, then it’s not innovative.

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