How to lead a team where customer opportunities grow faster than you can add capabilities

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As your customers go through their digital transformation you face new challenges. The customer opportunities you see as a provider or partner grow fast. Your customers will experiment more, and engage with you in their innovation cycle. Your customers will provide you with more opportunities, and engage you earlier and on looser grounds. A scenario where you will need to lead under clear capability constraints.

The digital opportunity explosion

As part of the digital transformation businesses increase their level of experimentation. Your customers test a broader spectrum of ideas. All facts will not be on the table when project execution starts. Your customers will enter a new era with a high number of projects started and a lower completion rate.

This reality will lead to an influx of new opportunities at a higher rate and with greater complexity than you have seen in the past. It will be harder to pick winning and losing opportunities before exploring them. You can expect to face a situation where you need to pursue more opportunities and end up with less deals with legs.

Customers adopting a digital innovation agenda

The growth challenges come from how to transform to support growing customer innovation agendas. Customers and partners innovate in collaboration form. It is less about finding a magic bullet and more about fighting many small street fights.

A golden rule is to pursue all the opportunities your customers want to engage in. By saying no upfront for a questionable opportunity you create long terms risks. Where you risk losing your go-to-partner role for a later high potential opportunity. It is better to take the initial steps together and exit later than say no upfront.

Capability constraints of many types

The opportunity explosion will test the capabilities of your organization. Opportunities will be more innovative in nature. Challenges will be of both need, solution and business model nature. Opportunities add new elements to the solution scope.

Your existing pool of resources need to engage in more innovative engagements. Putting requirements on developing the team towards new competence profiles.  Needing T- π- and #-shaped competence to handle the full breadth of more diverse opportunities. Depending on the nature of your industry the innovation ability and associated processes varies.

The perhaps biggest challenge to deal with is your own governance structure. Existing decision criteria and measures are perhaps optimized to your legacy businesses. Your leadership and management principles focus around optimizing the known.  Rather than exploring the unknown.

Stretch your resources with clear focus

To manage the resource constraint a first step would be to focus. A difficult challenge as it is less about selecting upfront and more about focusing on a few things every day. You will face a situation where you need to focus on what to do daily at the same time as you keep many early stage opportunities cooking.

By focusing the resource direction in shorter increments you grow the capability. Expect to optimize the way you do things to become less resource intensive. As the amount of opportunities go up, you need to find ways to do less. Especially in the early stages of an opportunity than for more mature opportunities.

Build a proactive capability growth plan

A common constraint will be the capabilities of your team. You need to plan to build and fill the gaps identified. Most capabilities in innovative markets come from learning by doing. And your challenge as a leader is to steer the capability development to where you see the greatest demands.

On the job training with an idea on what you need to develop can lead anywhere. But with a well-defined capability growth plan you can steer what your team will learn from on the job trainings.

Anchor your capability development plan tight to your customers’ directions. Parts you might be able to predict but for the majority you need to be flexible to adapt.

Let today’s numbers prove your path to the future

When facing a scenario with high innovation demand it is easy to get a too broad portfolio of opportunities with long lead times. A situation driving high demands for pre-sales opex and low immediate returns.

A better approach is to secure balance between executing on revenues drivers and investing in new. Securing today’s numbers is the path to credibility for investing in new innovative opportunities. Your conversion rate for turning innovative opportunities to sales is your new key metrics.

Questions to ask yourself and your team

  1. What is limiting your growth today – start by understanding your growth conundrum.
  2. How is your growth achieved today – the difference between expanding known and exploring new is big.
  3. Which hurdles do you need to overcome to enable growth – focus on a few big blockers.
  4. How broad spectrum of customer opportunities do you face – the broader the harder to manage upfront
  5. How well do you understand your customers’ innovation process – expect a variety of models and structures

Additional reading suggestions

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