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The art of multitasking

Updated: Mar 22

Have you moved past multitasking? Think again if growth is on your business agenda. According to recent research from the University of Michigan, multitasking requires constant switching between different sets of cognitive rules which is effortful and inefficient. Meaning: to perform at your best, just focus on one thing at a time.

While that might be true for the individual, it certainly isn’t the case for the organisation. Multi-tasking is essential to create value for today while unlocking sizeable and sustainable sources of future revenue. For example:

  • a global confectionary player needs to generate profitable growth from a business based on sugar and ‘industrial’ food production, while pivoting towards a world of natural ingredients, transparent supply chains and more gentle processing while still delivering on taste and enjoyment

  • a global dairy company needs to generate value from a capital-intensive supply chain producing ‘standard’ products at low cost while moving towards a service-led consumer relationship-based model of nutritional solutions with a more complex, ‘just-in-time’ product range

  • a global automotive business needs to deal with short term challenges of emissions controls while simultaneously edging towards the world of electric vehicles and on-demand personal mobility

To succeed, an organisation needs to be able to do three jobs at once:

  1. Manage performance of ‘business as usual’ (BAU) to create value for today

  2. Explore medium and long-term opportunities with the potential to create value in the future

  3. Evolve the organisation towards being able to support the delivery of those ‘further-out’ opportunities

In our experience, all organisations spend at least 80% of their time and resources on job one and up to 25% on job two, while job three often receives very little attention.

There are a number of reasons for this; the challenge of managing the interface between business-as-usual and innovation is under-estimated, they might know what to do but often haven’t figured out how to do it, they simply don’t have the resource available for anything outside of BAU.

Neglecting job three, evolving the organisation, makes it very hard for any business to adapt to the demands of mid to long-term opportunities. As a consequence, those initiatives will not find the fertile soil they require to flourish.

Some companies resort to outsourcing or joint ventures for those ‘further out’ moves which increases risks around control and governance, and incremental value created is diluted or forgone. In essence, organisations create more value for themselves and their customers if they can simultaneously manage all three jobs - in other words, keeping all the balls in the air.

Here’s our checklist of things to consider for job three; evolving your organisation.You will need:

Resource: a dedicated team providing

  • leadership that is energetic, positive, persuasive and collaborative from a leader who is known by and commands respect in the core organisation

  • deep knowledge and appreciation of BAU (core business operations, assets, capabilities and ‘how we do things around here’) as a grounding for the bridging of business-as-usual with innovation

  • expertise in disruption and innovation fully appreciative of fresh thinking and new ideas, driven by customer insight and congruent with the organisation’s purpose and values

  • expertise in organisation development and change management covering the structural, political, diplomatic and technical domains of organisational change

  • expertise in scaling-up the outcomes and learning from tests and prototypes

Process: integrated, interlocking processes providing

  • strategic and operational connection between the mid/long-term and the short-term to ensure that organisation innovation to deliver proposition innovation is a regular topic on the leadership team agenda

  • active, structured facilitation of the conversation to manage the inherent tension and conflicting priorities of the ‘improvers’ versus the ‘disrupters’, making explicit the criteria being applied, the choices being made, the goals and KPIs being agreed and the issues that need to be elevated for executive discussion

Values: a foundation of common purpose and culture

To maintain the integrity of the organisation overall, it may seem obvious that purpose and values must be aligned across the Performance Cycle of BAU and the Innovation Cycle. However, it is a natural consequence of an effective Innovation Cycle that new opportunities and new ways of working will emerge that challenge the strategic and ideological underpinnings of the core.

For inspiration and clarity on how to master the art of keeping all the balls in the air, feel free to get in touch. We’d be happy to meet for an exploratory conversation to better understand your challenge and share nuggets from our own practical experience.

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