President and CEO of Gutenberg Technology
Mark Twain famously said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. … We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.”
In 2020, combining old ideas to create new ways of doing business became a necessity. Now, the combination of two well-known operational strategies — the people, process and technology (PPT) framework and adaptive leadership — can be the key to organizational success in the face of rapid change.
People, Process And Technology
The PPT framework, developed in the 1960s, is a methodology that balances people, processes and technology to maximize organizational efficiencies. Although it became a favorite for information technology management, its principles can be applied to just about any industry.
This framework is often conceptualized as an equilateral “golden” triangle. If one side changes, the other sides need to be adjusted to re-establish equilibrium. Focusing on any one component is a mistake and can result in unnecessary spending and inefficiencies, such as technology that employees are not using to its full extent or, conversely, highly skilled employees who don’t have the technology tools they need to do their jobs well.
When faced with sudden market changes (the most obvious being the pandemic), successful organizations need to be able to pivot quickly to keep the triangle balanced. But re-establishing that equilibrium can be more or less effective based on an organization’s leadership culture.
Adaptive leadership helps individuals and organizations adjust and succeed in challenging and rapidly changing environments. First introduced as the product of research by Dr. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, it is a significant shift from the traditional “top-down,” hierarchical leadership approach. Adaptive leadership invests independence and agency in employees, valuing their input and encouraging risk-taking to face challenges. This enables companies to undergo a meaningful process of change by:
• Determining what is high-value and what is expendable.
• Deciding what constitutes smart risks and testing new practices.
• Conducting disciplined assessments.
Without this agile approach to change, even when an organization is aware of a vulnerability or an opportunity, it can be difficult to implement institutionally. Adaptive leadership enables organizations not only to diagnose imbalances in their PPT, but to quickly devise and implement ways to innovate in response.
Recalibrating The Golden Triangle: An Example From The Educational Publishing World
In the educational publishing industry, change was in the wind long before the pandemic, but that wind whipped itself into a full-blown storm in 2020. Overnight, a massive shift to remote and hybrid learning — in many cases by “digital natives” used to accessing information whenever and wherever they wanted it — meant a sudden demand for more engaging and effective online educational experiences.
In the publishing industry, the traditional content production workflow has been to first develop the print version (textbook) of a product and then use the print version of the product to develop the digital version with the same content. This process has typically been very sequential, with many starts and stops between development stages and multiple handoffs between various internal departments, external vendors and subject matter experts.
Many educational publishing companies are moving away from this traditional workflow and are at least aspiring to establish a “digital-first” collaborative workflow. While this newer, modern workflow has clear advantages — such as simultaneously producing print and digital products, more automation and more real-time collaboration, thereby saving time, money, accelerating speed to market and better leveraging employee talent — introducing the technology to implement this workflow is a challenge. It requires an adaptive culture where all members of the team, from the boardroom down to the editorial staff, embrace the value the new approach brings to the business and recognize the competitive risks of not modernizing their content production operations.
Business history is ripe with examples of industries (e.g., newspaper) or companies (e.g., Kodak) that were too slow to adapt to evolving market dynamics. The same will prove true for educational publishing. Some will adapt and flourish while others will become uncompetitive and disappear. A great example of this in educational publishing is to look at the most successful online universities in the United States. They’ve built a model where they have more control over the content they develop and aren’t as dependent on content products from large educational publishing companies. These same universities are beginning to white label their content to other online programs.
Ultimately, all of this is eating away at the market share of publishing companies. To adapt to this new reality, publishing companies must significantly accelerate their ability to create new, up-to-date, engaging content for their higher education customers, which requires a modern approach to producing content.
Many lessons came out of 2020, but it is clear that companies that advance down the adaptive leadership continuum will be in a far better position to quickly leverage new and existing technologies, streamline operational efficiencies and keep their “golden” PPT triangles in perfect balance.