News about the pandemic may be waning, but this era of torrential change is far from over. Transformation is now more than just a buzzword; it’s an issue of survival. Colin Blackwell from Hyperion Fintech reports that “it’s about time to embrace it.”

By Colin Blackwell

We’re living in an era of transformation. 

From health crises to supply chain issues to shifting employee mindsets, the world of work is more volatile and unpredictable than ever before. However, one thing has grown significantly clearer over the last few years – companies have to continuously modernise to remain relevant.

A few years ago, while giving speeches about transformation, a lurking unspoken thought was always in the back of my mind: “Is transformation just an impractical buzzword?” 

However, those misgivings were put to rest in 2020 when  I was judging the Vietnam HR Awards. It became clear that the corporations who had transformed well, did well, while those who were stuck in the past were hit harder by Covid-19. The pandemic propelled the need to modernise from an “it could be nice to make some changes” mindset to a survival essential. 

Through necessity, the pandemic normalised many aspects of transformation that companies had been taking a wait-and-see approach to previously. As a result, the whole business environment was irrevocably changed in countless ways.  

Once valuable workers knew from experience that they could be more productive, earn more and have a more enjoyable life with flexible working, there was no bringing them back to the traditional 9 to 5 routine. As a result, businesses that didn’t embrace this transformation had to survive the “Great Resignation” that followed.  We can see examples of this on a daily basis.

Companies continue to struggle to recruit and retain, especially in fast-growing Vietnam. The same job adverts are posted a dozen times, all with the same disappointing result. Since the companies cannot resource properly, too much work falls on the remaining specialists, burning them out, causing them to resign and leaving the company even more under-resourced. This vicious cycle starts to eat away at revenue and moves from being an HR issue into being an acute commercial one.

The downside of being tied to traditional hierarchies has become a fundamental survival issue for many companies, as the world becomes ever more unpredictable. An old-fashioned company with a fixed cost base has the “double whammy” of not being able to scale up quickly enough to meet new opportunities, while also being unable to scale down fast enough in a contracting market. Up against modern competitors, such traditional companies will likely die within a few business cycles.

Not an enviable position to be in, but all too common, unfortunately. The good news is that there is a tried and tested solution. It just takes a bit of leadership bravery and an open mind. 

Let me reassure you that the new way works. Companies like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google are in a league of their own when it comes to size, profit and future-proofing. My company, Hyperion Fintech, partners with some of these tech giants, so I have a front-row view of how they function. To put it simply, they behave like a thousand start-ups under one name. They are ecosystem players, becoming the transformed companies that are replacing outdated traditional companies.

So how can your company transform to become a modern ecosystem player? 

This is a complicated question with a multitude of aspects to take into account. However, for sake of practicality, let’s consider the most central change needed – becoming an ecosystem. 

In the old predictable days, the world was simpler and more certain. This person was a customer, that one a supplier, that one an employee…easy. Now, all these roles are muddled together, with transformation complicating everything. Companies have to adjust to a more complex external environment, which can be visualised as follows.

How can we untangle this complexity and “build back better”? 

It is not as scary as it looks. To put it as bluntly as possible, your company will still be paying people to do stuff. You will still be the boss controlling the direction. But the methodology follows a new modern logic. 

Let’s start with a simple case that might sound familiar. You’ve been trying to recruit a specialist role and HR keeps coming back to you with the response that they can’t find candidates. This goes on for months. And we all know, that which can’t go on forever must eventually end. Now, you either scale back your business on that resource constraint or try an alternative. To solve it with a modern solution, you’ll need to pay someone to work in a different way than just hiring them as an employee.

Different roles will need different approaches, so it’s useful to take a step back and helicopter view your organisation. Which roles are core, mission-critical, client-facing, and hold the essence of your unique selling proposition? In most companies, these principal roles might make up 10% of your total staff, and they are the people who must be protected as traditional employees. Everything else is up for grabs. 

Ask yourself: Can the resourcing be done by outsourcing, suppliers, automation, people in another country or freelancers? Consider the illustration below to understand all the options you have for solving that resourcing issue. If you constrain yourself to the traditional options (the boxes in grey) and an ecosystem competitor can utilise all the others, they will undoubtedly perform better.

That’s it – you’re now starting down the path towards becoming a modern ecosystem company. 

The sourcing, selection, and contracts are all quite different, but the concept of paying people to work is reassuringly still there. Your future resource might be found on a Telegram technical chat group or in a yet-to-be-created forum, but some Gen Zer around your office likely already knows about the best places to start your search. 

A really interesting question arises from this new flexible structure: What does modern leadership look like? 

You will have to take a broader view of who you are leading—not just direct employees, but all the people you’re paying to work for you. Imagine your supplier has a key account person serving your company. You need to motivate, lead and get the best performance from that person too. The methods are very similar to how you would lead an employee, such as explaining your mission, knowing them as a person, developing them, and welcoming helpful ideas. Treat them with respect and you’ll get your money’s worth. 

An old-fashioned manager could be tempted to think: “I’m the big boss and that inferior supplier must be respectful to me.’ But he or she will soon find that toxic leadership style eroding their ability to deliver results and revenue. Other outdated leaders might think: “I’d rather go bankrupt than share business” – but let that mindset be your competitor’s downfall, not yours.

Change is scary; we’re all human, after all. But it’s much less scary when you see other large companies embracing the modern ecosystem way and succeeding. Have a good look at the Amazon Leadership Principles, then at their billions in annual profit. Then take a deep breath, summon your courage and copy.

Personally, I’ve put my money where my mouth is. Using these ecosystem understandings, I “walk the talk.” My Hyperion Fintech company is run virtually with no direct full-time employees. I have great people doing amazing work all around the world. Many of them I will never meet in person, but we have friendly chats online every day. The best ideas often come from them, which is what I pay them for, whilst artificial intelligence does the boring stuff. 

We’re evolving and having fun doing so, without artificial organisational restraints. Our results prove the theory – we’re outperforming our much larger traditional competitors. Yes, it was scary for us at first, but once one experiences the new ways of working, then the only thought left is “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”

Never miss an update about our events and articles
Tim Burrill
Membership Manager & Executive Assistant
If you would like to learn more about our events and membership, or have other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.