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How Vigilant Organizations Gain an Edge

Professor George Day of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania joined NetElixir’s Reimagine Tomorrow Lecture series on Thursday, July 9th

Professor George Day on How Vigilant Organizations Gain an Edge

Professor Day presented How Vigilant Organizations Gain an Edge.

The Reimagine Tomorrow series aims to bring experts together to share their latest experience with and research on strategy, technology and innovations, and insights. As we all navigate through these uncertain times together, we need more than just real data. We need knowledge that inspires us to look towards the future, thought leadership experience that sparks fresh ideas, a broader world view, and dollops of genius to help us connect the dots and move forward, relentlessly. Reimagine Tomorrow aims to get us thinking about tomorrow through innovative thought leaders sharing their experience, insights, and research. 

Professor Day’s presentation was based on his recent book See Sooner – Act Faster: How Vigilant Leaders Thrive in an Era of Digital Turbulence with Paul Schoemaker, published in 2019. While the book focused specifically on digital turbulence, the vigilance applications can – and should – be applied to help business leaders through all difficulties and challenges, especially the coronavirus pandemic. Digital will have a central place in future, but, as Professor Day says, “it will interact with a lot of other influences.” Through assessing our vigilance and responding sooner to problems, we can work to reimagine the future.

The Need for Vigilance

Vigilance is a collective capability, characterized by curiosity, candor, and foresight. It can be learned and cultivated. Vigilant companies have more freedom because they are constantly experimenting and testing their models; therefore, when the time is right, they can respond faster to problems because they have systems in place to overcome these challenges. While no one could have prepared for the coronavirus pandemic, having a strong digital presence offered a foundation for retailers to navigate the lockdowns and continue to reach their customers. Companies will also be better prepared when the coronavirus uncertainty subsides because they will have learned more about what works and what doesn’t for their customers. 

“Vigilance is deceptively difficult, but enormously important.” – Professor George Day of Wharton, University of Pennsylvania 

Why does vigilance matter? So businesses can seize opportunities as they arise. Companies with more vigilance are often leaders in their respective fields. Vulnerable companies leave themselves open to not meet customer expectations or demands, to not evolve with current situations, and to make mistakes that could have been avoided. Professor Day cites Forever 21’s bankruptcy as an example of a vulnerable company, as they prioritized their fast fashion agenda and missed signals that younger consumers were prioritizing sustainability.

Successful leadership teams are deeply curious, open to diverse inputs, and view their organization from the outside in. Leadership teams should look beyond their sales metrics or what product to push, but consider the perspective of their customers. Marketers practice adopting different personas and viewpoints to reach new consumers, but leaders of vulnerable companies do not. Vigilant leaders allocate about half their time to future thinking and planning, while vulnerable leaders worry about immediate issues.

What Makes a Vigilant Leader

Vigilant leaders change how strategy is made. Strategies should be flexible, made from learning from the past, interrogating the present, and anticipating the future. They look at the zones of uncertainty collected below and analyze the connections between the zones to look for areas of improvement and innovation:

Zones of uncertainty in measuring vigilance
Uncertainty here means that the company cannot forecast or assign a probability for or about the topic.

Successful leaders maintain open dialogues, especially now during the coronavirus pandemic. They gather all the ‘misses’ and map out what happened to learn from the past and innovate a new way forward. Strong leaders are open to uncomfortable news from everyone, including employees, suppliers, global teams, and customers. And they encourage and celebrate an environment of open communication and knowledge sharing to welcome people to speak up.

To see with a vigilant eye, it is important to have curiosity and empathy, to stand in the shoes of customers and competitors. Looking at the world through another’s perspective can help illuminate pitfalls and potential oversights. 

Assess your Company’s Vigilance Quotient

Vigilant Leadership Action Agenda

The action agenda to assess a company’s vigilance includes leadership’s dedication to cultivating and encouraging vigilance, investing in foresight, changing how strategy is made, and aligning the organization. 

Leaders have a responsibility to create an environment that encourages and, most importantly, celebrates vigilance. This includes an open organizational flow of information and someone accountable for collecting and sharing this information. There should be a free discussion of anomalies and analysis of competitors to inspire employees to think differently.

Learn more about your company’s vigilance quotient by taking Professor Day’s Vigilance Assessment.

Vigilant networks play into the long game, embracing uncertainty and crises as opportunities. One of the biggest differences between vigilant organizations and vulnerable ones is how they approach innovation disappointments. Vulnerable companies see failure as an error.  Vigilant leaders figure out what went wrong and build something new on those insights.

“Vigilant companies see failure as a well-intentioned mistake or error and we can learn from it,” Professor Day explains. 

Tailor your vigilance to your reality because vigilance is constantly evolving and highly situational. Professor Day’s principles help each business create their own vigilant quotient based on where they currently stand against competition.

Vigilance evolves and adapts continuously, enabling us to reimagine a better tomorrow.

Additional Resources

Further reading from our Reimagine Tomorrow Series: