SLA redefined for real results: Strategy, Leadership and Adaptability?

The SLA (Service Level Agreement) underpins vendor supply  arrangements.

In a predictable world, SLAs make good sense.   You just want your suppliers to live up to their agreed commitments. With good justification. One would hope that the SLAs relating to airline safety are  adhered to next time you fly.

So, your IT department is a support and service function to your business, where SLAs are important? Right? …. Well up to a point.

The world of the CIO and IT leadership teams revolves around technology-led change. The best CIOs are able to continually balance the multiple demands for (i) operationalising and supporting enterprise strategies through technology, (ii) adaptable leadership capabilities, and (iii) enabling enterprise agility through the optimal deployment of digital technologies  – all to meet defined business needs.

Balancing these 3 key elements is more than managing enterprise IT against a service catalogue which is defined by its SLAs.

Now for measuring the real SLA : Strategy, Leadership and Adaptive capability.

SLAIn our changing world, organisations should consider measuring the real SLA for their organisation – and one that will contribute to the organisation remaining relevant in a fast moving environment.

Using the analogy of the 3 legged stool, all 3 legs must be in place for the system to do its job. All are equally important. Remove or weaken one, and the stool’s functioning is compromised or is no longer fit for purpose. More importantly, having 3 legs, the stability of the stool is assured!

Let’s explore each of these elements more closely.

1. Strategy

Ensuring that your organisation has an Enterprise strategy that is a living, breathing entity where well considered changes can be readily made.  An Adaptive Enterprise Strategy will help ensure that changes occur in a well orchestrated manner without breaking effective enterprise governance or causing major internal collateral damage.

Key elements of this strategy are engrained into the DNA of the entire organisation. This enterprise strategy is not shelf-ware – to be reviewed annually when the budget cycle rolls over.  Everyone understands how their specific contribution underpins the achievement of the enterprises’ strategic goals and objectives at all times. Change is normal – indeed welcomed – and is not an imposition. Employee roles and structures are based on multi-skilling, collaboration, and most importantly individual and career resilience. Sounds too good to be true?

The key is to review your enterprise strategy frameworks so that they are able to adapt to, and readily implement changes to suit the demands at that time.   In the drive for striking the right balance between efficiency and innovation in a changing environment, the ability to model and rapidly assess the impacts of a range of change scenarios could be the key to ensuring that your enterprise strategies are feasible, tested and, most importantly, effective. Underpinning this is an adaptive enterprise architecture.

2.  Leadership:

Independent research, (both in Australia and Globally) backed by empirical evidence continues to indicate that “Effective management and leadership” is a primary factor influencing staff engagement, performance and personal development – not to mention company performance. Nothing new here, really.  Similarly, being able to make the right call as a leader for any specific set of circumstances is the differentiator between transformational leaders that empower, support, guide and mentor those around then, without shirking from making the ‘hard’ decisions. This is the domain of situational leadership – a concept that has been around since the 70s.

What is new, however, is the increased complexity and speed of decision making in our globalised, hyper-connected and rapidly evolving technological world.

Welcome to the new world of strategic leadership for innovation.

Leadership skills that have predominantly built up in ‘conventional’ organisations are often found wanting when it comes to managing business capabilities that rely on factors such as globally diverse workforces, federated and overlapping accountabilities, blended and temporary teams (i.e. outsourced, contractors and employees), not to mention the changing IT landscapes – all with fewer resources and occurring at a much faster pace.

Most importantly, past leadership success is not necessarily a predictor of future leadership success in a rapidly changing environment.

Question is: What are your plans in building your strategic leadership for innovation capabilities within your organisation?

3. Adaptability and innovation

The demands for increased enterprise-wide ‘innovation’, agility, efficiency and productivity are not dying away. While independent research supports the fact that innovation increases the survival probability of firms, the reality is that successfully building an enterprise-wide innovation capability is no trivial undertaking. (Unless the organisation largely markets itself as being ‘Innovative’, in which case perception may carry the day).

Here, we are not talking about innovation leading to a better mousetrap, but rather how the organisation as a whole moves towards being intrinsically innovative. The 2015 Harvard Business Review article “Innovation Isn’t the Answer to all your problems“, as well as the Stanford University article entitled “Innovation Is Not the Holy Grail– It is time to move from innovation as an ideology to innovation as a process“ raises some interesting concepts worth considering.

The key challenge facing the C-suite is transitioning the enterprise that is currently architected along functional lines (ie: silos) to one that retains the benefits of this structure while building in an cross-functional adaptive capability.  Essentially, ensuring that this cross-functional collaboration is efficient, appropriate and value driven.

The task ahead

The challenge ahead for established organisations lies in defining the individual elements making up the key SLA that remain effective in a changing environment.

Next time you’re sitting on a 3 legged bar stool, consider how you are helping build your organisations strategy, leadership and adaptive capabilities – that’s the most important SLA for your organisation that should be measured against in our increasingly uncertain and rapidly changing world.