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Smart and stateless: global companies in a digital world

Global trade is a sprawling web of data and financial transactions that transcends geographical borders.

Smart and stateless: global companies in a digital world

Forget conventional geography with its neat national borders and colour-coded alliances – everything you thought you knew about how the world works has either changed, or is about to.

To understand their place in a globalised economy, leaders need to figure out the trade and data routes that really matter – then redraw their maps accordingly.

Heralded by mega-trends such as K-pop [South Korean pop music] and China’s huge investment in Africa, trans-global disruption is afoot. Cross-cultural connectivity is growing, spurred by broadband and emerging power blocs. The whole geopolitical map is being redrawn.

At the same time, deprived of traditional reference points, people are struggling to differentiate the good from the bad. As the world stage changes, they are looking to leaders to win their trust through excellent service and reliability. Fulfilling these needs may sound like an incredibly big ask.

And it probably is. Yet leaders can, and must, develop strategies to navigate the complexity, embrace opportunity and adapt to the new normal that hinges on trust. Here is some insight into how.

Stateless for starters

Taking a structural approach, make your business a “stateless superpower”, advises consultant Parag Khanna, senior research fellow at the Centre on Asia and Globalization at the National University of Singapore.

This means becoming as globally distributed as possible, “so that you fly under the radar of the increasing regulatory frictions that are forcing you to become a local company”, Khanna says.

Be a company that has no single home market, no single dominant investor pool, no one centre of management, Khanna says. Stateless companies have followed this model for a long time and are prospering more than ever.

He cites commodities trader Glencore as a classic example. Another, management consultancy Accenture, has constantly migrated its headquarters over the years. Asked where it is based, you couldn’t say for sure.

“It is everywhere,” says Khanna. “And so I think the answer is to be as stateless as possible.” That way, he advocates, you can avoid localised regulatory pressure that discriminates against foreign investors.

Even if an organisation lacks the resources or wherewithal to become multinational, it can still thrive in other ways in this new environment.

Seoul shows how it’s done

One way is to engage with the sharing economy, in the same way as the mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, does. He is leveraging the community trend known as “collaborative consumption”.

Seoul offers free wi-fi in outdoor areas, and locals share bikes, houses, jobs, even dogs.

“He’s hugely popular,” says the chief executive of innovative charity Nesta, Geoff Mulgan, who dubs Seoul a sharing economy “champion”.

The reason Seoul works so well, Mulgan says, is Park’s focus on meeting people’s needs, instead of just toying with apps. Hence Park’s nickname: “the listening mayor”.

The attentive, innovative problem-solver with a background in law and social entrepreneurship, is a hard act to follow, but leaders seeking instant inspiration may turn to a cutting-edge urban marketplace that Mulgan admires: Citymart.

Designed to transform the way cities fix problems, Citymart connects planners with solutions through open challenges to the public and entrepreneurs – who may be anywhere. Consequently, Mulgan says, a disruptor may well be disrupted, and local talent may miss out.

“It could be a start-up in Vietnam that gets there first,” he says. “But at least it opens the whole process up to merit rather than to connections.”

Reputation reaps rewards

However much merit your organisation has earned to date, guard it closely. Since a carefully nurtured image can be tarnished by a tweet any time, reputation is a vital commodity, the national general manager for government at Telstra, Dr Jack R Dan, says.

The key insight for government entities is that customers are also members of a global community in which trust is a fundamentally important value. Whether you lead a company, a not-for-profit, or a government organisation, keep its trust rating firmly in mind, says Dr Jack R Dan, national general manager of Government at Telstra Global Enterprise Services, who leads the research program that tracks the interplay between the sector and the public.

One way to earn the trust of today’s hyperconnected citizens is to fulfil the expectation of dialogue, because the public will no longer serve as the passive recipient of a message aired by an organisation. “It [the public] is very much a participant in the conversation,” Dr Dan says.

Working with the Australian Government, Dr Dan is researching the concept of a holistic, relationship-based model of citizen engagement that riffs on the everyday act of signing up for a Telstra account.

“So whether you are buying mobile services or pay TV, entertainment or broadband services, we have a single view of you,” Dr Dan says. “You come to us and we can tell you what is good or what isn’t so good for you – what makes sense, what you’d be eligible for, what would be the best offer or value proposition for you. Imagine if the government could do the same thing.”

Organisations and their leading executives need their A-game because people are wising up – as they must, to handle the digitally-enabled information overload.

“So they develop new skills, new abilities of shifting through that oversupply of information and understanding what works and what doesn’t – what’s relevant and what isn’t,” Dr Dan says.

By the same token, he says, if you script and vet communications too much, your audience will be unimpressed. In the interests of authenticity, you need to sound reasonably genuine – avoid sounding too corporate so you truly connect.

The key lesson for the public sector is that, amid all the upheaval, now more than ever organisations must focus on winning their constituents’ trust. In this complex, post-digital climate, only if a company has earned that trust will it secure the business or the traction it needs.

The future belongs to leaders who can keep their constituents close – a little like family. Don’t let them drop off the map.


Idea in brief

Business is redrawing the map:

  • In this fluid landscape, leadership is more challenging than ever
  • Consider adopting an agile, stateless enterprise model
  • Explore disruptive trends such as collaborative consumption
  • Avoid talking down to your increasingly smart clients

[transcript]

Dr Jack R Dan
National General Manager, Government,
Telstra Global Enterprise Services

Trust works at a number of different layers.

People have a great deal of trust in the public servants that are involved in frontline delivery of services. So your teachers, your nurses, your doctors, your other health professionals, your firemen, your police.

There’s a great deal of trust placed on those people, they are considered to be professional, they are considered to be working hard, and are considered to be doing the best for the community.

That creates a gap between the expectations and the current delivery, and that gap is something that the government needs to address.

One of the things that any organisation, being public sector or private sector, company, not-for-profit, or government department need to firmly keep in mind, is the fact that they have a trust rating, and that trust rating has a direct influence over the message they are trying to put forward.

And once that trust rating starts going down, then no matter how careful you packaged a particular type of messages or, for that matter, how useful and critical it is, it’s just not going to be listened to.

When you’re designing a service you have to keep in mind both the way that the customer’s interact with that service. And what is the role of information and content in that service.

One of the most interesting dimensions of the change is the fact that people expect a dialogue nowadays. The communication is two ways as opposed to one way. So the general public is no longer the recipient of a message put forward by an organisation, be it public sector or private sector, it is very much a participant in the conversation.

For government agencies and departments, the digital age is a catalyst for change – opening new pathways for delivering the services and citizen experiences of tomorrow, while building a more open and collaborative government for all.

Find out more

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