In a recent LinkedIn post entitled “It’s About Connecting people”, Airbus CIO, Luc Hennekens, makes a strong case regarding why it is critical for them to empower their employees with the right tools to facilitate collaboration, boost productivity, and deliver a better work/life balance.
At the heart of their digital transformation is their recent adoption of Google Cloud’s G Suite. While we certainly view the Airbus adoption of G Suite as a significant step in the right direction, this move in itself will not guarantee a successful digital transformation. There is strong evidence that any meaningful and lasting change must be supported by the constant mapping of human connections between different parts of the organization to identify and strengthen the most beneficial ones, while eliminating the ones that waste valuable company resources.
The Airbus Challenge
Any company that produces highly complex, engineered products has one time or another suffered from a costly product failure in its history. By turning back the clock to 2007, we can see that the Airbus development of the A380 “superjumbo” had major delays and unforeseen costs due to incompatibilities that occurred during the design process. The takeaway from this expensive lesson was that it could have been avoided if the engineers would have communicated more effectively with each other.
A well known, Harvard Business Review article keenly analyzed the setbacks that were occurring at Airbus, along with a variety of other manufacturers, and identified the following activities that are critical for lasting success:
- Identify unattended interfaces areas where communication should be occurring but is not
- Look for unidentified interfaces where communication is occurring but has not been planned.
This same Harvard Business Review (HBR) article characterizes these interface challenges as a “mismatch” problem, and recommended the following three steps to overcome it:
- Review organizational and system boundaries.
- Form teams to handle mismanaged interfaces.
- Select appropriate communication support tools.
Organizational Transformation is Hard
While understanding these three steps seems to be quite straightforward, executing them is an entirely different matter. The purpose of these three steps is to ignite and sustain an organizational transformation where all important interfaces are properly supported and unnecessary ones are discontinued. Despite a comprehensive review and analysis back in 2007, Airbus has continued to struggle with this same “mismatch” problem.
A well-known McKinsey survey among 3,000 executives found that only one in three organizational change efforts actually succeed. Why? The simple answer is that change can be uncomfortable even if it promises better working conditions and/or personal benefits. Top management routinely looks through a distorted, organizational change lens because they are often fed exactly what they want to hear. Endorsement and adoption routinely diverge in large organizations like Airbus.
Goodbye Microsoft, Hello G Suite
The Airbus CEO, Tom Enders, clearly understands the urgency to cost effectively create a work environment that eliminates the mismatch problems that lead to enormously costly product delays. To drive organizational transformation at Airbus, Mr. Enders is trying to implement the right support tools. This meant saying goodbye to Microsoft and hello to G Suite.
In the recent article “Airbus ditches Microsoft, flies off to Google” from the Register, the Airbus CEO described the significance that:
“We expect it to take up to 18 months to reach every one of our 130,000 employees but our teams are already starting to work on a plan which will involve you and of course our social partners.”
He went on to further comment that the move to G Suite was a “major change” that will “break down the silos with Google-Powered search.”
We are not predicting that Airbus will fail in its current attempt to reach 130,00 employees in just 18 months in an effort to institute meaningful and lasting organizational change. However, we are saying that while G Suite is an effective collaboration tool, it does not represent an organizational change strategy. This strategy is mandatory for a sustainable transformation.
Is More Collaboration Always Better?
It is nearly impossible to read anything about the business world and not see the word “collaboration” appear over and over again. The easy answer is that it is critical for the success of businesses large and small and technology is connecting all of us in more comprehensive and cost effective ways. The question arises, however, is more collaboration always a good thing? Our experience in dealing with a wide variety of companies clearly shows that the answer to this question is “No.” It is the quality of connections that ultimately drives meaningful organizational change.
The HBR article previously cited, identified the mismatch problem caused by huge amounts of interfaces that are constantly and rapidly evolving. The following diagram from HBR shows how organizations can use a “Design Interface Matrix” to solve this difficult problem.
The takeaway here is that every organization, even Airbus, has finite resources and their valued employees must engage in the activities that maximize their productivity, efficiency, and profitability. If a company maximizes collaboration, then are they also maximizing profitability? Perhaps not. Collaborating on the wrong things can be as damaging as not collaborating at all. HBR’s “Design Interface Matrix” tells us that all interfaces need to be mapped and constantly managed to avoid costly mismatches caused by poor communication or the inefficient allocation of resources.
How Can Companies Survive in the Cross-Functional Matrix?
As we have mentioned, boosting collaboration is a top priority for businesses big and small. Platforms like G Suite and MS Outlook are powerful platforms that are accessible anywhere at anytime. It has never been a better time to be in the collaboration business.
What is missing from these conversations, however, is that companies must always seek to maximize value added collaboration rather than seeking to maximize overall collaboration. Collaborating on the wrong things means that you are not collaborating right things. So, what is the answer? How can my company properly leverage collaboration and survive in the cross-functional matrix?
We see the adoption of G Suite as a solid step in the right direction for organizations like Airbus as it facilitates collaboration. Now, let’s take a look at a product that monitors and manages the collaboration patterns in company both large and small. OrgMapper Excellence is an analytics software that merges hard and soft data in the form of email and calendar log files combined with qualitative feedback on employees’ collaborative behavior, to discover how efficiently a company is collaborating. By analyzing G Suite data, aggregated human networks, used for daily communication, cooperation, and knowledge sharing, can be visualized and consequently support a more collaborative culture and improve the performance of teams. OrgMapper Excellence is a tool to execute and sustain HBR’s “Design Interface Matrix.” The image shows how OrgMapper impacted SAP implementation process at a company from the service industry.
How Can Airbus Fly Even Higher?
The Airbus CIO, Luc Hennekens, has been given the difficult task of transforming the organizational culture of Airbus into one that is more collaborative, productive, and respectful of work/life balance. The move to adopt Google Cloud’s G Suite is one that many large organizations have made, or are in the process of making, because it is a very effective tool for supporting this transformation. We applaud Luc’s insightful LinkedIn post about connecting people within the Airbus ecosystem, but we see their G Suite adoption as a tool rather than a transformational strategy.
The Airbus organization is a highly complex and rapidly evolving ecosystem. On any given day there millions of interfaces where collaboration should be intensified, improved, reduced, or eliminated altogether. There is also the discovery of new activities that currently don't have any collaboration at all and require it. For a company to truly facilitate and maintain an organizational transformation, besides G Suite it needs an analytics tool like OrgMapper Excellence to achieve the right collaborative culture and improved performance of teams.