Category Archives: Organizational Learning

Enterprise as Animal: Survival of the best learners

Warning!!!...Tiger in training...:O))

Investing in the future

A few days ago I wrote about the idea that as technology becomes more available to the developing world, the price points for BPO services will erode–customers will demand and get lower prices. Good for customers, bad for providers. So what is an existing BPO provider to do?

To answer that question, I propose that we look at an enterprise in a different way. A conventional view of an enterprise looks at the output, what it produces; in other words “enterprise as machine.” But a more interesting way to look at an enterprise considers how it grows over time, in other words “enterprise as animal.” Yes, that animal still “does things” however it’s also continuously growing, changing, and replenishing its existing cells.

In the case of a BPO social enterprise, what would this animal metaphor look like? Consider that a social enterprise in particular has an ongoing flow of people joining anew and “graduating,” leaving for other companies. That graduation is a victory for the social enterprise, and yet it also comes at the cost of talent walking out the door. That talent then needs to be replenished.

Thus we can consider–how efficiently can the organization replenish the talent that graduates and moves on? Does the rate at which newcomers learns go up, go down, or stay about the same? Here’s the thing: it actually needs to continually go up, and here’s why.

Recall the idea that the price points will erode even more quickly going forward in the BPO space. This means that BPO enterprises need to become able to do more and more complex work, in order to stay ahead of the “low price” BPO market. But now with a social enterprise, where you have talent graduating, you have to be that much better at climbing the curve, and training the new people who come in.

So what does this mean? It means that for a BPO social enterprise to thrive, it needs to become really good at learning and improving. The status quo is no good in a world that continues to move. I was chatting with Alpa Agarwal of Microsoft recently about this, and she reminded me that this is the way of business–the world keeps moving.

Thus the enterprise needs to prioritize learning, and get really good at climbing the complexity ladder fast enough to stay ahead of the low-end commodity curve.

Granted, this idea assumes that the low-end will keep climbing; most likely there are barriers at specific points in the complexity curve that will slow down or entirely prevent many new players from entering. Nonetheless, the successful BPO must either figure out how to pass enough of these barriers to have good price points, or they will be in a tooth and nail price based fight for survival. Learning never looked so good.