Procedures aren’t the Purpose: the end of the pyramidal organization

by Didier Marlier on Friday May 31st, 2013

Recently, my attention got caught by an article inviting to “meet the entrepreneur working to challenge Nokia, Blackberry and Samsung in Africa” in Forbes magazine. I read it since I am interested by what is happening on the business development front in Africa and what it means in terms of “Disruptive Potential” and learning.

A part of the interview really resonated with me: “What is special is the care that we take in delivering a $20, a $50 and $100 device. Just because it’s low cost does not mean the quality and the experience has to be cheap. Our specialty is our innovation and speed to market. So whilst the big brands jostle PowerPoint strategies from one department to another via multiple gatekeepers, we just get on with it. The Mi-Fone brand is a people’s brand. Our messaging is all about aspiration…within reach. We are not selling a device. We are offering a lifestyle that Africans can resonate with. With our emphasis on youth, music and culture we are also known today as the “Hip Hop brand” of the telecoms industry.”

Three important features come out of this quote, for me:

  • Alignment: Clearly, Alpesh Patel has a very clear positioning in mind and is charismatically preaching it to his troops: “Low cost doesn’t mean low quality or poor experience”. A shared, lived and credible positioning is needed in order to ensure that, when given freedom to operate and experiment, people still remain aligned. On this, I encourage you to review the powerful interview of Lt General Van Riper, one of the brightest strategists the US Marines ever counted on. It is thanks to that clarity that leaders may let go of their anxiety and remain “in command but out of control”. When reading the article, one can feel the passion, the sense of mission that Mr. Patel strives on. He has a revenge to take and a noble objective to achieve.
  • A few, simple rules or principles: “Our specialty is our innovation and speed to market” and that probably shapes-up the culture at Mi-Fone, to the point that “So whilst the big brands jostle PowerPoint strategies from one department to another via multiple gatekeepers, we just get on with it”. I can imagine that the decisions made by the employees, the initiatives they take are always weighed against the yardstick of speed and innovation. When lived with integrity and authenticity, such principles rapidly shape-up the culture of an organization and become the intangible assets that my remarkable colleagues, Carmen Migueles and Marco-Tulio Zanini, work with. A wonderful example they give is the one of a baby-food manufacturer. They have built such a trust relationship with the market that they can command a price sensibly higher than competition. Its leaders are, nevertheless, acutely aware that the smallest deviation from that principle could ruin this enviable position. So they made sure that the message of uncompromised quality is passed and lived at any level of the organization and that, under stress, a simple operator won’t hesitate for a second to interrupt the whole production line, should he see anything appearing even vaguely suspect. It is something similar which induces people at Mi-Fone, not to cover themselves behind endless and soporific PowerPoints and gatekeepers but rather to decide quickly and get on with the work. I always liked this clip produced jointly by the Santa-Fé Institute and what was, at the time an advanced think tank with Ernst & Young, unfortunately disbanded. It refers to two types of birds and why one of them almost completely disappeared when a “Disruption” happened in its part of the world and why the other survived. Take a look it is short (1’27’’) and fascinating (I showed it once, several years ago)

A procedure driven, gate keepers’ infested organization could never survive a major disruption. A flexible, agile and purpose driven one will.

  • Purpose: “The Mi-Fone brand is a people’s brand. Our messaging is all about aspiration…within reach. We are not selling a device. We are offering a lifestyle that Africans can resonate with”. This is something customers and employees can stand and engage for. Mi-Fone sells a lifestyle not a device. Remember Simon Sinek’s simple but powerful model of 3 concentric circles. What made a company such as Apple (and those who know me will tell you how “Apple allergic” I am !): It focuses on the “Why” instead of boasting on the “What or the How”…

I don’t know what the future fortunes of Mr. Patel and Mi-Fone will be but I found refreshing that a young entrepreneur with such ideas undertook to challenge the “global heavyweights” in his field. I will follow that evolution with curiosity and learn from it…

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