Virtually all large companies, even those in old-line industries such as machinery and agriculture, have gone digital to some extent. But at many companies the efforts are falling far short of their potential. At one Asia-based conglomerate, for instance, digital initiatives have been popping up everywhere, and business units compete for the same digital talent. The company set up a digital incubator off to the side, but it has failed to spark interest with the mainstream divisions, and so creates great proofs of concept that never get embraced at large scale.

As digital continues to upend most business operations and markets, traditional organizations like this conglomerate struggle to cope with the pace of change. Breathless headlines and countless TED Talks suggest that executives should be asking “blow it all up” questions, such as:

  • Does the concept of an “organizational structure” still make sense? Or should we move to self-organizing, manager-less teams?
  • Should we scrap the idea of careers and employee loyalty in order to attract millennial talent for “tours of duty”?
  • Do we really need any specialists in house, or should we do everything through partners in the ecosystem?

While digital clearly provokes change, most organizations do not need to make such drastic moves. The fundamental elements of an effective operating model remain as important as ever.

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