The Bionic Company: Fusing Human and Technological Resources in the Organisation of the Future

The Bionic Woman was a fictional spin-off from the 1970’s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. Both programmes featured lead characters who were injured and then ‘saved’ by scientists who augmented their human bodies with technology to become ‘superhuman’; hearing at low volume, jumping long distances, running at 60 mph, and an exceptionally strong throwing arm being some of the fun augmented features that then allowed them to deliver amazing results on missions of national importance!

Amusing 1970’S science fiction perhaps….but highly relevant themes for business today.

There is little doubt that many, if not all, businesses have been ‘injured’ in some way by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic recession. As things start to stabilise, how leaders rebuild their businesses will be critical for future success.

Previous thinking broadly split companies, and perhaps leaders, into either technology or people focused in what they offered and how they thought. However, management consultancy, BCG has introduced the concept of ‘The Bionic Company’ where tech and humanity are given equal credence to ensure future prosperity.

Many organisations have gone through some sort of digital transformation as a result of the pandemic and resulting lockdown. As we look to rebuild our businesses and set them for the future, merging these previously separate ways of thinking to fully unlock the benefits of digital transformation will be key to success. So how should leaders go about this? The answer, as is so often the case, is to focus on purpose and the outcomes aligned to it, and then to see both Human and Technological resources as enablers to deliver these outcomes.

There are big implications for leadership. A bionic company requires a bionic leader. Whilst many leaders are digital natives who have grown up putting digital processes first, others are learning as they go, adapting their leadership skills as their organisations undergo radical transformation.

Gone are the days of traditional hierarchies where leaders directed managers who then distributed the direction. In bionic companies, middle management shrinks, and three modes of leadership emerge.

First, and most obvious, are those who lead by doing—taking on product owner roles in the agile teams. These leaders act as player coaches. Second, are leaders who are accountable for bringing in and developing the best talent—creating communities inside the organisation.

Finally, senior executives must adapt to a Silicon Valley leadership style—setting company goals, translating those goals into work to be done, deploying teams with the right capabilities, aligning the organisation, and removing roadblocks.

These leaders are much less involved in daily decisions. Rather, they step back to allow speed. They steer the organisation by setting goals, adding resources for teams that are succeeding, and redeploying resources when teams finish work or initiatives fail.

Whilst many organisations understand that the future of organisations is bionic, the work goes beyond simply adopting the latest technologies. If leadership fails to adapt accordingly, the company won’t reap the rewards of becoming fully bionic.

Livingston James Group is a portfolio of specialist executive search and talent advisory businesses focused on helping people and organisations realise their potential by building leadership teams fit to succeed in a bionic future. The group comprises: Livingston James; Rutherford Cross ; Drummond Bridge; and Hamilton Forth.

Jamie Livingston is Group Chairman and CEO.

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