Ivan Kovynyov is Principal at Zühlke in Zurich and advises organizations on various management issues related to agility, innovation, digitalization and architecture management. He studied Business Informatics at the University of Karlsruhe and completed his MBA studies at Imperial College London and New York University. Ivan is an author and writes for various online media, such as CIO.de, Computerwoche or swissICT magazine, on the topics of introducing agility, digital transformation in companies, digitalization of processes and innovation. The focus of his articles is on the interface between business and technology.
Hello Ivan, since July you are shaping the digital and agile Switzerland as a Principal at Zühlke. What are your learnings and successes after the first two months?
Looking back, I would say that the time was very intense. I gave presentations and Brownbag talks to our customers on the subject of agility and agile transformation, took on a number of mandates and launched various initiatives to position Zühlke even better in the market. I think it is unique how Zühlke combines Swiss down-to-earthiness with internationality, everywhere: in London, Zurich, Singapore, Hong Kong and other locations.
How do you see the interplay of digitization and agility in business transformation? Is it possible to do one without the other?
This is a very important question that many companies are currently asking themselves. Last year, I led a study on organizational agility, where we examined this issue, among others. The surprising finding was that we could not find a direct correlation between the degree of maturity in agility and the degree of digitalization of an organization. If, for example, an insurance company introduces Kanban to call center agents, you increase the level of agility, but it does not necessarily affect the level of digitization. Agile methods help companies become more flexible and agile: in dealing with their own customers, in the use of technology and in positioning themselves within their ecosystems.
Corona is generally regarded as a catalyst for digitalization and has produced more initiatives within a few weeks than in previous years. In your opinion, is this a turning point or short-term actionism?
It is certainly something of both. Corona has led to a strong change in customer behaviour and customer needs. I can see it with my own behaviour: I don’t want to do without delivery services anymore, I buy more online and try to handle my everyday things like official business, banking, insurances etc. via my smartphone. This trend may well continue. This increases the pressure on companies to secure their place in the digital economy.
Thanks to Corona, the topic of resilience is also receiving more and more attention. What are the characteristics of a resilient company? How must companies change to become more resilient?
I recently found that for the first time, the amount of Google search queries on resilience has overtaken those on productivity. This shows high interest, but is also an indication of a fundamental shift in thinking. For me, resilience is the ability to survive negative events without a significant slump in performance, to seize opportunities, to make decisions quickly and to adapt quickly to new realities. Therefore I find the link between agility and resilience very important, because agile methods and tools provide just this advantage.
How do agile working methods like OKRs help to make companies more resilient?
OKRs are a very effective method to make management by objectives in a company more flexible, because the goal-setting process is much leaner. Shorter review cycles provide the organization with the necessary flexibility; the transparency of the goals ensures alignment, focus and more trust among each other.
Especially in these turbulent times, employees have a strong desire for clarity and direction, and this puts pressure on managers because they themselves are affected by the prevailing uncertainty. Inviting employees to participate in a common goal development process and opening up to more participation and self-responsibility is certainly a good strategy. And this is exactly what the OKR framework offers.
Economically, we are facing rather turbulent times. How does this affect the objectives of companies?
My observation is that companies react very differently to this. Some companies try to budget very conservatively, set targets more on the cost side and start cost saving programs. Other companies try to actively enhance their innovative ability, increase employee motivation and thereby try to reorient themselves. The goals at such companies tend to be more in the direction of building up capabilities or stronger innovation management. I see a slight retreat in the use of financial targets, because one simply has the uncertainty and wants to keep all options open. This is another reason to move away from traditional annual targets and MBOs towards OKR/QBR. An interesting development is also to look at the goal-setting process more in combination with the budgeting process.