August 06, 2020 - 1513 views|
In the COVID crisis, businesses need 'chunkers' who can see the big picture of a loosely described endeavor and determine the details needed for success.
Over the past two years, when I’ve asked business, digital and IT executives what critical skill or talent they most sorely lack, I’ve gotten an unexpected response: It’s what several called “chunkers.” Not only has the pandemic increased the need for chunkers; it also requires a different set of perspectives and skills from these individuals, according to several executives.
So, what is a chunker? Implementing successful digital business efforts in a changing commercial environment often requires many stakeholders to do things they’ve never done before, individually or organizationally. Whether it’s taking advantage of data analysis, or having processes driven by the Internet of Things (IoT), or expecting customers to self-manage their accounts – all require changes across many fronts.
Chunkers have the distinctive ability to:
In other words, given the overall aspirational or intended effort, the chunker has an innate ability to determine, facilitate and sustain an attainable scope.
Beyond the Visionary
According to the CEO of an engineered-to-order manufacturer with whom I recently spoke, the failure to meet the goals of digital initiatives can’t be pegged to a lack of competent project managers, visionaries, innovators, outside providers, marketers or operating managers – his organization is filled with them. What’s lacking, he noted, are people who can envision a practical scope, determine all the pieces needed for an effort to succeed and marshal them forward. These individuals need an exceptional sensory skill and temperament to see the big picture of a loosely described endeavor and chunk out the details needed for success.
Chunkers aren’t needed when business, technology and efforts are relatively known and stable. Chunkers also don’t replace the somewhat siloed talents of project managers, visionaries, innovators, outside providers, marketers or operating managers – those capabilities are needed more than ever. But the people in these more traditional roles do need to understand and respect the role of chunkers in their success.
The Remaking of Chunking
Until COVID-19, the chunker role was a manifestation of six contextual drivers:
Clearly, the pandemic has changed the business environment. None of these six contextual drivers exist anymore, at least in their traditional form. The current chunker environment typically has new drivers, as revealed through the experience of a retail chain. The chain had experienced a dramatic and sudden change to its volume, mix and order sizes as a result of the pandemic. Its operations managers were completely consumed with trying to make the existing facilities and systems work.
Here are the new drivers for the chunking role, as seen through the retailer's experience:
These are just some of the hundreds-plus factors I’ve heard about what chunkers need to identify and coordinate.
Surfacing New Opportunities
A CIO I initially spoke with last year recently told me his three best chunkers are no longer suited for what they currently face. He described the need for a major “inversion” of his star chunkers, who were accustomed to acting as order takers who chunked what the business brought to them. Now, he said, they needed to act more as miners and prospectors to uncover crucial opportunities.
Executives have identified another benefit of good chunkers: They provide an objective view of what an endeavor should be, what it will take to succeed and how the effort is progressing to the desired outcome. For example, the owner or zealot behind the effort might continuously expand the scope of the effort and only report the good news – “you won’t believe what we’ve learned from the data analysis.” It takes a chunker to ask if the learning is scalable, actionable and able to be converted to a material contribution.
The questions for businesses that want to embark on successful initiatives, then, include:
As organizations attempt to do more things they haven’t done before, the role and number of chunkers become more important. Several executives said they started by asking managers to identify staff who had demonstrated the unique skills, talent, perspectives and temperament to chunk on successful efforts. While chunking is not something that's easily taught, some developed forums or competency centers for the initial chunkers to share experiences. Over time, the needed competencies have grown.
Please share any chunking experiences or insights you have by commenting on this blog. If you have any questions, please send me an email at the address below.