Most businesses are struggling to recruit and train a workforce that can help the company achieve its long-term growth plans. Business needs are evolving so rapidly that one out of every three skills to appear in the average IT, finance, or sales job posting from four years ago is now considered obsolete, according to a 2021 Gartner study. Moreover, Gartner found that the total number of skills required for a job has been growing by 10 percent annually. Many companies have responded by trying to track and chase after these skill sets—and then adjusting and evolving their hiring and training practices to keep up with these changes. Ultimately, it’s a maddening, never-ending race against the competition.
Instead of trying to chase after very specific and constantly changing skill sets, companies should aspire to develop a higher-level, holistic standard of talent within their workforce; we call an organization that attains this standard a “purple company.” Purple companies speak the language of both business and technology, employing workforces that collectively and individually mesh together business and technical skill sets to develop forward-thinking, industry-defining products and services that customers crave.
The concept of the purple company is based on the seminal 2010 blog post by business research firm TDWI, which made the case that there are two main types of employees in the business world: business-minded “blue” employees who are masters at understanding and satisfying customer needs and wants, and technology-minded “red” employees who actually build the products and services that customers consume. Much rarer are purple employees who possess a strong blend of red and blue skill sets and use both to develop and sell the next generation of truly cutting-edge products and services.
In our view, purple companies are made up of purple workforces. Some of these employees are purple individuals who individually possess a strong blend of business and technical skill sets, while other employees’ talents lie firmly on the red or blue side of the spectrum. Wherever they fall on the spectrum, these employees know how to build purple teams that collaborate effectively. Let’s explore five reasons why every company should aspire to be a purple company:
Purple companies never chase after specific, in-demand skill sets, nor do they try to constantly evolve their hiring and training practices to keep up with industry trends—because purple companies don’t have to. When purple companies need specific skills and talent, they know exactly where to go to find it. That’s because the workforce of a purple company is constantly operating at a higher level.
Instead of thinking about how they personally are going to get a project done, purple workforces are made up of well-rounded, holistic teams that are constantly thinking about how to pull together the perfect mix of skills and talent to deliver outcomes that will blow their customers’ minds. Purple companies know exactly where to go to rapidly build the teams they need—whether via in-house talent, outsourcing, partnerships, or some combination thereof. Thus, they do not need to constantly chase after specific, in-demand red or blue skill sets.
At the average company, the best business minds aren’t the best technology minds, and the best technology minds aren’t the best business minds. Consequently, the top talent isn’t able to relate to, understand, or solve problems from both a technology and a business perspective.
Purple companies, by contrast, count among their ranks proverbial “switch hitters” who can readily tackle a project from both sides and converse seamlessly in two languages. These purple employees can immediately identify and anticipate key opportunities, challenges, and setbacks associated with every project. They know how to obtain and provide clarity, and they have an intuitive sense of when goals, deadlines, and specs for both the business and technical sides are realistic and optimal—and when they’re not.
Technologists and business teams operate in virtual siloes in most organizations. They report to different executives, have different goals and performance measures, and operate on different timelines and deadlines. Often, these two sides don’t share career ambitions or even travel in the same social circles. This divide has real-life consequences: Siloed teams are inherently less able to collaborate, build mutual trust and respect, and ultimately innovate and build great things.
Purple companies tend to reduce this problem. They employ people who know how to build purple teams. Even when a purple team does not have a single team member who is individually purple, purple teams are highly skilled at collectively pulling together both red and blue skill sets to optimize business outcomes. Thus, purple teams are always rowing in unison—able to solve every challenge and constantly innovating at maximum speed.
Consumer tastes and expectations are constantly evolving, and marketplaces can be unpredictable. While a company can’t guarantee itself long-term stability, purple companies can help mitigate the risk of an ever-changing business environment. Purple companies are made up of employees and teams who, by virtue of being cross-functional, tend to be less intimidated or stymied by new challenges or macro-shifts that affect their industry.
Technologists and technology-focused teams feel completely at home reviewing customer analytics data and financial forecasts to decide what products and services their company should develop next, and business employees and business-focused teams have no qualms about diving into technical specs and DevOps planning to develop this next generation of products. These cross-trained teams provide the necessary skill sets to swiftly adapt and capitalize on opportunities when they arise.
Today, nearly all companies are “tech-enabled” companies that utilize technology tools to streamline their business processes. To stand apart from the competition in this environment, we believe the next evolution is for companies to utilize technology to create innovative, transformational change within their core offering and business model.
An excellent example is when Hewlett Packard (HP) developed their SmartPrint App to allow wireless printing from any device (mobile, tablet, laptop, or desktop) and to let customers order replacement ink cartridges instantly from their personal devices. Historically, HP has been a trusted hardware company that consumers knew and trusted for quality products. The challenge for HP was that their consumer repurchase rate for HP products was typically years in between purchases. This meant they had to find a new way to innovate to stay alive without compromising product quality.
HP chose the proverbial high road and developed the SmartPrint app that integrates directly with their consumer printer suite, creating an improved customer experience for wireless printing and ordering ink cartridges.
For HP, this solution transformed their business model. Instead of the standard years in between one-time purchases, this integration allowed their customers to reorder their ink in either a one-off or subscription model. In other words, they massively increased the potential lifetime value (LTV) of their customers and created product stickiness for customers who desired multiple printers in their home or workplace. Additionally, this software integration likely helped gather analytics on consumer preferences and hardware performance to help drive their future product development roadmap.
This is a phenomenal example of a company that chose to be purple and the massive positive impact that choice had on their business. So why is it that purple companies are able to attain such massive positive impacts? Let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of what a purple company like HP looks like on the inside vs. what a red or blue company looks like:
Let’s say a technology hardware company like HP is made up of (1) business teams who are tasked with conceptualizing and then selling the core hardware products and (2) technologists who are tasked with designing and building the hardware itself. As the company positions itself for growth, the business side might look into untapped opportunities and industry trends in the software space, while the technology side looks at how to integrate software products into the company’s product line.
In a company that’s predominantly red or blue, the two sides won’t collaborate or communicate effectively. That leaves the dominant team to charge full speed ahead and introduce significant risk and unnecessary hurdles into the project. By contrast, a purple company would move forward with this same opportunity in a more deliberative, balanced fashion that optimally integrates all business and technology considerations from the get-go.
Purple companies are the companies that every organization should aspire to be. Purple companies have an intuitive understanding of how to pull together the right talent to get a job done, hire purple employees who can seamlessly transition from wearing a red hat to a blue hat (and vice versa), know how to build effective purple teams by combining red and blue talent, are particularly resilient and adaptable in the face of adversity, and stand out from the competition through innovative and transformational change.
To learn more about how to grow your organization in a purple direction, reach out to SVI today. We look forward to helping you build a purple workforce made up of purple individuals and purple teams—all moving in lockstep toward achieving your biggest, most aspirational goals.