As the old expression has it, “May you live in interesting times”, and certainly the 21st century has proven to be very interesting so far. From Brexit, to the U.S. presidential administration, to the global pandemic, pretty much all of the news we’re consuming makes the point that we are living in uncertain times, where navigating the ‘new normal’ is complex enough, let alone successfully navigating the business environment. Effective leadership has never been more important.
In this new normal, workforces are increasingly dispersed, demanding of self-expression, and quite possibly disengaged. Within this context, leaders must generate an environment that encourages creativity, drives innovation and keeps everyone focused to ensure organisational stability and sustainability.
Suffice it to say that VUCA (or the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous nature of the current environment) is now impacting everyone in both their personal and professional lives.
Disruption to business is nothing new; it’s the pace of change that’s significant. According to The McKinsey Global Institute, the 21st century’s current transformation is happening 10 times faster and at roughly 3,000 times the impact of the Industrial Revolution. Those who are unable to change their business models and legacy systems (whether cultural, organisational or technological) will lose ground to those who can.
And change in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, in fact most leaders thrive on solving the issues changing environments create, by being agile in business. If you’re not failing occasionally you’re not pushing your limits, and if you’re not pushing your limits, you won’t evolve as an individual or as an organisation.
Most of life’s greatest opportunities come out of moments of struggle so it’s up to us to make the most of these tests of our creativity and resourcefulness. As leaders, we must embrace reality and adapt to it quickly. The faster we’re able to adapt, the better and more successful we’ll be and the better example we’ll set.
There are 10 ways in which you, as a leader, can help your teams navigate change to stay focused and productive in uncertain times:
1. Adaptation through rapid trial and error is invaluable, so put in place a decision-making framework to support that.
Adopt a rigorous, transparent approach and ensure it’s followed for making major decisions with a ‘no blame’ context if things don’t work out as planned. In this way, you’ll get more enthusiastic input from your team.
- Ongoing internal communication. Ensure everyone knows the strategic intent; clarifying roles, aligning goals and empowering people to act.
Book more one-on-ones, rather than less and keep up regular email communications to ‘All’ to keep everyone focused, up to speed with results, wins and other news. This can help everyone to feel connected to both your leadership and the vision.
- Build a company culture that is supportive and based upon your values to energise employees, customers and stakeholders.
Team and interpersonal conflicts impede the kind of exploration and dialogue needed for innovative learning, performance and partnerships. To enable us to navigate the current challenges and position ourselves to thrive in the future, leaders must help people change, innovate and take risks.
- Hire talented people based upon their value-set over the ‘perfect’ skill set and then match teams’ talents to their tasks.
Getting the right people who adapt well to change is critical. In fact, hiring for values first, fit second and skills third is what we strive for, as skills can be taught, but values and culture are innate. Your job as a leader is to set the direction and then encourage people to always think of better ways to execute as the world is constantly changing.
- Build upon your client service proposition with a focus on listening and open collaborative dialogue with business partners and suppliers.
Listening first to build understanding and elicit ideas is essential to success, and clients and business partners are the best source of honest feedback on how you’re doing. Building relationships with key stakeholders and strengthening capacity in marketing and media relations to generate influence are good investments in your brand in times of rapid change.
- Continually update processes, practices and structures to adapt to the changing environment and create customer value.
Organisational barriers such as unclear roles, structures with excessive approval levels, lack of staff and customer engagement, and risk aversion dampen the urge to change. Instead, they create a tendency to retrench, cut back and avoid risk, so staying on top of this is key.
- Update to new technologies as part of a programme to enable business goals.
Taking risks is essential, but so is financial strength, so when it comes to new technologies, ensure you’ve done your homework. Give people the right tools and then let them decide how to get there.
- Ensure a strong implementation focus with project management and accountability.
Look objectively at your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses and the individual skills or talents in the team. Put the right people in the right roles, have regular follow-ups and clear accountabilities.
- Recognise and acknowledge the changes and the members of your team that contribute to achieving them.
The individual’s incentives must be aligned with the group’s goals, and in uncertain times, the organisation’s goals change rapidly.
- Don’t lose the fun of team collaboration and celebrate successes.
Feed innovative behaviour, reward it, align teams and ensure it’s fully implemented within your culture to sustain change.
A leader’s job is to create an environment in which people are constantly thinking of new ways of doing things (and making some mistakes from time to time). We must challenge ourselves constantly, make it a part of our culture and reinvent ourselves all the time.