“We used to talk about the VUCA world. Now we are living in it!” said a CEO we interviewed a year ago.
Every day in the news and in my conversations with clients, I see evidence of the fundamental changes that organisations are experiencing. I saw an article recently that the energy utility giants have had their day and face disinvestment as a myriad of new flexible solutions emerge. I talk to Partners in professional services firms who see AI unpicking their whole business model and are having to explore new ways to operate.
Financial services faces massive disruption in a digital era, with new entrants taking the lucrative services and leaving the risks. Retail in the UK has seen weekly headlines of shop closures and job cuts, partly due to on-line competition. In FMCG, channels to market in Asia and elsewhere are rapidly moving to new ecommerce models not seen 2 years ago.
Doing things better, the focus on performance improvement is not enough. To survive, firms not only need to do what they deliver now as well as possible; they have to be open to fundamental shifts in how they work; who they partner with and where they find routes to profitability.
What are the responses you are seeing?
We see many leaders trying harder, spending yet more hours trying to cover the ground in a global market place. Learning and talent development specialists are regenerating leadership frameworks; adding things like entrepreneurship, innovation and digital mastery as “must haves” in addition to all the traditional strengths about vision, EQ, decisiveness and resilience. At the same time, data analytics offers new possibilities. There is a sense that if we can just find smart enough systems, with quick enough data, analysed by big enough computers and then understood by clever enough people; we will be able to see and control what is happening.
Each of these offers some help in responding to the challenges faced by organisations but even taken together they do not provide enough of a way forward. We need to shift mindsets about the nature of organisations, of change, learning and leadership. With the hollowing out of organisations, we increasingly need leadership that orchestrates ecosystems, noticing what is happening and using influence and experimentation to generate the environment in which others will continually find the creative responses to the changing world. This kind of leadership is not the hero of the industrial era. It is leadership distributed through the organisation and out across its ecosystem.
Using the biological rather than the mechanical metaphor for organisations has been with us for many years and it is more relevant to change and leadership in the networked era. Yet many leaders in business retain the mechanical mindset of direction and control in the way they think and in their language.
|How does the language in your business reveal the collective mindset – mechanical or biological?|
|Do you talk about:
· “driving business performance or change”
· “getting people to behave differently”
· “leveraging capabilities”
· “squeezing more from your suppliers”
Add your own examples….
|Or do you talk about:
“releasing energy in the business”
“role-modelling the shift needed”
“creating shared value together”
Add your own examples….
Leadership has to be purpose-led to engage people and align across an ecosystem. It is leadership that resides in teams because you need numerous touch points to connect with what is happening and you need a diversity of perspectives to make sense of it; drawing on both data and intuition. These teams need to be fully connected to their stakeholders in and outside the business; aware of their role and purpose; trusting each other and with a continuing curiosity and hunger to learn and challenge their own assumptions.
Much of our current work in leadership and organisation change is helping leadership teams to confront their current mindsets, understand how they may be limiting the capacity of their organisations to adapt and thrive in the emerging world. We work with them to develop their abilities to sense, think and act in more systemic ways to allow change to happen, working collectively rather than as individuals.
Alongside the need to think and work more systemically is the growing need to connect well with others as individuals. We need to think across the system and to connect at a human level to breathe life into the our interventions. Technology increases our range of connections and our capacity to influence but also fractures it into short bursts and often written rather than face-to-face. Making great personal connections requires being very human and open, combining confidence and purpose with humility. These qualities are true both within teams but also in all other connections. These are essential qualities in leadership and in future Blogs we will explore them further:
- Leadership teams as the energiser for systemic change in organisations and their ecosystem
- The role of team coaching as a way to develop the capacities of your leadership teams