The past year has seen both an upheaval in how organizations work and a bold and collaborative step forward in the impact of innovation and community to open a bigger future.
With the pandemic (and the next versions ahead), social justice, and climate change being the driving forces of our world, the question becomes how leaders best position their companies strategically to be sustainable; profitable, innovative, and relevant.
And we need to talk about the future, not the next normal. Speaking about anything normal leads us to past behaviors and old thinking, we need to look forward. That is what people are looking for, focus on what is ahead.
Taking account of the trends and patterns swirling around leaders, these are the seven critical aspects that will frame decisions and directions to position businesses strategically to outperform.
- We are living in a world of innovation, and the strategy for any business needs to include investing in new ways of bringing value to customers.
- Responding to Digital Needs - Consumer behaviors have fundamentally shifted during the pandemic with digitization at the heart of how we interact, and companies need to answer the digital needs of customers to survive.
- Businesses also need to use technologies wisely to digitize operations and internal processes to transform to be competitive in a fast-moving and quickly changing landscape. Digital transformation of the core will be the change initiative most important to all organizations.
- The nature of how we work has changed and the capabilities needed to enable people to contribute and be a part of the future needs to be an essential investment for companies, reskilling, upskilling, and “new skilling”. And skills needed to support competitive capabilities are not all technical, interactive competencies are equally as important.
- Health, both physical and mental, are front and center for all people, and leaders will need to ensure the well-being of how the culture supports individuals to be themselves, maintain mental health, and stay connected. We need work to be about contribution, not compliance.
- Partnering through mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, and investments in smaller companies will be vital for businesses to acquire quickly what is needed to scale and respond to complexity and ambiguity. Partnering is a sign of confidence and people need to see leaders be deliberate in shaping the future direction.
- It is not just about profits, and organizations are facing Millennial and GenZ consumers, as well as other stakeholders, who will demand action, rather than just talking about change, on inclusive diversity and supporting solutions to social issues.
Setting the strategy will require a change in leadership approach. Leading from the top, having all the answers, and listening to the same tight group of voices in the boardroom and executive suite will no longer be what people are looking for in leadership. The 'command and control' model is tired, with a more open approach needed. Having questions is more important for building trust and engagement.
The workplace is about contribution, not compliance. For leaders, that means consultative and supportive approaches, involving people more in guiding the way forward.
We are looking for leaders who can make sense of the world, having the ability to see and communicate how the pieces are fitting together with bounded optimism (realism in other words). And we want leaders who look forward and see the possibility of the future, not the lure of the past. Leaders need to be investing in actions that position organizations for stepping ahead, and apart. With distance being a keyword in our lives, we are looking for leaders who can bring connection, showing authenticity and empathy to show us we belong, and we are part of something bigger. And we can bring our true identity to work and be accepted and valued, a connected member of a community.
It is much to ask, and necessary.
Leaders need to be self-aware first and understand the benchmark of their organizations. Where are they, their leadership teams, and their managers as leaders people need right now? How is their strategy and culture structured to support the successful positioning of organizations based on where we are now, and will be going?
Traditional ways of trying to understand what is going on will not be enough. The use of data analytics provides the depth of quantitative and qualitative perspective needed, the thinking and the feeling. And analytics enable accessing the collective input of all people in the organization, not just the few sitting around the table. Being heard and having a voice are critical to aligning people around the future direction of the business. New technologies enable leaders to gain insights into the readiness and commitment of people and interpreting what is truly happening as the experience of the working environment. From data, patterns emerge, understanding grows, and links to changes and behaviors needed, and how to get there, are clear – the story is written.
And the foundation for all decisions will be the enduring purpose of the organization. With a clear purpose, the framework is in place to assess being the leaders needed, to set the directions to capture opportunities, resolve challenges, and build capabilities for organizations to scale and outperform.
The world has changed, the leadership needed has changed, with the opportunity greater than ever before. We can be optimistic that a bigger future lies ahead.