Five Suggestions for Leaders in Disruptive Times

By HR Club on 17 August 2018

For many of today’s corporate leaders, this current period of turbulence in everything from GDP growth to commodity prices to the pace of product innovation is more extreme than anything they have known before.

When faced with turbulent times there tends to be a dichotomy in responses that’s evident not just in business but in politics and society too. Some people want to retreat to familiar territory, to try and make life more predictable again. Others choose to reach out to embrace the change.

We believe the future belongs to leaders who ignore the pressure to slash jobs, capture value and retreat, and instead choose to pursue sustainable value creation.

And the first way to do this is with agility.

 

1. Be agile

Where in the past companies might have developed a strategy and created a step-by-step process to execute it, today leaders need a more iterative approach that lets them respond to the sheer pace of change and number of sources of disruption.

It’s a process of experimentation and failure that gets successful innovators through challenges. But while it’s important to be flexible you don’t want to be as precarious as a market stall trader, lunging after one opportunity after another. There are four constant factors that leaders need, combined with agility, to steer a path through these uncharted waters. They help companies surviveand prosper.

 

2. Build resilience

The first of these is a kind of resilience and robustness, an ability to absorb shocks. And while large corporations are often written off as lumbering dinosaurs we prefer to see them as “salties”. Those saltwater crocodiles might look like dinosaurs but once they move, they move. They can go for a year without eating but when the opportunity is there, they’ll snap it up.

 

3. Stay true to your purpose

As a leader it’s vital that you understand the sense of purpose that exists in an organisation. And you should be very careful about tampering with it or, heaven forbid, changing it. Ownership of purpose isn’t vested in the ever-changing executives of a company; it lies deeper.

 

4. Create platforms to respond in good – and bad – times

The American business strategist Jim Collins makes the point that any company will have good and back luck events in its life. What marks a company out is what it does when those events happen.

Leaders can’t plan for those events but they can create a platform that makes it possible for them to respond to events. This might include tapping into a deeply embedded set of values and purpose. It could involve building capacity – of the human, factory or technological kind.

 

5. Look to the medium term

Then there’s the issue of what leaders see as success and it seems that the classic Western model of capitalism is coming up against its limits due to its excessive focus on short-term goals.

Leaders and management focused on short-term profits are more likely to cut out spare capacity, but that will also decrease their ability to respond to good luck and bad luck events. And although public companies always state a long-term vision this tends to be set so far in the future that it becomes meaningless.

What gets missed is the medium-term – and this is the time frame that lets us consider the health of the platform, the meaning and purpose of the organisation, and the company’s absorptive capacity.

 

Agile and…

Our message is that it is possible to survive in turbulent times as long as you choose to pursue new opportunities to create value. And hold onto those five pillars of agility combined with resilience, purpose, platforms and a focus on the medium term, to help you navigate the stormy times ahead.

***

Nandu Nandkishore, co-author of this article (together with Dominic Houlder), is Executive Fellow of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School. He previously spent 27 years with Nestlé until retiring as the executive board member with responsibility for Asia, Oceania and Africa. You can meet Nandu Nandkishore on October 25th, at HR Clubs's EXperience Conference, where he will deliver a Keynote presentation on the topic of "Sustainable Value Creation" and a Master Class entitled „Ten Strategy & Leadership Lessons for Winning in VUCA Environments”.

 

Adapted from original article Five lessons for leaders in turbulent times

Photo source: Vintage image created by V.ivash - Freepik.com

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