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Five leadership strategies to reinvent for the future

Five leadership strategies to reinvent for the future

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Business leaders have had to navigate many challenges since the pandemic started and many are adjusting to what the new world looks and feels like. Karen Thomas-Bland, Global Board Level Advisor and Founder of Intelligent Transformation Partners, has led numerous transformations and turnarounds over the last 24 years and explains five strategies which can help leaders reinvent for the future. 

Being a business leader in 2021 is not for the faint-hearted. As businesses leaders all over the world emerge from the pandemic, they know their businesses won’t look, feel or act in the same way again. As such, leaders have been figuring out how their world is changing and what they need to do to lead or adapt. This could be by implementing a new strategy to respond to or anticipate a disruption in their industry or category, exploring and implementing different business models, planning or executing a merger or acquisition to bring in new capabilities or they have started a transformation or turnaround but don’t feel they are seeing results quickly enough.

On top of all this, they are emerging from the pandemic. Whether having barely survived or spectacularly thrived, it’s been an emotionally draining time for everyone and many are navigating what the new world really looks and feels like. Will a hybrid working model really work? How have my customer needs really changed? Have expectations of investors shifted, and how can I support my team to adjust to potentially new patterns of working?

Having led numerous transformations and turnarounds over the last 24 years, I have found five strategies which can help you reinvent for the future.

  1. Test strategy and assumptions rigorously

What the pandemic has given us all is an opportunity to take a fresh look at our businesses and determine how we can start to lead a disruption in our market, based on lessons learned during the pandemic. Now is not a time to be timid. I have found, maybe you have too, that a year ago companies that rejected strategies for being too disruptive are now finding they have not been disruptive enough. The best strategies are really stretching performance, you can see a big upside and, to some extent, it feels unachievable from your starting point today.

Strategies to deploy include:

• Take a fresh look at your business through the lens of, say, an entrepreneur, board member or an activist investor and ask what they would see as the biggest opportunities?’
• Explore which market dynamics are specific to the crisis and which ones are permanent fixtures of the future.
• Consider if your team and board are fit for the future – do you have all experiences and perspectives you need around the table to bring about the change needed?
• Investigate what new or adjacent spaces have emerged to explore. This involves looking beyond the immediate organisation to determine where future growth could come from.

  1. Ensure the burning platform for change is sustainable

Transformations typically start by creating a sense of urgency – it’s what drives that initial momentum needed to start galvanising and aligning people. But burning platforms rarely have the longevity needed to sustain you through an entire transformation. The best dialogues make the need for change personal and emotional by giving people a positive reason to believe in the need for change. Burning platforms have in the past tended to lean heavily on financial goals and, while this is still fundamental, the best ambitions encompass goals around people, planet, purpose, prosperity for all and profit. Employees, customers and investors have high expectations on organisations to tackle systemic issues like climate and inequality, while still making profit. If your transformation story is compelling, you will feel significant energy and momentum around it. 

Strategies to deploy include:

• Consider ‘what impact is my organisation making on the world?’ 
• Explore in a changed, post-pandemic environment, ‘how have my employees, customers and investors’ expectations changed and how can I meet or exceed them?’ 
• Ensure the rationale for change is well understood and is delivered thoughtfully, encompassing a broader set of objectives.

  1. Over index on people more than ever before

Transforming environments are inevitably risky – the stakes are high, reputations are on the line and often you are asking your team to do things they haven’t done before – indeed, you may be doing things you haven’t done before. Creating a culture of psychological safety, where no one will feel penalised for taking small bets that may not succeed builds trust and confidence. In today’s hybrid working environment I find it’s also helpful to really tune in to those often-weaker cultural signals which happen when people are physically distant.

Strategies to deploy include:

• Consider how to encourage people to bring their true self to work.
• Explore what steps you need to take to build an inclusive, accountable and collaborative culture that will help teams thrive in a hybrid and asynchronous model of working.
• Put wellbeing high on the organisation’s agenda.

  1. Manage the energy and the urgency

It’s perhaps fair to say that we are all feeling some degree of exhaustion and in need of a break and businesses have an urgency to get back to some kind of normality. I find one area to resolve is balancing what I term ‘the energy and the urgency’.

Transformations thrive on a series of cycles, building out proof of concepts, piloting them, syndicating those that prove the business case and then implementing them at scale. These cycles need waves of collective energy from people to carry them through.

Now more than ever it feels important to balance where people are at and when you will maximise your chance of success. Transformations as we know them aren’t fleeting activities, and you have to be in them for the long haul. For me, I have been thinking a lot about how to manage the ebb and flow of when to go fast versus when we need down time to refresh.

Strategies to deploy include:

• Being strategic about where you spend your own time.
• Planning new initiatives with care, launching at the right time when you will get the support and momentum needed.
• Taking time to replenish your own energy stores and encouraging your team to do the same.

  1. Build in learnings to remain resilient

Out of any crisis there is an opportunity to learn, so the next time you are more resilient. Resilience isn’t just about dealing with the challenges of today, rather it’s about creating a culture to be ready for future change. Chances are you have been caught in short termism recently, focusing on immediate, operational matters. But many of the issues we face cannot be addressed with a short-term mindset. The challenge now is to ensure the foundations of the longer-term are built into plans. There is no doubt that over the last 18 months you have learnt a lot about your business, your teams and the broader environment. Now it’s about capturing those insights, so they don’t have to be relearned. 

Strategies to deploy include:

• Take the opportunity to refresh and strengthen your approach to risk management to be even better prepared next time.
• Take the opportunity to get out of the office more to stay attuned to your environment, talking to stakeholders, investors and customers to build trust and understand their perspectives and challenges.
• Encourage a diversity of perspectives, including listening to those on the periphery of the organisation who may not have been regularly consulted.
• Reflect on your own personal resilience and develop strategies to succeed when faced with difficult circumstances.

Emerging out of the pandemic is an opportunity for all of us to take a fresh look at our businesses and, by deploying these five strategies, it can help you to lead the disruption and reinvent your organisation.

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