Chuck Berry, the legendary rock and roll singer of the ‘80s once said; “never let the same dog bite you twice.” Yes, yes, I know that he is not a management guru, but we would do well to bear out the wisdom of his words. My application of Chuck’s words to the world of business, is that we should not make the same or similar mistakes twice.
I mentioned in an earlier column that we live in a VUCA world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and uncertain. The sudden emergence of the coronavirus has certainly jolted us into what VUCA means and the pandemic is showing what it feels like to be in a VUCA state. This is the look and feel of disruption. In this case, no warning of the impending disruption and little or no time to plan for its impact.
Many leaders in the world of business have commented that they feel as though they have experienced the “big” earthquake, complete with some terrifying aftershocks. One of early revelations is that the resting place for many leaders is in “caretaker leadership,” the kind that serves to sustain the current status quo of a business. Leading from a status quo state is easy and does not require leadership stretch. What has emerged, as well, is that in a time of turbulence, there is quite a bit of leadership mismatch. The available leadership skills don’t match up with the demands of the circumstances.
So, let’s go back to the wisdom behind Chuck Berry’s quote and tease out another question; what lessons can leaders learn from this pandemic, about immunizing their businesses against rapid change?
First of all, it serves a good purpose to ensure that your business culture is one that embraces change and is change-friendly. This means that when other businesses are collapsing under the weight of rapid and unforeseen change, your business is in its comfort zone. It’s also best to be a quick study, so that when tough economic conditions show up, your business would have been at the tail of its learning curve.
HOW LEADERS CAN MAKE CULTURES “CHANGE-FRIENDLY”
Leaders can nurture a change-friendly culture by investing in strategies that support divergent and diverse thinking in their businesses. At the total company level, hosting activities that include town hall meetings and retreats with agendas that encourage wide employee participation, is one way to send a signal that “all ideas are welcome.” Promoting innovation as a value can be another culture defining move that prompts the employee community to generate and be rewarded for innovative ideas that move the business forward. The ongoing single message across the business culture is “continuous change is a way of life around here.”
Another thing, leaders need to understand is that their main job is “thinking.” Looking at sector trends, contemplating data analytics and deep diving into customer intelligence will certainly help to give leaders some level of intuition about building a business that lasts. According to Rhett Power, Head Coach of Power Coaching and Consulting, “executives of the world’s leading companies have an uncanny ability to plan for the future. They’re guided by purpose; they know that the business landscape is mutable.”
I’m not sure how many leaders of businesses carve out time to contemplate the future. What I do know is that businesses should engage annually (or quarterly), in a Horizon Mapping exercise that generates a Vision Map of its “best future” footprint. This is a design thinking exercise that utilizes market trends, business intelligence and customer insights to enable a business to shape itself into its best and most competitive version. A master stroke would be that as a business leader, when you’re finished reading this column, you can reach for a current vision map for your business.
The leaders who engage in this mapping exercise, have reported that they feel more empowered to face the future and its uncertainties. Why? Because they are not allowing themselves to be sitting ducks, they are taking steps to control what’s controllable, with the help of science, intelligence, technology, customer data and risk management frameworks.
WHAT LEADERS CAN DO NOW TO HELP THEIR BUSINESSES ADAPT TO CURRENT CHANGES
If your business has not done so yet, now would be a good time to on-board a distributed leadership process. Distributed leadership allows a business to remove its traditional top-down, command centre structure and to become flexible in its decision-making capacity. In a distributed leadership scenario, teams rely on blending diverse skillsets to achieve their objectives, with built in accountabilities and performance metrics. This methodology relies on effective ownership, teamworking, collaboration and consensus, with a reduced level of intra group conflict. This self-managing team approach works well when leadership is required under volatile, uncertain and rapidly changing circumstances. Think Navy Seals.
Whilst it’s widely recognized that the only way to grow is through change, many businesses change only as a desperate measure, under tough economic conditions. Adaptability, the ability to respond to change in a meaningful and risk controlled way, has become one of the benchmarks for assessing how well a business can sustain itself through continuous change. As disruptive change becomes the new normal in our business landscape, being a business with a high adaptability quotient is the new competitive advantage that enables you to ride through the change and come out stronger.
Leaders with foresight know that preparedness for change is a process that should begin long before the onset of disruption. Dress rehearsals for change responsiveness should happen during stable conditions, so that when the command performance arrives, as in the moment of crisis, damage will be minimal. As rapid change becomes a norm on the business landscape, don’t wait for a crisis that forces your business to build adaptability on the fly.
Start by simply embracing change as a welcome companion, create your vision map, restructure for flexibility and capture learnings from your experience so that, as we learned earlier, the same dog does not bite you twice.