Why do you need to stay relevant? What makes it important for business leaders to stay relevant, especially in times of crisis?
Well, the current COVID-19 situation is very telling about the times that we live in. While many businesses have been moving towards becoming more active online and using technology-backed tools to be more agile, this COVID-19 situation has really pushed companies to literally switch how they work within weeks, even days. Businesses that were not able and ready to make this switch have suffered tremendously during this period.
But at the same time, some businesses have made the transition quite smoothly and have been able to keep the business running remotely with employees working from home. This has been possible not only because of their use of technology-backed tools but also because of their ability to rejig their operating model quickly. More importantly, this has been possible because of the leaders at the helm.
In this post, I will share four specific steps for you to take to innovate your way out of this crisis. So, read on!
COVID-19 is a test case for leadership. While the leader’s primary responsibility is to keep the team safe, cohesive, and productive, what should the leader be focused on in the midst of a global disruption like this? I believe that every crisis is an opportunity for innovation. Crises present us with unique conditions that allow innovators to think and move more freely to create rapid, impactful change.
We are seeing this already playing out. Around the world, beermakers and distilleries have shifted production to hand sanitizers. In Italy, a start-up engineering company began quickly using 3D printers to create the valves used in ventilators. Fashion businesses are producing protective gear, gowns, and other supplies for hospitals.
When we look back to this health crisis, I am sure we’ll see the impact it had on innovation in many sectors – be it medical devices, healthcare processes, manufacturing and supply chain innovations, collaboration techniques, education, and so on. Service businesses in particular are likely to see a lot of innovation in how services are created, packaged, and sold.
If you believe the world will go back to being what it was before the pandemic, I’m afraid you are sadly mistaken. Once customers, businesses, and employees are exposed to a certain way of operating, it will be difficult for them to go back and work as if nothing changed. Actions taken during the crisis will shape how companies perform in the long run. Some companies may even continue to pursue opportunities first identified during the crisis.
A very important point to remember is that reputations are built — and lost — during times of crisis. Companies that are demonstrating good citizenship by helping with shortages, or by making major donations, are probably hoping that consumers will remember their actions when the economy returns to normal.
Companies that treat their employees or customers badly during a crisis will face major challenges rebuilding when the storm has passed. Similarly, if leaders in business segments fail to lead the way in terms of innovation and customer service, it is inevitable that other competitors will emerge with better products or platforms.
Eventually, how a business responds to such vast and dislocating change depends on how the leader views the situation – as an opportunity or as a disaster.
So how have you and your company tried to innovate and adapt during this time of crisis? How are you trying to stay relevant in the market? In the next segment, I’m going to talk about some specific approaches that you can adopt to manage this crisis and opportunity for innovation.
So, we were talking about how important it is for leaders and businesses to reinvent and innovate during a crisis. But remember, rapid change is an ongoing process – not just linked to a crisis. Change emanates from changing customer expectation, entry of new players in the market, the introduction of new-age technology, socio-economic factors, new laws, and also changes in executive management or structural transformation of organizations. A crisis only accelerates the pace of change. So these approaches that I am going to share now are relevant, whether you are facing a crisis or not.
One of the key leadership challenges in day-to-day organizational life is inspiring engagement and generating momentum towards the goals of the organization. This becomes even more important in times of crisis as there is a big jump in the nervous energy present in the workforce. Leaders who can harness this energy and focus it on a clear purpose in resolving the crisis will be able to lead the team to success. They will be able to tap into a wave of new ideas, as individuals feel compelled to share insights, they normally would keep to themselves. They will be able to lead their team from fear to a clear shared goal. After all, courage is defined as the ability to overcome fear for a good purpose. In this way, a crisis has the potential to create the organizational courage to take action in support of a purpose that would be unthinkable in times of calm. Also, know that this constant effort to get the team aligned around a purpose will pay dividends even in normal times.
When organizations want to find opportunities to innovate, they usually bring in an external consultant to get an outside perspective and fresh ideas. A crisis can actually play that role very well because it brings to the fore the vulnerabilities and problem areas in the organization which may have been ignored earlier in the drive to keep growing the way things are. When a crisis hits, we are compelled to confront the truth about whether our systems work or not. They make us question our disaster recovery plans and business continuity plans. Being able to zoom out and see things for what they are can suddenly throw up opportunities for operating more efficiently or serve our customers better. A crisis is a good opportunity for you as the leader to give a hard look at why you do what you do and whether you do it in the best possible way.
Organizations, over time, tend to fall into a familiar and predictable way of operating. The very rules that help the organization become more efficient can keep it from evolving and responding rapidly to opportunities thrown up by change. A crisis changes all that. Companies are forced to do away with bureaucratic overheads of review and approval and allow for fresh thinking to be applied quickly to address the challenge. So, how are you responding to this crisis? Are you still trying to stick to the old and familiar ways of taking decisions? If yes, then, believe me, the organization is in for some rough times. What you need right now is for communication to move upwards and downwards and sideways without any barriers of hierarchy because through these communication channels, you get valuable inputs for your strategic decision-making.
A crisis brings with it a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. This can lead to a paralysis of action as leaders and team members grapple with their worries about losing out on things that have been important to them thus far. But dealing with a crisis demands movement and change – the pace of ideation, decision making, and implementation all increase dramatically. If a leader gets trapped in focusing on how to protect what they have rather than identifying what opportunities the crisis is throwing up, they will remain stuck in the present – or an analysis paralysis situation. On the other hand, if leaders choose to focus on quickly creating experiments, seeing what happens, and experimenting some more, they will encourage the freedom to test different thinking, to fail fast, to learn, and to move forward – in short, to innovate.
So there you have it – four approaches to help you innovate and stay relevant despite a crisis. These are
#1 Align around a Purpose
#2 See Systems from Outside In
#3 Shake Up the Organization
#4 Create a Bias for Action
Times of crisis present incredible opportunities for learning and growth. It is a time for experimenting with new technologies and approaches to operating your business. We don’t know how long this coronavirus crisis will continue for or how it will impact our economies and businesses but if we use it wisely as an opportunity for innovating, for learning and growing, we will come out on the other side stronger and more agile.
Your team is the same but has had to suddenly get used to working remotely due to COVID. Many of you may never have thought that one day you will be leading your entire team virtually – not just for a few days but for months at a stretch with no clear end in sight.
So how have you flexed your leadership style to suit this now virtual team? Or should I ask, have you flexed your style?
Virtual teams have been around for a while and there has been a lot of research as to how effective virtual teams are vis-à-vis collocated teams. Researchers have found that there is no difference in terms of productivity, quality and successful outcomes between co-located teams and virtual teams provided that there are 4 factors in play. These are:
Team size matters whether or not co-located – smaller teams work better than larger teams on various dimensions such as trust, productivity, and knowledge sharing.
Management style matters – if teams are to be dispersed or virtual then you need to select team members for their ability to build relationships over distance and for managing working well alone. Leaders of virtual teams need to have the ability to build trust, respect and empower others. So 'good' management is more important in virtual teams than co-located ones.
Social and community spirit matters – whether dispersed or co-located teams that have a sense of team identity, trust each other and get on well socially perform better than teams without any one of these. In part this is factor is related to management style.
Technology matters – where communication is facilitated through various forms of technology – collaborative platforms, webchats, SMS, phone, etc then the virtual team members must have excellent skills in using it and the technology needs to be effective and reliable. Face to face is easiest for communication as you are picking up nuanced non-verbal signals among other things.
What the research shows is that for virtual teams to work well there has to be a conscious and ongoing intentionality to make them work well.
It is easy for team members to feel isolated and anxious and so as a leader you need to actively address this challenge. The leadership skills required to succeed remain the same in a virtual scenario but they have to be executed differently in a virtual environment. You need to continue being authentic, connecting with others, promoting inclusiveness, networking, and build relationships and trust as always, but the actions associated with these skills must be deliberate and intentional. You as a leader at a distance need to work harder at relating to your team members’ needs and aspirations to have the same level of positive impact that you would have had in a collocated scenario.
This may require you to check in more frequently with the team. I am not talking about work reviews. I’m talking about the casual conversations that you would have had in meetings, in the corridors, at the coffee station or even the parking lot. These personal connections build trust and relationships - but these do not just happen. You need to deliberately put a system in place for you to be able to do it consistently. The challenges for you is to create a sense of connectedness in a distributed work environment. The good thing is, as you do more of it, it becomes easier over time.
Some key areas for you to focus on are:
How well do you use technological tools to communicate and also the frequency of your communication? Also, how well do you listen? Your team follows your lead so if you want the team to listen to each other, you need to listen deeply and ask questions to increase understanding, given the lack of visual information.
An understanding of virtual team dynamics is critical for leaders and team members to be effective. As a leader, you need to be listening hard to identify signs of low trust in virtual environments. Successful leaders use strategies like regularly scheduled celebrations, fun, and creative reconnecting activities as part of scheduled meetings.
The goal of any team is the work product, not the time spent at the desk working on a project. Leaders who are more adept at keeping teams focused on business goals generally demonstrate a higher level of success. It also means that clear metrics, roles and responsibilities, and feedback are critical to producing high-quality deliverables.
So there you have it – what’s needed for you to succeed with virtual teams. We didn’t plan for it but it has happened and now that some months have gone by, it would help for you to reflect on how you’ve been approaching this and how you might want to approach it better. If you want to discuss further, just schedule a complimentary consultation by clicking this link above.
Do you have days when you feel that your thoughts are rushing in many different directions and you’re not able to focus on anything? Does it feel like you have to pull the entire weight of the business on your shoulders alone? Our work lives have become increasingly demanding, with many complex challenges thrown at us at a relentless pace. Add in personal or family needs, and it’s easy to feel constantly overwhelmed.
Some of my coaching clients come with the complaint that their days get caught up in routine activities rather than focusing on strategic ideas and initiatives. They try to make up for this by adding extra time may be early in the morning or late at night when they can get some quiet time. But despite all this, they still feel that they are not on top of things.
This feeling of perpetual overwhelm leads to a racing mind with impaired ability to problem solve. It leads to mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically. Any of these effects, alone, can make us less effective and leave us feeling even more overwhelmed.
So how can you snap out of this vicious cycle? The most important thing is to reflect on and identify patterns of behaviour which might be exacerbating the problem.
For example, one of the business leaders I was coaching found himself constantly stepping in to resolve conflicts between his team members. This was not only an unproductive use of his time; it was also encouraging the team members to run to him with all their problems. Once he recognized this, he was able to create some breathing space for himself to focus on his own priorities with fewer distractions.
Some other reasons for experiencing overwhelm are things like wanting everything to be perfect, or wanting to stay in control and not delegate. It’s important to identify the main stressors which might actually be contributing to 80% of the overwhelm. Identifying and resolving these can help you feel more in control of your time and your life.
I help my clients de-clutter their minds and focus on what’s important for them. This helps them get to their goals faster. Want to explore more, just click on the Request Consultation button above for a complimentary session. Talk soon!
I talked about leadership credibility in the previous blog and in this blog post, I will talk about being adaptive.
Being adaptive means having an ability to change to suit different conditions.
I use the term adaptive to describe people or leaders who are flexible — they don't lose their cool when plans change quickly and they are always willing to learn new ways to do things. Being adaptive helps you as a leader to sail along in today's ever-changing world.
Charles Darwin had famously said - “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
While he was talking about evolution, the same applies to the business world. An organization that does not respond to changes in the market will not survive in the medium to long term. The organization’s responsiveness in turn depends on the leader’s adaptability.
One of the key roles of a leader is to define the strategy for the organization. The traditional approach to strategy, however, actually assumes a relatively stable and predictable world. The goal of most strategies is to build a lasting competitive advantage by establishing clever market positioning or assembling the right capabilities for making or delivering an offering. Companies undertake periodic strategy reviews and set direction and organizational structure on the basis of an analysis of their industry and some forecast of how it will evolve.
But given the VUCA world that we operate in now, companies and leaders are grappling with issues like:
What companies are realizing is that sustainable competitive advantage does not arise exclusively from position, scale, or just technical superiority but it stems from organizational capabilities that foster rapid adaptation. Instead of being really good at doing some particular thing, companies must be really good at learning how to do new things.
What will help companies survive and thrive in this VUCA world is the ability to read and act on signals of change. The ability to experiment rapidly, frequently, and economically—not only with products and services but also with business models, processes, and strategies. Most importantly, the ability of the company and its leaders to unlock their greatest resources—the people who work for them.
I believe it is how we think. Our behaviour is a manifestation of our thinking. When faced with unpredictable change, how do you think? Are you afraid of losing what you have? This is called being prevention-focused. Or are you excited by new possibilities of positive outcomes? This is called being promotion-focused.
We tend to be either prevention-focused or promotion-focused.
Prevention-focused people see their goals as responsibilities, and they concentrate on staying safe, protecting what they have, and avoiding mistakes.
Promotion-focused people, on the other hand, see their goals as creating a path for growth or advancement and concentrate on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them.
So you see, when we are prevention-focused, we’re afraid to make mistakes and this makes us reluctant to step out of our comfort zone and it keeps us stuck. When faced with change, it makes us focus on the potential obstacles and raise objections such as
All these reactions are reasons we give ourselves for not moving forward. Moreover, how we react to failure says a lot about our approach to the rest of the team. Do we look for who’s responsible for the failure or do we look for the lessons learned from the failure? If we look for who to punish then we are encouraging people to stay safe and not make mistakes – thus making them more prevention-focused.
On the other hand, if we focus on what lessons can we draw out from the experience and then come up with a better solution, we will encourage innovation in the organization. For this to happen, you as a leader also need to be willing to talk about your missteps and the lessons you have learned. By focusing on what opportunities are emerging out of the changing scenario and how to make the most of it, we will be energized to move ahead.
So that brings us to the question of what can help up become promotion-focused.
To my mind what can help us deal with change and uncertainty successfully and become promotion-focused is adaptive thinking.
It is the ability to “recognize unexpected situations, quickly consider various possible responses, and decide on the best one.”
So first, it means that you should be able to recognize the signals of change. Also, you need to develop a way of thinking that enables you to pause before you react, consider all possible options, evaluate these options and then choose the best possible way to act, and do all of this very quickly.
If you have well developed adaptive thinking, you will not be overwhelmed by all the information overload that comes with uncertainty and change. You’ll have curiosity about your environment and will be able to make sense of disparate data, see patterns, experiment and deduce the possible direction of the trend.
Firstly, learn to scan your environment constantly, build networks across different domains, understand what’s happening in different markets and regions and be really curious about the emerging developments.
It is no wonder that successful leaders are well read and well networked. They’ve figured out how they learn best and apply that to make the most of the time they set aside for learning. Whether it is through books or podcast or videos or talking to a mentor or coach, they know what works for them and use it to learn rapidly and continuously. They also use their networks to gather information and then connect people across networks thereby increasing their influence. By developing this curiosity and willingness to learn, you will be able to strengthen your ability to gather signals from the market proactively and hence be better prepared to deal with the changes.
The next thing is to develop divergent thinking that will enable you to come up with various options for the same problem. Divergent thinking is the capacity to find relationships between ideas, concepts, and processes that, at first glance, don’t appear to be connected. You can use tools like brainstorming and Edward De Bono’s six thinking hats to practice coming up with multiple out-of-the box ideas. Being in a positive frame of mind can help you get more creative ideas. Also, encourage people around you to think creatively and laterally, thus creating an environment where new and innovative ideas are stimulated.
The third step is to evaluate the options that you generate to pick the one that you think will give the best outcome. This requires critically examining the underlying assumptions and careful reflection and probing of the problem through many lenses before taking decisive action. Avoid getting prematurely locked into simplistic go/no-go choices. Force yourself to zoom in on the details and zoom out to see the big picture. What can help you further is to invite perspectives from diverse stakeholders. If you use these techniques, you are bound to get better and better at strategic decision-making. It’s important to have patience, courage, and an open mind.
So, to develop an adaptive mindset, simply do these three things regularly – scan your environment, encourage divergent thinking and evaluate options critically. This kind of thinking is a mental muscle that gets stronger as you practice more.
In an increasingly turbulent environment, business models, strategies, and routines can become obsolete quickly and unpredictably. As a leader, you need to be able to experiment quickly and economically. To do this, you need to create an environment that encourages knowledge flow, diversity, autonomy, risk taking, sharing, and flexibility as this is where adaptation thrives. In your organisation, encourage coming together of modular units that freely communicate and recombine according to the situation at hand rather than have permanent silos. Create a culture in which inquiry is valued and mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities – and this needs to start from you before it trickles down to the rest of your organisation. The success of your organisation depends on your ability to be adaptive.
In an earlier post, I had introduced the CARES model of leadership development that I have designed for preparing leaders for success in this VUCA world. Being Adaptive is an essential part of leadership for the VUCA world.
Being adaptive means having an ability to change to suit different conditions. I use the term adaptive to describe people or leaders who are flexible — they don't lose their cool when plans change quickly and they are always willing to learn new ways to do things. Being adaptive helps you as a leader to sail along in today's ever-changing world.
In an increasingly turbulent environment, business models, strategies, and routines can become obsolete quickly and unpredictably. As a leader, you need to be able to experiment quickly and economically. To do this, you need to create an environment that encourages knowledge flow, diversity, autonomy, risk taking, sharing, and flexibility as this is where adaptation thrives.
The success of your organisation depends on your ability to be adaptive.
To experience a complimentary coaching session to explore how you can develop adaptive thinking, click on the Request Consultation button above.
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