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.
If you’re ambitious, I’m sure you’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about strategies that will help you achieve greater levels of success – whether it’s a more impressive job title, higher compensation, or responsibility for larger revenues, profits, or numbers of employees. The interesting thing to reflect on is whether this definition of success is yours’s or is it heavily influenced by family, friends, and colleagues.
Do you sometimes feel that despite all your efforts and accomplishments, you lack a true sense of professional satisfaction and fulfilment? Do others see you as successful but you still don’t feel you are successful enough?
For someone like me who transitioned from client-facing investment banking to a non-profit and then to set up my own personal development company, I know what I’m talking about.
Do you have fleeting thoughts that your career is not really turning out the way you’d like? Do you feel trapped sometimes by your own success? Are you afraid of losing your stature and don’t want to let anyone down, but at the same time you don’t want to keep doing what you are doing?
A possible reason for this could be that you’ve been so busy trying to reach specific milestones and impress other people that you’ve lost sight of what you really enjoy doing. It’s never too late to re-examine your career and focus on achieving success as defined by you and not by others.
The question you need to ask yourself is “Am I reaching my potential?” and not “How do I rise to the top?” or “How can I be successful in my career?”
It’s about taking a very personal look at what success means for you in your heart of hearts and then finding your path to get there. Needless to say, talking to a coach like me, who’s experienced it personally, can help you find your answers quickly. So reach out and let’s talk! Click on the Request Consultation button above.
What is credibility? Credibility is simply the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real, or honest. Personal credibility is about trust, respect, and being believable. A leader’s credibility is typically defined in terms of the degree of employee confidence, belief, and acceptance towards the leader.
While personal credibility applies to everyone in the workplace, it is especially important for leaders. Why is that? Because, if your employees do not believe in you as their leader, you just cannot be effective as a leader. Under these circumstances, employees will simply comply with rules but will not work towards the common goal and will not put in their best efforts. Their morale will be low and customer service will be poor.
Lack of leadership credibility creates employee distrust and disengagement thus impacting the reputation of the organisation and also its profitability. Studies have shown that the credibility of the leader influences employee engagement which in turn impacts the organization's productivity and performance.
While credibility has many facets, in most cases it is judged simply by comparing what you say with what you do in your day-to-day behaviour. Leaders that say one thing but do another won’t have the authenticity and credibility that’s essential to be an effective leader in today’s VUCA environment.
But being trustworthy is not the only contributor to your credibility as a leader. The other very important component of credibility is the perceived competence of the leader – i.e., people’s faith in your knowledge, skills, and ability to do your job and get the job done as a leader.
Employees form such opinions or perceptions not just through direct interaction with you but also through indirect observation of your actions and performance. And these perceptions are extremely important in this hyperconnected age, when vast amounts of information about you is easily accessible in the public domain.
So basically, your credibility as a leader is important because employees want to have the assurance that when you are managing them and assessing their performance, you are yourself competent and trustworthy.
To assess the level of your leadership credibility in your organization, you need to ask yourself these questions and honestly reflect on your answers:
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then you have a leadership credibility gap that you need to work on.
While there are many factors, let’s talk about the six key behaviours that undermine your credibility as a leader.
Research shows that employees seriously question the competency of leaders who fail to take action or ignore problems. This is especially true when it comes to problems that impact the sustainability of the organization.
One of the key roles of a leader is to make sense of the operating environment and take strategic decisions about the future of the organization. When you are seen as not fully clued in to the operating environment and lack vision and clarity about the future direction of the organization, you quickly lose the respect of your employees.
Leaders who make promises without making any effort to fulfil them, really erode their credibility. For example, if you keep saying “I’ll get back to you,” but never do so, it impacts your credibility. Many leaders tend to over-promise even if it is with good intentions, but when it comes to the crunch they can’t deliver what they promise. Your employees will believe your promise and expect you to fulfil them. If you can’t offer what you promise then you will quickly lose credibility as a leader. Another behaviour that undermines your competence is giving contradictory information. The contradictions might come from different people on the leadership team or even from the same person- but it confuses employees and makes them suspicious.
When leaders create confusion among employees and other stakeholders by distributing incorrect or misleading information or they misrepresent the facts, it can really undermine their credibility. Sometimes leaders do this without even realizing and sometimes they may do it intentionally to paint a rosier picture, in the hope that it will motivate employees – either way, it results in people getting totally confused at best — and suspicious at worst.
Research shows that self-serving behaviours can undermine employees’ trust in their leaders. These include bending the rules to privilege yourself or your close associates, making decisions based on your self-interest rather than what’s best for the organization, urging employees to make sacrifices while wasting the organization’s resources on perks for yourself, and taking credit for the achievements of others. Even if you don’t act unethically yourself, you can suffer a serious loss of trust if you permit colleagues to act unethically. You must uphold high ethical values to protect your organization and your people, or your followers and key stakeholders will lose faith in you.
Leaders who treat their employees as expendable or tend to openly ignore the opinions of employees and key stakeholders are perceived as untrustworthy and hence not credible. Leaders can damage their credibility when they ask for information and reports that don’t seem worthwhile or that they don’t review and act on. Such requests can cause confusion as to what the organization’s priorities are, and the employees may feel resentful about what they see as a waste of their time.
So, these are some specific behaviours that erode your credibility as a leader. What is interesting is that even though leaders lose credibility when they display incompetence or untrustworthiness, employees are much more tolerant and forgiving of an incompetent leader than they are of an untrustworthy leader. They believe that incompetent leaders can at least try to become more competent, whereas untrustworthy leaders can’t easily become more trustworthy.
What positive actions can you take to strengthen your credibility over time?
Credibility isn’t something that you just gain as you step into a leadership role. There is a process to gaining trust and dedication from your employees, which then leads to credibility.
Here are five specific things that you can do to build your credibility over time:
This is very different from simply stating a strategic vision or setting performance targets and then just going about business as usual. It involves mapping out, in detail, how the organization will achieve its goals in the medium to long term.
Having a sophisticated knowledge of industry trends and clear ideas about how the organization should respond to them can really build your credibility as a leader. You can also actively predict and prepare for upcoming changes. For example, by making strategic investments in new technologies or markets. These will really enhance your perceived competence.
When you work consistently to improve organizational structures and processes and maintain financially sound operations, your credibility as a leader soars. Eliminating unnecessary reporting structures and careless spending, establishing new strategic roles, or investing in technology that improves operational efficiency or business effectiveness are some actions you can take to build your credibility as an action-oriented and competent leader. Don’t shy away from taking tough decisions.
Leaders are perceived as trustworthy and credible when they communicate and behave in a consistent manner. To begin with, this means making decisions that aren’t contradictory. But it also means behaving in a way that aligns with the promises (both explicit and unspoken) that the company makes to employees and other stakeholders. By pre-emptively looking out for stakeholders’ needs, you can prevent stakeholder conflicts and organizational crises, as well as gain the trust of your employees and other key stakeholders.
Be clear about your values and the organization’s values so that employees and other stakeholders can see why you do what you do. The culture of the organization flows from the top. If you want your employees to trust you, you need to start by showing that you trust them. If you want your employees to be open to change, be change-ready yourself. Basically, know that your employees are observing you minutely all the time and if you want them to behave in a certain way, they need to see you doing the same. Demonstrate your values in how you talk and act to establish credibility and authenticity as a leader.
So, there you have it. Why credibility is important for leaders – because your success as a leader and the success of your organisation depends on it. Credibility stems from your perceived competence and your trustworthiness.
Credibility takes time to build, but it can be torn down in seconds. You don’t need a big scandal or mess up to destroy your credibility – it’s often the little things that you do over time that can add up to destroy your credibility. So, keep your promises, do what you say you will, give credit where it is due, acknowledge mistakes, don’t talk about others behind their back, don’t withhold information, don’t belittle others, be consistent and be accountable.
As a business leader in the 21st century, you face persistent changes in the business environments in which you operate. The diversity, intensity, and rapidity of these changes create volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, which challenge you on ways to lead effectively as what methods worked in the past seem inadequate to deal with this environment. VUCA refers to this operating environment that is constantly changing in conflicting, dramatic, and relentless ways to produce leadership and organizational challenges.
Each letter of the acronym VUCA represents a type of change that we need to identify to cope fully with the environmental unpredictability.
Our world is volatile — things change, change quickly, and for reasons beyond our control and cause instability.
It is uncertain — we lack full and confirmed information and hence gaining conviction about future outcomes becomes ever more challenging.
It is complex — we can never know the interaction of the multiple variables we must consider, let alone how to integrate them effectively.
It is ambiguous — the same data can yield multiple and often competing interpretations and lacks precedence making it difficult to move ahead.
Globalization and technology have and continue to fuel the VUCA dynamics through increased innovation, interconnectivity, and digital revolutions, which, in turn, give rise to new and nimble competitors, who operate globally to transform customer expectations radically and thus produce organizational turmoil. The current turbulence has baffled leaders due to its novelty and because the proven approaches of the past have been inadequate in the VUCA-world.
The VUCA world obstructs a leader’s ability to understand, to decide, to communicate, and ultimately to act decisively — which is actually a precondition for effective action in business.
It’s natural for leaders to react differently to this environment. Some have become so distracted by the volatility and constant change that they have stopped planning and are just trying to react to events.
Others have become so intimidated by the uncertainty and ambiguity that they don’t act for the fear of making a mistake. Still, others try to do everything they possibly can in this complex environment and don’t end up focusing their efforts in any one direction.
Only a few leaders have been able to fight through all the complexity and uncertainty and chart a way forward for their organizations. They have managed to impose their will on such complex environments and succeeded where others haven’t been able to do so.
In fact, a study by DDI in 2015 had shown that only 18% of leaders were capable of leading in a VUCA world! I haven’t come across any update on this study in recent times but I believe that the percentage may have moved only marginally. If you ask me why I don’t think leadership development in the last few years has really focused on developing the specific competencies to deal with this VUCA world.
So, what are the leadership traits or competencies that would prepare them to be successful in a VUCA world? What would help them to thrive where others flounder?
Based on my inter-disciplinary work in leadership development, social and cognitive psychology, coaching, and my own experience as a leader and a coach, I have come up with a model for leadership development that can prepare leaders to handle this VUCA world in a more deliberate, self-assured, and successful manner. I call it the CARES Model of Leadership.
CARES is an acronym for
C – Credible
A – Adaptive
R – Resolute
E – Emotionally Intelligent
S – Sense-making
Let’s look at each of these aspects as to why it is important for a leader in the VUCA world.
Why does a leader need to be credible to be effective in the VUCA world, or actually under any circumstance? As a leader, credibility lets your employees see you as a dependable source of reliable information and for fair, effective decision-making. This information could be on a day-to-day basis or on those occasions when it's most critical. If you have credibility with your team, you will earn their mutual trust and respect. This would enable you to align them with the goals of the organization. Without credibility, there cannot be a culture of trust and shared goals. So the creditability of the leader is of prime importance, especially in a VUCA world where you need the team to trust you to lead them in the direction that you want them to go.
To welcome change is to be adaptive. Adaptive describes people 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 cope with the volatility and uncertainty and sail along in today's ever-changing world. Clearly being adaptive, flexible, agile, and adaptable is paramount in a VUCA world.
Developing and articulating a clear view of the future in today’s increasingly complex environments demands that leaders make judgments about the future — something that entails risk and could be wrong, and there could be significant consequences. Successful leaders are those who can overcome those doubts and act to prepare the organization for success in the future.
I am calling this trait Resolute because it refers to someone who is purposeful, determined, and unwavering. A resolute person has the courage to act with conviction in the face of uncertainty and risk. Be able to manage their emotions and be decisive even with limited information.
As we discussed earlier, dealing with uncertainty, volatility and ambiguity can be emotionally challenging for any leader. Unless you are able to manage your emotions on this roller-coaster, you might end up burning out really fast. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of their own emotions and intuitively aware of the emotions of others. This self-awareness also helps them to manage their emotions when dealing with stressful situations. Their social intelligence enables them to lead with empathy and factor in emotions when presenting information, or otherwise engaging with their people. Leaders set the tone of their organization. If you lack emotional intelligence, it could have more far-reaching consequences, resulting in lower employee engagement and a higher turnover rate.
The primary function of any leader is to point the way ahead. This requires vision — the ability to see something significant about the future that isn’t readily apparent to others. Today’s VUCA environments are tough on leaders. The more volatile and the more ambiguous the environment, the harder it is for leaders themselves to come to grips with the situation, let alone articulate a clear way ahead.
Sense-making is the action or process of making sense of or giving meaning to something, especially new developments and experiences. Sense-making is how we make sense of the world so we can act in it. A person with highly developed sense-making can tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. They have the ability to be able to know enough, even from limited information, to be able to make a measured and appropriate decision. The ability to spot existing or emerging patterns is one of the most if not the most critical skill in decision-making. Hence, it is self-evident that sense-making is a key competency for leaders to succeed in a VUCA world.
As a business leader in the 21st century, you face persistent changes in the business environments in which you operate. VUCA refers to this operating environment that is constantly changing in conflicting, dramatic, and relentless ways to produce leadership and organizational challenges. The VUCA world obstructs a leader’s ability to understand, to decide, to communicate, and ultimately to act decisively — which is actually a precondition for effective action in business. The CARES model for leadership development can prepare leaders to handle this VUCA world in a more deliberate, self-assured, and successful manner.
- Sonali Sinha
I’m a very driven entrepreneur. Always raring to go and full of ideas that have to be actioned. Constantly learning and trying out new things. But even I have days when I just don’t seem to have the energy to get stuff done. I’m sure you’ve also experienced such days. Whether it's a lack of inspiration, a feeling of burnout, or feeling paralyzed when facing too many options, sometimes it's hard to be anywhere near as productive as you normally are.
If this happens to you once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about. Maybe you just need a break or change of scene. But if this inertia goes on for days, weeks, and months at a stretch and business starts dwindling and there is nothing in the pipeline, it can be alarming!
Sometimes a hard knock, like losing a big client or not winning an important deal or a change in the business environment that puts us in a disadvantageous position can really impact our confidence and self-esteem – and we may not even be aware of it. It could linger at the back of our minds and slowly make us disengage from the work that we love doing. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being judged negatively, all these can paralyze us.
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey because we don’t feel comfortable talking about such situations with anyone – whether it’s our team or even our family members. We don’t want to spook our employees and we don’t want our families to worry about us. Somewhere deep down we also feel that if we talk about our inertia and lack of motivation, we will be judged negatively.
Inertia can show up in many ways. Sometimes you want to or must take some action steps, but you don’t take it? Sometimes you want to start a new business vertical or launch a new product, but something pulls you back to the current status quo situation. Sometimes you need to take an important decision, but you don’t decide? Sometimes you make your plan, and never implement it, in reality. Sometimes you need to reach out to an important customer but you keep avoiding it. All these are signs of entrepreneurial inertia.
So, what can you do when you find yourself stuck in entrepreneurial inertia?
Here are 5 simple actions you can take to bounce back from inertia and save your business.
When things are not going as you would want them to go and you find yourself lacking the motivation to forge ahead, the most important thing is to re-focus your attention on your long-term goal. Ask yourself these three questions:
If you take time to reflect on these three questions, it will help you align your thoughts and actions with your goals and get you back on the track of getting things done. Seeing your ambitions in black and white will refocus your mind effectively.
Often, the best way to give yourself a kickstart is to simply take action. It almost doesn't matter what this action is - it could be a piece of administrative work, some light research for a new project or even something completely unrelated to your business.
Once you start moving, your energy will usually begin to flow back and you can switch to something a little more intensive. However, don't begin anything that could turn toward displacement activity - avoid social media at all costs, for example, unless it is a necessary part of your work schedule.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the size of your to-do list, then it can be helpful to bring it back down to size by scrapping the less important and urgent items. Take a close look at which jobs really need to be done first. This will help give you a little more clarity and generate a burst of motivation.
There are many tools that can help you prioritize and stay focused. Try and keep your list of activities to just 2-3 important activities in a day and make them happen. Once you start seeing that you are able to tackle the 2-3 important tasks for the day, you will feel energized and motivated. You can even reward yourself to keep the motivation going.
When you know you've got things to do but you're not in the right frame of mind, it's easy to become frustrated and angry with yourself. This is unlikely to improve matters. If you’re not the type who can step back and reflect on your own, try talking to a coach or mentor.
A coach will ask you questions that will help you reflect and come up with answers that a really very personal to you. The coach will also help you with planning out your action steps and will help you with holding yourself accountable.
If you speak to a mentor, they may be able to share their own experience of snapping out of inaction and low energy situations. Some of those ideas might resonate with you.
Finally, sometimes it's really better to just step away for a while rather than allow yourself to become frustrated with your lack of motivation and results. Take some time off to recharge. Physical activity can be really rejuvenating – walking, running, playing a sport, etc can help revive your energy levels and make you feel better about yourself. Meditation, digital detox, short staycations, are some other options to explore.
Hope these ideas help you snap out of inertia if you’re experiencing one. While it is not humanly possible to be driven and energetic all the time, but as an entrepreneur, you can't afford to let your low-productivity days come around too often or stay too long . By using one or more of these tips, you can get back in the groove and start pushing your business forward once again.
Want to discuss a challenge you're facing with managing your business? Click on the Request Consultation button above or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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