Leading Change When Business is Not-As-Usual

Leading Change When Business is Not-As-Usual

Today’s business environment is fast-paced and unyielding. Falling behind is not an option.


In partnership with Forbes Insights, we conducted a survey of 400 top global executives to discover their perspectives on the challenges to delivering great business performance.


Overwhelmingly, 95% of the executives believed business to be “not-as-usual” and 90% did not think the current environment to be business-friendly.


Upon further reflection, the key issues these executives indicated they were facing—disruption via disintermediation, the next generation digital consumer, and economic volatility—have further intensified in recent months. Escalating trade wars, a widening wage-gap in the workforce, and increasing numbers of climate-change related events have further amplified the struggles executives face.


The demanding and shifting business environment continues to require a change in how leaders think and act. While this kind of change takes effort, and may be uncomfortable or seem unnecessary for leaders currently running successful businesses, the biggest threat is a leader who remains firmly planted in today’s success, unable to move to a new place.


Old ways will no longer work. Executives who do not continually reframe their mindset and adapt to the new challenges will most certainly be left behind. The pace of change is only accelerating, driven by technology innovations such as machine learning, cognitive computing, and increased automation.


Fortunately, executives recognize this need for change. In our survey, when asked about the most important characteristics in a leader today, the majority cited flexibility, open-mindedness, and curiosity as most critical. These traits were distinctly rated above experience and even having a proven, successful track record.


But even though leaders see a need for change, and can value the potential benefits of new ways of working, the majority of business processes are firmly rooted in knowledge, data, and the current business reality. Having more evidence of the need for change doesn’t necessarily lead to how to actually change.


Three broad themes emerged for executives to attend to and develop in their organizations, all of which prompt looking at the future differently. We will summarize below, and expand these themes in upcoming posts.


The first theme is Forming Partnerships and Fostering Culture. The lines between companies and competitors continue to blur, and companies developing a culture of collaboration and interdependence will benefit from the fluid transfer of the best thinking, to produce the best outcomes.


Surveyed executives indicated the need for a different kind of collaboration in order to keep pace with market evolutions and gain ground delivering key initiatives. The pace and spread of information makes it impossible to go it alone anymore. Collaboration cannot remain a nice-to-have tactic, and instead must become a fundamental mindset of successful cultures.


The next theme is The New Customer Courtship, which fundamentally moves beyond how companies have traditionally viewed customers and how to serve them. New consumers tend to be more fickle, but more demanding, less loyal to brands and companies, but prolific influencers and sharers when they like (or dislike!) something. Marketplace noise has made it more difficult for companies to pierce through to customers and stay relevant.


Leaders and companies can no longer get by on simply fulfilling customer needs, and in fact must establish a new type of “customer oneness” where everything begins and ends with the customer. In a world dominated by technology and automation, the value of brilliant human interaction will only increase.


Leading by Reinvention is the third theme and highlights the need for continuous and relentless innovation. Smaller competitive companies, although often not as resourced, continue to find ways to go directly to customers and bypass the normal cycles of innovation. And while transformation through technology has become a major focus and concern, organizations continuing to invest in building flexibility and open-mindedness into their culture remains paramount. Evolutions in culture and how people think and work tend to be a key driver behind successes with new technology.


Above all, pursuing a more ambitious business agenda gives executives an edge to rethink and redesign old ways of working, spurring innovation for growth before crisis can take root. New approaches to work, such as creating possible partnerships even with competitors, must be considered as part of the change. And investing in people and culture will keep people in the forefront as the true innovators and change-makers.


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