Seven Fundamental Questions For Coming Out Of This Crisis Stronger

With "StrAgility" providing an ever-present prompt, coming out of this crisis stronger is initiated by seven fundamental questions:

  1. What strategic imperatives define future success?
  2. What culture do we have today (roots)? What culture do we need tomorrow (wings) to maintain/add to our competitive position?
  3. What makes us special? What core business competency or unique capability can we ill-afford to dilute or lose? What supports our value proposition that is sacrosanct?
  4. What technology shortfalls do we need to address? Where could we employ technology to give us an immediate competitive advantage?
  5. Where and in what ways do we need to become more agile?
  6. Moving forward, what leadership strengths are we able to build on? What succession concerns have emerged as a result of this crisis?
  7. As we start to create tomorrow's organization today, are we meeting the needs of all of our stakeholders?

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" - a complementary book series, specifically aimed at enhancing the way leaders respond to times of crisis. Download your complementary copy today

The Organisation Of Tomorrow?

Although much still needs to be done around organisation design the way forward is clear. The organisation we need to have top of mind as we come down the mountain - enabling us to come out of the COVID-19 crisis stronger - must display five qualities:

  • Fast
  • Flat
  • Focused
  • Flexible
  • Fertile (to new ideas)

We need to add "strong" because agility without strength is fragility - to break easily. "Strength" also implies a strong balance sheet, strong values, a strong brand, strength drawn out of diversity & inclusion and a strong team at the top. Being strong also speaks to the ability, especially in the most chaotic times, to make tough decisions.

Leaders, faced with a new challenge, all too often default into what worked in the past. Our brain is wired to save energy. Faced with a new problem or challenge, the default response is to replay a past behavioural repertoire that was assumed to be successful. We have to train ourselves or be coached to see new issues in a new way (mindset), starting with letting go of what worked in the past.

The need for agility clearly isn't limited to the organisation. And leadership clearly can't simply amount to more of the same. The behaviour we celebrated in the past has to give way to a very different sense of what it means to be a leader.

Optimism, hard work and passion (PASS-Inspiration-ON) as always, are the start of it - in that the more things change, the more some things stay the same. Comfort with ambiguity, tech savvy, resilience, coaching mystery, the capacity to build great teams and cultural adaptability (work concurrently in different cultures) are clearly part of it. But leadership agility (conceptual, practical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and learning agility) is at the heart of it.

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis".

What Is Stakeholder Value?

"Stakeholder Value" is an idea being given a good deal of positive support by the who's who of business. Following their meeting in August 2019, the Business Roundtable released a new statement on "the purpose of a corporation". Signed by 181 top CEOs, they committed to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders. That society is demanding a voice in the way businesses are run and is further endorsed by a change in corporate law in the UK in 2019. Companies on the London Stock Exchange must now report on both the "Employee's Voice" and "Corporate Culture."

Expect Boards to be far more involved in organisation culture in the future. Having run sessions on culture for Board members it's interesting to note that they quickly move from interest to enthusiasm once they realise that culture can and should be measured. Meanwhile, businesses that are truly stakeholder-driven have no problem attracting and retaining top talent. Patagonia, for example, receives 9,000 applicants for every internship.

Stakeholder value is also changing how intelligent organisations think about branding. Brand is more than a symbolic representation of the product or service being offered – it's the organisation's story simply told through compelling imagery and rich language. If, in the future, that story doesn't endorse the organisation's social and environmental contribution know that consumers will look to a brand that does.

George Wallace, Chief Executive, MHE Retail, put it this way:

"Brands that can show they are putting people or the environment ahead of sheer profit will be rewarded by consumers and employees and enhance the way they consider the brand."

Expect COVID-19 to transform a soft want into a hard need.

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis".

The "New Normal"

A good deal is being written describing the "new normal". There is no need to speculate. We are already living the new normal:

  • Ongoing disruption
  • A need for a different kind of leader
  • The challenge of implementing emerging technology
  • Recalibrating the organisation's clock speed to a marketplace ever-demanding of shorter lead times


  • Complexity
  • Uncertainty
  • The challenge of a millennium workforce
  • Gig employment
  • Fractures in international relations
  • The existential threat we, in passing, refer to as "the environment"
  • A severe shortage of top talent

You are starting to describe the world not as it will be, but where we are NOW!

The challenge we face isn't simply about skills and capability. The disruptive, tech-driven, speed-oriented world we have created demands a very different way to think about what it means to be an organisation:

  • Ideas-driven
  • Agile, and
  • Built to learn faster than future competition.

"Today is the fastest things have ever been and the slowest they will ever be."
- John Burdett, Leadership Advisor to TRANSEARCH International

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis".

Coming Down the Mountain: Coming Out Of This Crisis Stronger

Breakthrough technology, uncertainty and the unprecedented and ever-increasing speed of change demand an organisation that is a fit for the challenges of the 21st century. We are describing not just a better, but a very different kind of way to operate. An organisation built to change; one where disruption, agility and speed of learning dominate the leadership conversation.

Which brings us to the COVID-19 crisis. A crisis has three stages. Stage one: acceptance. Stage two: survival. Stage three: growth. And the winners will be? Those who come out of this crisis stronger.

Amid the veritable avalanche of "me too" advice on how to get through this crisis it is easy to overlook two central questions:

  1. "How will your business come out of this stronger?"
  2. "As a leader, how will you personally come out of this stronger?"

"Part One: Coming Down the Mountain" looks at how to come out of this crisis stronger:

  • The Three Stages of Crisis
  • Letting Go of Our Past
  • Following a Script From a Different Century
  • The New Normal
  • Coming Down the Mountain
  • Why Culture Matters
  • Next Steps
  • Appendix one: 3 X 3: Crisis, Culture and Change
  • Mindset Assessment: Will You come Out of This Crisis Stronger?

Download your complementary copy today »

Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis

"Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" is a complementary book series, specifically aimed at enhancing how leaders respond to times of crisis.

The books cover concepts such as how to come out of this crisis stronger, culture, leadership agility and learning, what makes great teams. Also included are essential skills to enable us to start having conversations about moving forward while taking appropriate actions.

Read on for more information about the book series:

Or, Download Now

Coming Down the Mountain

Part One, Coming Down the Mountain, looks at how to come out of this crisis stronger:

  • The Three Stages of Crisis
  • Letting Go of Our Past
  • Following a Script From a Different Century
  • The New Normal
  • Coming Down the Mountain
  • Why Culture Matters
  • Next Steps
  • Appendix one: 3 X 3: Crisis, Culture and Change
  • Mindset Assessment: Will You come Out of This Crisis Stronger?

The Culture Conversation

Recognising, as we move forward, how important organisation culture is, Part Two outlines the Culture Conversation:

  • The Culture Carriers
  • Look, Listen, Learn
  • The Building Blocks
  • Culture Is A System
  • Is the Organisation Managing Its Culture?
  • What Makes the Business Special?
  • One Culture or Many?
  • Measurement
  • Strategy Versus Culture
  • A Team of Teams
  • Without Leadership You Ain't Got Much
  • The Orxestra Change Model
  • Culture Assessment

Leadership, Learning and Agility: The Way Of The Dolphin

Part Three explores the need for leadership agility and what that implies: Leadership Agility and Learning - The Way of the Dolphin:

  • Agility is a Way to Think
  • Bass and the Shark
  • Agility and Speed of Learning
  • The Way of the Dolphin
  • Conclusion
  • Assessment: How Good a Coach Are You?

Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams

Drawing on the reality that tomorrow's organisation will be a team of teams, Part Four examines what it means to be an outstanding team - Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams:

  • Who We Were is Who We Are
  • It's All About Culture
  • Organisational Lessons from Nature
  • The Organisation of Tomorrow
  • Building a Great Team
  • Team Assessment

When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper - It's Time To Sharpen Your Saw

Part Five moves beyond leadership as a philosophy and drills down into essential skills - When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper, It's Time to Sharpen Your Saw:

  • Are You The Leader They Need?
  • Assessing Your Organisation's Leadership Balance
  • If Ever There Was a Time to Listen - It’s Now
  • The Listening Tree
  • To Lead Is To Care
  • 50 Ways To Say You Care - In a Covid World
  • If You Are Not Living Your Own Story, You Are Living Someone Else's
  • Resilience Assessment

Download your complementary copy of "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" from TRANSEARCH Downloads.

Tomorrow's Leaders Are Culture Savvy

Culture is a complex system that is only as strong as its weakest parts. Moreover, if a piece is missing it doesn't work. An engaged workforce doesn't mean you are heading in the right direction. Organisation values are essential but on their own they are not enough.

Conventional wisdom suggests that culture follows strategy. The dilemma is that in a world where strategy is persistently under attack, "the plan" has to be constantly revisited. The new dictum is culture enables strategy. What endures, what provides the platform for growth, what shapes future performance, what enables different strategic scenarios to unfold … is the organisation's culture.

The challenge, of course, is not merely to possess a strong culture but to build a business environment that shapes how people act and, at the same time, supports emerging strategic scenarios. This speaks to changing the patterns of play, measurement, the ability to shape the culture conversation, bringing middle managers on board and inspirational leadership.

Even where all the building blocks of culture are in place, if the leader in question lacks the ability to take people places they otherwise would not go, you still don't have much!

Our own research - and that of others - suggests that only 20% of organisations manage their culture. Power moves into a vacuum. If you are not managing your culture someone else is! And if those at the helm lack culture savvy take it as a given - the future of the business lies in the wrong hands.

And the difference that makes a difference: Recognise that culture is managed from the outside-in but demands leadership from the inside-out; provide structure and guidance into how to have the culture conversation; become a storyteller; measure culture and work diligently to uncover (global) best practice - then improve on it. Our species are, above all else, copying machines with an inherent desire to be better than all the rest.

Insights from "Tomorrow's Leadership Will Be Different".

Tomorrow's Leaders Are Comfortable With Ambiguity

There are points in time when the more we know, the more we realise how little we know. We are in such a time. The future role of robotics/cobotics, the nature and design of tomorrow's corporation, the potential impact of medical breakthroughs and how tomorrow's technology, generally, is going to shape the endeavour – arguably, the most innovative creation our species has ever achieved – that we call "the organisation" remain, at best, "uncertain". If you think you "know", take an aspirin, lie down and hopefully the feeling will pass.

"Anticipation" is to identify that which can be expected. We don't really know what tomorrow holds other than … to expect the unexpected. Furthermore, the scope and nature of change that lies ahead isn't like passing through bad weather. It's akin to being engulfed by a hurricane that is merely a harbinger of the even bigger storm front that lies ahead.

"Comfort with ambiguity" is being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It's the art of not knowing but, when necessary, making the right decision anyway. It's far less about being right than it is doing the right things. It's about interpreting the organisation's values as a springboard for action and providing the freedom to move beyond what has been – not as a restrictive set of rules.

There is a well-established relationship between entrepreneurship and comfort with ambiguity. It's called risk. Recognising a great idea, relentless focus, a results-driven mentality and real-time awareness are the mark of the entrepreneur. As is avoiding, what Jeff Bezos calls, "day 2 stasis." Day 1 leaders keep the customer at the centre of everything they do, are quick to embrace meaningful trends, are paranoid about the bottom line and fail fast and move on. Most leaders see rejection as a setback. Entrepreneurs view it as just one more step on the road to success. Above all, successful entrepreneurs know how and when to say no. Corporate executives manage risk … entrepreneurs live it every day.

There is also an important team dimension to comfort with ambiguity. As a long-suffering child of the perceived need for rigid hierarchy, it has long been assumed that the team worked for the team leader. "Fast", "flat", "flexible", "focused" and "fertile" changes all that. Moving forward, the leader will work for the team. This implies a far subtler relationship; a bond where formal authority gives way to trust, mutual respect and the quest for authenticity. Instruction and "telling" were relatively straightforward. Followership rooted in influence moves the leader into far murkier waters. Not that there is much of a choice when technical know-how and customer insight are shared across the team. If you can't coach, you can't lead!

And the difference that makes a difference: Recognise that only those who can see what others cannot see … can do what others say cannot be done. Differentiate between those who deliver based on what is asked of them and those who show true initiative. Support the former … invest in the latter.

Insights from "Tomorrow's Leadership Will Be Different".

What Does A Passion To Learn Look Like?

Now, more than ever, leaders are readers. And they go out of their way to share the learning involved with those around them. Continuously learning how to learn speaks to moving to the edge of your comfort zone. It captures a leadership approach where stepping into new space is obligatory. It's about letting go of the past and coming to terms with taking emotional risk. Curiosity is the start of it, acquiring new skills is part of it, but learning how to learn is the heart of it.

What does a passion to learn look like? It starts with a great question. It implies constantly challenging the way things are. It demands reflection. It becomes a habit through self discipline. Listening, meanwhile, is nothing less than the, all essential, lubricant of learning. As for follow-up, without it, what we are describing is little more than "a nice conversation". Follow-up means not only following through … but sharing the learning with the team and beyond.

And the difference that makes a difference: Pass both the process and the learning content to those whose behaviour you seek to change. It's a matter of more "power to" and less PowerPoint … especially when seeking to draw the best out of recent generational cohorts to the workforce. Nurture the assumption that, ultimately, how we learn is more important than what we learn.

Insights from "Tomorrow's Leadership Will Be Different".

Tomorrow's Leaders Must Be Resilient

Tomorrow will be different. If it can be digitalised it will be digitalised. No matter what "protectionist" politicians may preach, globalisation isn't going to slow down any time soon. Tomorrow's competition will emanate from a city you have never heard of or business sector you rarely think of. And where organisational capability is widely held, "speed" becomes the basis of competitive advantage. Be bold or become irrelevant. Be tough-minded or tackle a new line of work. Be fast or be last.

In a steady state world, "bouncing back" is an apt way to describe resilience. Unfortunately, we don't live in a steady, consistent, unchanging world. Today's environment is marked by disorder, uncertainty and, where technology is involved, a pattern of change where each step is greater than the step that went before. What was frustrating is about to become even more so.

In any conversation around change, language isn't important … it's everything. With the scope and nature of change likely to become even more turbulent, resilience seen as a way to reinforce/retain the status quo isn't very helpful. Indeed, it's misleading. A more relevant approach presents resilience as adapting to the new state, reflecting on the experience and developing new ways to behave. It's a dynamic rather than a static process. It's about leading and learning … not absorbing and then acting as before.

Resilience means not only weathering the storm … but being strengthened by it. In assuming that resilience defines an individual's personal resources - as is invariably the case - we miss an important piece of the puzzle. Context matters and the right network, a support system and being around positive people make a difference. Tomorrow's successful leaders will surround themselves with people who are resilient.

Accepting the plasticity of the brain, we can learn to become more resilient. There is a link, for example, between resilience and the research on positive psychology. Conversely, for leaders who are overly anxious, risk-averse, trapped by yesterday's success, have difficulty facing adversity or are simply overwhelmed by life, resilience is spelt "resistance."

And the difference that makes a difference: Surround yourself with resilient people, provide an opportunity to assess personal resilience, make resilience a central plank in ongoing coaching and help high performers connect with and shape their own story. There is nothing more tragic than those not living their own story … because they are living someone else's.

Insights from "Tomorrow's Leadership Will Be Different".

2020 HR Leaders Survey Results

In June and December 2020 The Bedford Consulting Group took the opportunity to survey Canadian HR leaders on how they were seeing their respective organisations change and what the lasting impacts might be, focusing on business performance, how we work, culture and leadership trends. The HR survey results provide valuable insight to help you approach and position your organisation for success in 2021 and beyond.

Read "2020 HR Leaders Survey Results" leadership insights