The accelerating rate of change, the digital revolution that is engulfing us, shaping an organisation that, of necessity, will look very different from organisations in the past – means that tomorrow's leadership will be very different.
It doesn't stop there, though. What social, economic, political, marketplace and forces internal to the business define tomorrow's challenge/opportunity? How will iGen and millennials define the emerging organisation culture? How will gig #employment, crowdsourcing and social media define the nature of work? What disruptive technologies lie just over the horizon? In what ways will the shortage of top talent limit what's possible?
No matter the size and location – when the context changes it changes for every organisation and every leader.
The organisation that got us here won't get us to where we need to be. The environment, and social and corporate governance (ESG) on their own demand new ways to think and act. Factor in the urgent need for diversity and inclusion, a whole generation who are disenfranchised economically, the combined and unrelenting forces of digitalisation, talent shortages, remote employment, market entrants that reinvent the sector, the avalanche of disruptive technology that lies just around the corner and we have little choice but to uncover new ways to organise.
Shareholder value » Stakeholder value - Unless all of the stakeholders count, none of the stakeholders count.
Leadership based on "same as me" » Leadership recognising the value of diversity - The greater the difference on the team, the greater the difference the team can make.
Strategy dominates the executive conversation » Culture takes centre stage - Long after the strategy has been shredded, what will endure is your culture.
From Head (direction) and Hand (delivery) only leadership » Leadership that also engages the Heart (developing) and enriches the Spirit (authenticity, empathy) - Leadership balance: Head, Hand, Heart and Spirit.
Rewards, benefits, goals and corrective feedback are the dominant force in shaping behaviour » A compelling purpose and work that matches capability with opportunity - Unless all of the stakeholders count, none of the stakeholders count.
A mindset where the employee supports the customer » The employee is treated as if they were a customer - Happy customers draw on happy employees.
A culture of feeling disillusioned, disconnected and discontented » A culture where there is a genuine sense of belonging - Research suggests that a sense of belonging is the single most important factor in retention.
A business development process dominated by "How do we make money from this relationship?" » A business development process that focuses on "How do we best contribute to the customer's/client's success?" - Without trust, you ain't got much.
An organisation reliant upon hierarchy » An organisation that is Focused, Flat, Fast, Flexible, and Fertile to new ideas - The organisation is a team of teams.
The team works for the leader » The leader works for the team - Servant leadership prevails.
A platform where "what" people learn has precedence » A setting where "how" people learn becomes the priority - Speed of learning is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage.
A reliance on rules » A climate where the organisation's values give people permission to act - Research suggests globally only about 15% of employees are engaged.
The organisation that got us here won't get us to where we need to be. The environment, and social and corporate governance (ESG) on their own demand new ways to think and act. Factor in the urgent need for diversity and inclusion, a whole generation who are disenfranchised economically, the combined and unrelenting forces of digitalisation, talent shortages, remote employment, market entrants that reinvent the sector, the avalanche of disruptive technology that lies just around the corner, and we have little choice but to uncover new ways to organise.
The organisational shift demanded falls firmly within the realm of the organisation's culture. Culture is a system. Systems thinking means striving to understand the relationship between each element. And this is where the organisation's values make their entrance. Values are a loadstone, a core/central element in culture that brace (link) the other elements; in particular, the four central pillars of organisation culture: purpose, diversity/inclusion, brand and speed.
A brand can be viewed as a competitive spear thrust into the marketplace. The value proposition sits at its tip. A truly winning value proposition spells out how the provider delivers distinct value. However, adding value versus creating value, prompts a very different way to think about business development.
A leader who only gets better at what they have always done is ultimately sowing the seeds of their own failure. What will success in the role look like three to five years from now? What role-specific competencies define future performance?
The accelerating rate of change, the digital revolution that is engulfing us, shaping an organisation that, of necessity, will look very different from organisations in the past – means that tomorrow's leadership will be very different. It doesn't stop there, though. What social, economic, political, marketplace and forces internal to the business define tomorrow's challenge/opportunity? How will iGen and millennials define the emerging organisation culture? How will gig employment, crowdsourcing and social media define the nature of work? What disruptive technologies lie just over the horizon? In what ways will the shortage of top talent limit what's possible?
When the context changes it changes for every organisation – no matter the size and location – and every leader.
Five competencies, in particular, would appear to have future currency:
Digital direction: Anticipating where and how the emerging technology will change the strategic fortunes of the business. A willingness to act.
Leadership reach: The ability to work concurrently with very different people, in very different businesses, in different parts of the world.
Comfort with ambiguity: More interested in doing the right thing than being right, risk oriented, fails fast and moves on, leads through values and not edicts, comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Learning how to learn: Someone who reads, the courage to let go, curiosity, constantly challenging the status quo, willing to explore what's possible, pushing to the edge, a natural collaborator.
Culture savvy: Creating tomorrow's organisation today. Hiring and coaching with tomorrow's culture in mind. Building an organisation that displays a quality best defined as "StrAgility".
Defining tomorrow's leadership success is an imperative for: (1) the current leader; and (2) as a platform for developing a successor. Can the incumbent succeed into the role-specific they are currently in? Do they have a successor? Developing a successor is a fiduciary responsibility. It also means mastery in coaching.
1. Does your team regularly have a vibrant culture conversation?
Culture is the often overlooked, all-pervasive, enterprisewide, organisational DNA that dictates whether your strategy lands or if your brand sustains.
It's "a way to be" shaped by the past but continuously honed by the emerging business, social, economic, political and customer context.
2. Do you spend as much quality time on culture as you do on strategy?
It's become popular to use the expression "culture eats strategy for breakfast." It's colourful, catchy, engaging, provocative … and wrong!
In a world of uncertainty, the only thing that is predictable is that your strategy will be "subject to correction". Long after the strategy has been shredded, what will endure is the culture.
The new reality … culture enables strategy.
3. Is there clarity around what has made (and makes) the business successful?
A business exists primarily to create tomorrow's customer. Profit is obviously important but it's ultimately the outcome of doing the former well.
The organisation's culture delivers both the outwardlooking (why buy from us?) and the inwardfacing (why work for us?) value propositions. Of the two, the latter is more important.
If the brand promise doesn't live inside the organisation it can't live in the marketplace.
4. Are middle managers fully in the game?
No organisation of more than 150 or so people has one single and unified culture. The challenge becomes one of tight-loose leadership: allow local differences to flourish while, at the same time, develop an overarching 'meta' culture that ensures common values, consistency, connection, collaboration, caring for the customer and an unrelenting commitment to the whole.
And the group that binds everything together is the "middle managers". Moreover, they are the only group that can!
5. Do you measure culture?
If you don't know where you're going … don't be surprised if you don't get there. What we don't know we can't address. It's difficult to raise the bar if you don't know how high it is. It's essential, however, that the culture measurement express, in business terms, where the organisation's culture is (roots) and where the organisation's culture needs to be (wings).
If you don't measure culture, you can't manage it. No less important, culture is strategic. We need to understand both where we are and where we need to be.
6. Are all of the communication channels fully brought into play?
Today is the slowest things will ever be! Culture and change serve and support each other. In the midst of this ongoing tumult the question becomes "Who owns the culture?" The obvious answer is "everyone". A more considered answer might refer to the Board, the CEO or even the top team.
However, perpetuated through a need for inclusion, self-protection and loyalty to one's immediate group, it is the fluid and highly adaptable informal networks. And who "feeds" the informal organisation? Middle managers.
7. Do you hire/promote with "tomorrow's" culture in mind?
The world of work is changing and the very definition of "a job" is, perhaps, changing most of all. Into this maelstrom rides talent management. The metaphorical quarterback of talent management … who and how we hire.
Getting culture on the right track means identifying the right candidate. Not every now and then … but every time.
Who you hire determines what's possible.
John O. Burdett
John has extensive international experience as a senior executive. As a consultant he has worked in more than 40 countries. His extensive consulting around organisation culture encompasses, literally, some of the world's largest organisations. John's coaching work, meanwhile, embraces a number of international CEOs. His company, Orxestra Inc., enjoys a strategic partnership with TRANSEARCH International.
Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, says, "It doesn't matter how good your original product is, if you can't build a great company around it, the product won't endure." When Satya Nadella took over as CEO at Microsoft, in 2014, he told employees that his highest priority was the company's culture. He refers to culture as "the soul" of the organisation.
For a great organisation, culture isn't an abstract or vague concept … it's real … it speaks to people. It's not a competitive advantage … it's a competitive imperative.
Many forms of culture
Culture is a complex word. Its first official mention, in English, was in 1430 when the Oxford English dictionary stated that it meant "cultivation." Somewhere along the line culture stopped being about tilling the soil. Instead, it became synonymous with "the arts:" music, poetry, dance, opera, literature, painting and the like. Tilling the intellect!
In a different guise, culture distinguishes one tribe from another. Think about the elite education, polished accent, prescribed dress and required etiquette of the English upper class; the tattoos and street argot of a LA street gang; the shirts, scarfs and chants of Liverpool soccer supporters; and/or the conflict resolution rituals of the Yanomami, one of the most primitive and remote indigenous tribes of Amazonia. Fertilising the closed mind!
In yet one more form of expression, culture describes the habits, values, norms, ethos, organisation and identity of a community who work together in pursuit of a common purpose. The tribe is about exclusion; everyone has to look and act in the same way. Taken to its extreme the tribe emerges as a cult. The psychological polar opposite is a community built on inclusion, shared values and a respect for individual difference. If you want things to stay the same … act as if you are part of the tribe (cooperation, consensus, build walls).
If you recognise and embrace the need for change, think and behave as if you were part of a community (collaboration, trust, sharing). Internal tribes at war with each other are the best thing the competition has going for it. Ploughing a new furrow!
The culture challenge
Culture isn't a plaque in reception, a consulting exercise or a memo to all employees. It isn't limited to the organisation's values, exclusively the province of HR, a repackaged engagement survey or something you "do" and then forget about until this time next year. If the term never passed the CEO's lips your culture would still define what's possible. And it will change … whether you want it to or not. As a business, you are your culture. It's the essence of who you are. The good news is it's the one thing the competition can't usurp.
Culture within a business setting is a container for diversity. Here, one is faced with the law of requisite variety. For a system to sustain itself, it needs at least as much internal variety as exists in the environment in which it sits (context). If you look around your organisation or team and, for the most part, those involved all look and sound the same, know that you are ill-equipped for a world where ideas are the lifeblood of tomorrow's success.
The challenge culture presents is that it is the behavioural equivalent of the water in a goldfish bowl. We mostly don't know that it's there but it, nevertheless, sustains life. Have you ever thought how remarkable it is that at the end of the day hundreds, even tens of thousands, of employees go home and, without thinking about it, are able to pick up exactly where they left off the next morning? That's culture!
We are, as some would describe, at a 'hinge' in history. Our lives have changed forever. Bill Sakellaris outline 4 key ways COVID-19 has upended, and will continue to permanently change, our world of work:
Leadership, as it must be, is strategic. It's to step back, see the big picture and, to the extent possible, create tomorrow in the room, today. Covid is but one piece of a chaotic and ever changing political, economic, societal, business and interconnected leadership puzzle. At the centre of all of this is 'the team' … a basic and fundamental blueprint for organisational and personal success.
What follows is intended as a practical guide for:
Setting the scene for a virtual team.
A new or established leader who needs to take the team to the next level.
The executive who feels that, as the organisation navigates the turbulent waters of change, the team is losing its impact.
The HR executive, division head or external recruitment specialist (e.g., the executive search consultant) who, in orchestrating team fit, needs to understand the team they are hiring into.
A manager or external resource faced with the challenge of coaching the team.
In a post COVID world, organisational agility isn't something that is a 'nice to have.' It becomes more imperative as we realise the next Black Swan event might be just around the corner. Agility must be embedded into every aspect of the organisation's culture and must be integral to the organisation's design. It should be evident in the organisation's value proposition and must be evident in every customer touchpoint.
More than anything, agility is a way to think, it's a mindset, and as such, without 'leadership' you still don't have much. The type of leadership required exudes, encompasses, encourages, and expresses agility in everything the leader does. Which leads us to the 'The Way of the Dolphin'.
Leading the webinar is John O. Burdett, who has worked in over 40 countries as an executive and as a consultant for businesses that are household names. He has worked on, and continues to work on, leadership development and organisation culture, for some of the world's largest corporations. John has published 14 best-selling books on leadership, many of which can be downloaded from all the major online bookstores or by contacting your local TRANSEARCH office for a copy.
Employ the Head, Empower the Hand, Engage the Heart, and Enrich the Spirit (Part 1)
Four leadership domains
There are four things an employee (regardless of level) needs – not wants, needs – from their immediate team leader.
A clear sense of direction – where are we heading? How will the business environment evolve? Where and how is technology going to change the business? What will tomorrow look, sound and feel like? What is our unique point of differentiation? Who is tomorrow's customer? The head.
The discipline of delivery – a cadence, a rhythm, a regular and continuing pattern of behaviour where the agreed outcomes and feedback regarding those outcomes are always in sharp focus. It's about an organisation that, by way of design, is agile enough to support tomorrow's needed speed of delivery. In performance terms, it's the need for everyone on the team to know where they stand. The hand.
To provide a learning environment – mentoring, coaching, stretch, building the team, a focus on learning how to learn. Currency in the job market. The heart.
That the leader in question is someone who everyone on the team respects and trusts – consistent, authentic, affirming, displays humility, keeps people informed, is tough-minded when they need to be and, regardless of the circumstances, they listen, really listen. The spirit.
A consistent and compelling performance ethos, day-to-day focus, an engaged workforce, and a sense of belonging – all draw heavily on the four leadership domains outlined above.
Lack of leadership balance – behaviour skewed towards one of the above to the detriment of the others – and innovation and responsiveness become a lost cause. Meanwhile, failure to fully deliver against any one of these (four) leadership imperatives and for those you count on most, the grass will inevitably look greener elsewhere. Guaranteed!
To lead is to hire, promote and build for succession – at a level of excellence. Anything less is unacceptable. Nothing is more important. To be in a position of responsibility and lack mastery in hiring is to actively mismanage a critical business asset.
The head describes success in strategic terms.
The hand outlines what, specifically, needs to be achieved.
The heart captures the people management capability demanded.
The spirit is all about character. Character matters.
Talent acquisition, specifically, and talent management, generally, that fails to embrace all four leadership characteristics is a gateway to yet more recruitment.
It is obviously essential to be "customer-centric". But, what does that really mean?
The head implies being fully informed as to where the customer's business is heading. It's to understand the customer's emerging value proposition. It's to see opportunity through the customer's customer.
The hand means getting inside the customer's business processes, delivering on time and maintaining the highest level of quality.
The heart recognises that the buy-decision is based on emotion. Selling is not simply how well you get across what you do or even how well you do it – it's, ultimately, how you make the customer feel.
The spirit is found in truth, authenticity and living the organisation's values. Spirit comes to the fore in passion, perseverance and, when needed, patience. It is also about challenging those on the front-line to improve the processes that dictate how the work gets done – and do so every day, in every way.
The emerging culture
In shaping the emerging culture, leadership that draws on the head and the hand can be termed as "cultural drivers". Meanwhile, the heart and the spirit act like cultural anchors. If they are not present, in full measure, being who you have always been is the best that can be hoped for. Don't even think about implementing sweeping change (e.g., breakthrough technology) if the heart and the spirit are found wanting.
From our own research and the work of others, only one company in five "manage" their culture. Then again, the organisation's culture will change whether you want it to or not … if you are not attentive, in ways that are less than helpful.
So far so good, but even the leadership qualities outlined will likely not keep your high contributors on board should the right opportunity beckon. They need more … they need to be inspired. They need to believe that what we choose to call "work" is making the very best use of their time and ability. They need to be able to bridge the challenge they face today with what tomorrow's success will look and feel like.