“History teaches us that global shocks often result in strategic inflection points. They alter the nature of competition, usually in ways that aren’t obvious, and the winners are usually companies that act boldly and take risks.” - Fortune Magazine
Commercial enterprises are transforming at increasing velocity seeking to deliver value at a time when the future remains less than certain. We know that post Covid will be different in almost every dimension and will present new challenges while, yet, offering great opportunities.
So, what’s needed to win now in today’s “foggy windows?”
We have regular and confidential conversations with CEOs and boards about the challenges that they are facing currently and how they are positioning to win the future. Recently, we asked CEOs two pressing questions which underscored the heart of many of the challenges discussed with us:
- How do you keep balanced, track financial and competitive performance while continually transforming?
- When, and under what conditions, is it appropriate to bend your foundational “cultural unwritten rules” to enhance speed and agility?
Here’s what learned.
Establishing clear priorities, even in times of uncertainty, is essential.
This is where the CEOs believe that their leadership matters most.
Keen to continually transform, executive teams are facing unprecedented change and challenges from the acceleration of digital initiatives, remote and the inevitable re-skilling of workforces, and overall diversity, equity and inclusion (from window dressing to actions) forcing rethinking and adjustments to the assumed “cultural unwritten rules.” A CEO’s success and their own and team leadership’s performance scorecards will directly reflect how effectively and efficiently they adjust culture and apply these “unwritten rules” to realign their structure and organizational talent to move faster while gaining traction.
A leader’s passion and actions, which are carefully observed internally and from the outside in, determine whether the “cultural unwritten rules” are really the way their teams operate or “just words.” They suggest and emphasize how responsibilities are expected to be carried out throughout the organization and how progress will be benchmarked. They are “the” fundamentals of building of team trust, the alchemy of successful outcomes and are critical in identifying and evaluating the necessary talent that will “bend the curve.”
Admittedly, there are no clear and universal “holy grail” answers as each company’s strategic journey and its leaders are unique with differing perspectives, priorities, and expected outcomes. That being said, the CEOs all recognized being at a crossroad … determining the “sweet spot” of they moving too quickly leaving their teams behind or not pressing to move fast enough creating risks that are costly to redress.
Predicting and selecting the “who” remains the key to winning … the usual evaluative process rarely is enough.
Today isn’t like the past and the assumed tried and true approaches although comforting, with increasing frequency, aren’t resulting in winning now outcomes. Admittedly, past performance markers such as experiences and track records still matter but looking forward, it’s not nearly enough to evaluate who can leap and successfully lead.
In times of rapid change, the trick, as CEOs opined, is about determining the “who” and “how”… identifying subtle success markers when clear answers aren’t readily apparent in appointing leaders. This is especially necessary when selecting who is “best” for taking on certain challenges and who is not “right” for others.
So, in successfully recruiting and promoting key executives over several decades, today, in addition, critical and predictive judgments are needed to evaluate and project whether an executive leader will be odds on to deliver value given a company’s unique “cultural unwritten rules.”
This isn’t by any means a simple evaluation nor are there fail-safe metrics to apply. It requires leadership to invest in being clear, concise and honest in identifying the critical factors of how decisions really are taken. And then, critically judging how an executive will perform against these critical success factors. Without insights into a company’s unique elements of fit, gaining transformative value on who best should lead is like rolling the dice and coming up snake eyes. That’s why these judgmental assessments to select leaders that will outperform, especially now, is challenging but truly essential.
So, to win now, here are two points of guidance:
1. To gain traction, know what truly matters and avoid the less important. Align, benchmark and evaluate the performance of your executives often and continually.
Don’t hang on to the past or be caught waiting for improvements by less than stellar leaders. In a world where speed and torque matter, when you determine that a leadership change is inevitable, don’t hesitate to move quickly but methodically.
2. Win to win. Select executives who will drive a leadership culture that truly differentiates.
Knowing who you know, or know of, limits the opportunity to bring new optics, while giving into the comfort of your current situation limits collective leadership perspective.
Prepare your selected leaders to pivot more seamlessly, translating and, at times, rewriting the “cultural unwritten rules.” Assure that your teams are aware of, and live by, the importance of flexibility required now to apply resources and adjust readily as priorities, economic conditions and the competitive landscape dictate.
The bottom line is this…
Beyond “check the box” competences and business experiences, the most successful teams are led by those that are passionate and highly curious, with track records of successfully addressing and adjusting the “why, the who and how” in change leadership positions. These culturally attuned leaders are in high demand. They are clear on the importance of building collaborative trust around “winning together,” the alchemy of creating substantial upsides. And, they won’t settle for less from themselves or their teams.
If your executives aren’t fully attuned, change out those that can’t deliver on this paradigm or risk that you will fall far short of what can, and should, be high octane performance needed to achieve exceptional outcomes.
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