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Leadership and responding to industry disruption

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Responding to industry disruption? Creeping normality and other adaptive leadership issues.

Most organisations are talking about disruption in their industry – energy, mining, finance, taxi cabs, hotels, health, education. Discussion about VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) is common, but understanding about what do about it is not.

And senior executives are frustrated about the slow rate of change in responding to this disruption.

Why aren’t organisations responding more quickly to disruption?

It’s not clear what is slowing down responses to disruption. It could be a combination of a few things:

Are they caught in creeping normality? Where disruption is increasing so incrementally that change is not noticeable – this is similar to Peter Senge’s ‘parable of the boiled frog’ eventually delivering a bad result for the frog/organisation. (for more, see Peter Senge’s 1990 book the Fifth Discipline)

Or, taking an idea from cognitive neuroscience – is change happening at a slow enough rate that it is not triggering our flight/fight/do something response? Are the “frozen”?

Or is it that they have too much invested in our current organisational life to pay attention to what may be happening – the economic perspective?

4 strategies leaders can implement to challenge creeping normality and respond to disruption

There are some things you can do to respond to disruption…

  1. Get people out and talking to customers, industry experts, or even other industries facing disruption – and bringing back what they have learnt
  • The design thinking experiment model is great for this and creates the expectation that leaders will go out and learn, then report what they’ve learnt, identifying implications for the organisation
  • It’s surprising how rarely middle level leaders feel they are not able to get out and talk to customers or clients. They often say things like “I don’t have time”, “Marketing won’t support it” “It’s my team’s job to do this”.
  1. Use your innovation strategy or leadership development program to create structure and permission for change
  • This is particularly important in industries where the leadership structure is key to making things happen, for example engineering or finance
  • Make sure that a few quick wins are implemented, and recognised otherwise momentum and motivation are lost
  • Identify which systems you can improve immediately that will make everyone’s KPIs get delivered eg, reducing time to market for products.
  1. Be an adaptive leader – take time out to review your strategy at least once a week

For leaders, being action oriented is addictive – it’s great to solve problems. But the changing business environment, and the actual or potential disruption of almost every industry needs a more strategic perspective.

You have probably heard of the Balcony and Dancefloor concept from Heifetz and Linsky’s book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. In essence, taking action is being on the Dancefloor – absolutely necessary at times. Being strategic requires a shift in mindset to being on the Balcony looking at the Dancefloor, or multiple Dancefloors.

Getting on the Balcony

Here are some leadership strategies to get you on the Balcony:

  • Allocate 1 hour per week in your diary to reviewing your own behavioural contributions to responding to disruption, recording how you have helped or hindered your organisation’s responses to disruption. And what you are aiming to do next week
  • Allocate another hour per week in your diary to reviewing how the organisation is responding to disruption and what else you want to do about it
  • Create a compelling story about the need to change and communicate the story constantly.

For example, a leader (after a leadership development program) found an additional 10 hours per week by delegating non critical meetings, and using those 10 hours to identify key strategies for the business, including creating new relationships with Indian businesses, likely to bring in millions of dollars.

  1. Identify the new behaviours that will support you in learning about and responding to disruption – be specific and include them in your leadership capability framework, KPIs or strategy. Examples include:
  • Spend 30% of your time talking with people outside the organisation about what’s changing in the industry
  • Bring 20 new product ideas back from meetings with people outside of the organisation and prototype them, tracking and reporting results
  • Reduce time to market for new products by 50% (or in government agencies, implementing a new policy) through reviewing process and systems collaboratively across the organisation.

A large multi-national company significantly reduced time to market through leveraging a leadership development program to build cross-business thinking. The leadership development program design used the company’s real-world business issues as the foundation for testing out new approaches to innovation.

Amanda J Martin

amanda@proofofleadership.com

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Increasing complexity is changing how we develop leaders

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21st century organisations operate in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable environment with intractable challenges for which there is no single ‘right’ solution[i].

In this context, leaders are faced with a work environment characterised by high levels of complexity and change requiring exceptional levels of personal maturity, people leadership and change agility[ii].

At the same time there are increasing expectations and demands of leaders in business and in the broader political and social context. Where are the good leaders to come from? How are they to be educated and supported in their work? And what are the core capabilities they need to be successful? [iii]

Primary leadership capabilities for complexity

Research and experience indicates these capabilities include:

  • ensuring delivery of enterprise-wide performance and the culture to support it
  • developing the relationship skills and acumen required to influence, negotiate and collaborate with stakeholders effectively
  • building capacity to deal with ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty
  • strengthening self-insight and emotional regulation as a foundation for development
  • understanding leadership styles and identity, and when to shift these to more effectively lead
  • developing capacity to monitor and challenge personal and others’ mindsets and behaviours [iv]
  • focusing on managing energy to support team performance and development[v].

 Addressing these challenges: developing leaders and leadership

To address these challenges, development needs to focus not only on individual capability but also organisational capability[vi].

Leadership development can no longer be simply described as an individual characteristic or capability but rather as a collective or group activity using a relational, strategic global and complex social dynamic[vii].

How to take action?

The next time you’re creating a leadership program, it’s useful to consider your program objectives – should you be focusing only on development of each individual, or should you also be building capability to build performance of the organisation in complexity.

[i] _O’Connell, P. K. 2013. A simplified framework for 21st century leader development. The Leadership Quarterly, Article in Press, 1-21.

[ii] Allen, S. J. & Middlebrooks, A. (2014). The challenge of educating leadership expertise. Journal of Leadership Studies, 6, 84-89.

[iii] Van Velsor, E. (2008). A Complexity Perspective on Leadership Development. Complexity Leadership Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. M. Uhl-Bien and R. Marion. Charlotte, North Carolina, Information Age Publishing Inc. 1: 333-346.

   [iv] Bunker, K. A., Kram, K. E., & Ting, S. (2002). The young and the clueless. Harvard Business Review, 80(12), 80–87.

[v] Cherry, Nita. 2015. Energising Leadership Oxford University Press

[vi] Day, D. V., Fleenor, J. W., Atwater, L. E., Sturm, R. E. & Mckee, R. A. 2014. Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25years of research and theory. The Leadership Quarterly, 25, 63-82

[vii] Uhl-Bien, M. & Marion, R. 2008. Introduction: Complexity Leadership-A Framework for Leadership in the Twenty-First Century. In: Uhl-Bien, M. & Marion, R. (eds.) Complexity Leadership Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing Inc.

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