8 Areas of Leadership Focus In Times Of Ongoing Disruption

In July last year I published a research and later and an eBook called REIGNITE! From Crisis To Opportunity In A COVID World. In light of a recent lockdown where I live (Guernsey) I thought it worth reflecting on what I wrote back then. To help I’ve pasted an infographic containing 8 areas where leaders should focus to rebuild their organisations.

Six months on and most (if not all) recommendations still remain, from prioritising digital investments, pushing ahead with smarter working policies, and leading with empathy. Whether or not organisations have implemented some or all of these is likely to be another story.

First And Second Order COVID Impacts

Every day there is a new story or report on how COVID will impact X, whether business, industry sector, country, health, your brain, and so on. This has been going for months, and obviously will continue for a long time.

In fact yesterday I posted about this in relation to the island I live (Guernsey).

I’ve since started a very basic list of these impacts. I’ve divided up into first order (direct) and second order impacts (indirect). I haven’t done so but I will need to categorise them.

Over time I’ll aim to build up in a database and post updates here. In the meantime, please feel to comment or add your perspectives here or on the socials.

First Order Impacts

  • Reduction of in-bound and outbound business and leisure travel
  • Increasing shift to online business development and sales
  • Increased e-commerce and local delivery needs
  • Increased demand for flexible and remote working
  • Increased home office improvement needs
  • Shifting social and psychological contract for workers and consumers
  • Increasing focus on mental health, wellbeing, worker and customer safety, trust
  • Office rationalisation due to safety measures and demand for flexible working
  • Smarter, frictionless offices with more automation, smartphone ID, facial recognition and refit for more experiential work e.g. client meets, collaboration, workshops, creativity, training
  • Increased demand for more use cases beyond shopping for contactless payments and frictionless ordering e.g. restaurants, cafes
  • Commercial real estate, higher education and executive training, and hospitality models upended

 Second Order Impacts

  • Trust, safety, culture differentiator for certain workplaces in areas
  • Potential migration away from over-populated major cities (e.g. UK) into second cities, regional or coastal areas
  • Universities unlikely to open meaning a significant number of ‘gap’ years for 18 year olds
  • Existing older leaders aim to cement positions and hold on to ‘power’ or a changing of the guard for new perspectives
  • Changing mix of workforce with more comfort for a ‘talent anywhere’ model
  • Requirement for more flexible resourcing with demand for more specialised contract and freelancers
  • New sectors developing hybrid on/offline business models for smarter, more relevant customer experiences e.g. education, gyms, training, retail
  • More public and private infrastructure development
  • Talent anywhere to hire the best wherever they are
  • Smarter, frictionless, reconfigured offices which may be provided as a perk
  • Smart phone use cases in-store increase e.g. digital ID, office access, ordering in-store
  • Privacy issues around any contact tracing services
  • Retail high-streets and commercial workplaces continue to transform with more residential housing

The CEO Gig Has Now Become 100x Tougher

COVID-19 has brought with it a pressurized operating environment the likes of which few of today’s CEOs have ever experienced—it has “unfrozen” many aspects of the CEO role.

I came across a new article from McKinsey today which I could have summarised in 7 words: The CEO Gig Has Now Become 100x Tougher.

It is worth a read but beware as if you are an aspiring leader it may put you off from your ambition to descend to the top job.  The article focuses on the need for leaders to make 4 major shifts:

  • Aspire 10x higher
  • Show up every day with humanity
  • Fully embrace stakeholder capitalism
  • Harness the power of P2P networks

I’ll have a wild guess and estimate that 1 in 10 leaders will make the full shift, 3 will intentionally try, and maybe 1-2 will have no choice but to try.

“When the pressure decreases, will CEOs go back to operating as they did before? Or will the role at the top be thoughtfully reconsidered and reconceived by those who occupy it? Clearly, not every CEO will choose to make permanent the four shifts we’ve discussed. The more that CEOs do, however, the more the moment has the potential to become a movement—one that could create higher-achieving, more purposeful, more humane, and better-connected leaders” – McKinsey

It will be very interesting to see what happens over time, and which way leaders go.

 

The REIGNITE! 2020 Report

“Many have compared the COVID crisis to armed conflict … Once this war against an invisible enemy is over, our ambitions should be bolder – nothing less than to make a fit planet for our grandchildren to live on”Mark Carney, Former Governor, Bank of England

After a few months of research, analysis and writing during lockdown, I am pleased to be able to finally share insights from one of the largest single studies of strategic responses of Guernsey firms to the COVID-19 pandemic (“crisis”) conducted to date.

You can access the full report here, or below I have pasted in the key sections.

Background

Between April and June, I surveyed 439 senior leaders across Guernsey, UK, EU, US, APAC using a 15 question open-ended online survey (see below):

Strategic-Response-Roadmap-(SRRM)

Why?

Given the nature and scale of the pandemic, this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for organisational behaviouralists to understand what is going on in terms of how firms, leaders, employees and other stakeholders are responding over time.

Specifically, for leaders and firm the findings hopefully help with the following:

New Insight: Leaders and teams can better understand the strategic responses of large and small firms across many different sectors to the crisis, and the complex consequences, behaviour, and implications it has had on firms, people and customers

Priorities: Leaders and teams can learn about the priority focus areas and big opportunities for leaders to better structure and get to work to rebuild and reignite performance

Behaviours: Leaders and teams can learn the new leadership styles, cultural behaviours, mindsets, and ways of working needed to turn crisis into opportunity

Key Findings:

We identified 6 areas of insight for leaders and firms:

  1. Evolution AND Revolution

  • 5-10 years of change in 5 weeks for many sectors
  • Rapid acceleration of many pre-existing structural trends (e.g. cloud, flexible work, e-commerce, up-skilling) and new behaviours likely to endure
  • For many change will likely be evolutionary but for others it will be revolutionary with increasing pace of change e.g. retail.
  • Leaders must continuously identify, evaluate and scenario plan for the right market signals, trends and new consumer behaviours
  • Firms who don’t do this, get it wrong or go too slow risk disruption, market share loss or other business risks

OPPORTUNITY: The top 5 key trends impacting your firm today will provide the investment roadmap for your next 24 months

2. Trust As A Differentiator 

  • There are complex dynamics at play and business and moral imperatives for leaders to assess the impact of the crisis on the human psyche which has affected people in many different ways
  • The “psychological contract” between employer/employee has also shifted for many, and firms must now not assume ‘old’ practices were the right ones.
  • Traditional work assumptions have been challenged, as as well complex issues around safety, mental health, inclusivity, belonging, empathy, EQ, culture, power dynamics, and expectations on leadership styles 

OPPORTUNITY: The firms who get these complex dynamics right will become the new employers/brands of choice 2021+

3. Digital Acceleration 

  • The crisis has shown that rapid change at speed and scale is possible using digital and cloud in the short-term.
  • Rapidly advancing and converging technologies combined with increasing human capabilities, new business models and ways to organise and lead are needed.
  • Digital laggards and firms with limited customer-centricity will get left behind due to external forces and competitive intensity

OPPORTUNITY: Put digital at the centre of your corporate strategy, align leaders on digital acumen so every CXO is a Chief Digital Officer for their function, upskill workers, and prioritise the top3 digitising opportunities beyond back-office operations into more advanced worker productivity tools (e.g. automation, AI, analytics), superior customer experiences, new products/services and ecosystem collaborations/ventures

4. New Skills, Mindsets and Ways of Working

  • As a shift to ‘smarter working’ means different thing to different firms, it is important to define what it is, what it means for the firms and employees, and what are the expected behaviours, required, skills, mindsets, and ways of working.
  • Continued experimentation is required to engage with workforce, test models, gain feedback, learn best practices, and repeat, but the risk is many firms will likely revert to old habits and practices which will jeopardise trust with their talent
  • This process is critical as learnings will likely have firm-wide impacts to entire workforce and processes, practices, culture and strategies e.g. training, performance management, corporate values, recruitment, rewards, policies, agile methods

OPPORTUNITY: Whilst firms who prioritise and commit to this will adjust more quickly to the landscape, those who use intentional cultural design as the agent of change will build a stronger platform than peers for longer-term success

5. Resilience And Adaptability 

  • Whilst many firms are making cuts to ride out the storm or shutting down permanently, our research identified many entrepreneurial firms who adapted quickly with new business models AND in parallel also focused on financial restructuring (e.g. loans, capital raising) and enhancing productivity (e.g. software, up-skilling), better utilisation (e.g. re-deploying staff), or improving customer experiences (e.g. online ordering via Facebook Commerce).

OPPORTUNITY: The firms who get the right but very difficult balance of resilient best practices, innovation for growth with longer-term exploration, and agile/new ways of working will be well-positioned to outperform peers and last for the longer-term

6. Increasing Leadership Complexity 

  • Given the nature of the crisis, for many leaders it represented a call to action to adopt both crisis management AND people-focused behaviours such as empathy, self-awareness, openness, vulnerability, and EQ
  • The best leaders will also now spend more time on longer-term growth and innovation planning and exploration

OPPORTUNITY: Self-awareness is critical for leaders to start addressing skills gaps. Those who do and forge more trusting, purposeful, inclusive, authentic, and empathetic workplaces will retain (and be able to hire) the best talent and rebound faster then competitors

Survey Results

The survey results showed that the crisis has impacted organisations in many different ways over time. Some have had headwinds and tailwinds, but many have been caught in the middle.

The challenge now will be for leaders to be ‘open’ to understanding ‘what is going on’ inside and outside the firm, evaluating the degree to which each is relevant and to what extent, and then planning and executing an appropriate response.

Confidence

Whereas 92% of international respondents were confident of being able to get through the crisis, only 64% of Guernsey respondents felt confident

Speed                                 

96% of respondents indicated that their firms were able to respond to the crisis fast (52%) or extremely fast (44%);

Impact          

22% of firms were unable to operate due to the crisis

Change

Smarter working (34%), new technologies (33%) and new offerings (22%) were pre- planned changes that were accelerated due to the crisis

Work     

47% of respondents saw no changes to their work (i.e. work remotely) with the remaining undergoing disruption including job losses (15%). Adapting to virtual meetings (26%) and new ways of working (27%) were the major changes to jobs/skills

People

Employee safety and well-being (31%) were the major areas of people focus

Leadership                       

Empathetic leadership (25%) with strong communications (23%) were the major leadership behaviours demonstrated

Technology  

Desktop and mobile video-conferencing (VC) tools (46%) and cloud-based document and collaboration software (28%) were the most valuable technologies

Culture

Supportiveness (30%) and team spirit (20%) were the most valuable cultural attributes

Processes

New ways of working (18%) and new technologies (18%) have been the most important processes to improve

Innovation + Growth

 Interestingly, only a small number of firms  innovated with new channels or offerings (7%), with 12% engaging more with clients/partners (12%), and 14% indicating ‘no innovation’

What survey respondents said about the impact of the crisis on:

 IMPACT:

“Categorisation of business critical role and function for immediate, should and medium term. Anything out of above scope, amended, reduced or halted. Focus is on surviving the immediate challenge and preparation for reopening” – Hotel Owner

 SMARTER WORKING:

“The crisis has enabled more working from home flexibility, more focus on work life balance in times like this where stress and anxiety are a big part of many employees’ lives”Director, Training Firm

CHANGES:

“More areas of focus needed include managing mental health and wellness during and after the crisis; planning for the ‘new normal’, whatever that may be, and likely to be different in many ways to how we worked before COVID; and reintegration – thinking carefully about how we transition back to face to face after a sustained period of disruption, easily underestimated and ignored as a potential challenge”Management consultant

LEADERSHIP:

“Empathy, transparency, and authenticity. For example, our MD did a WebEx from his daughter’s bedroom for all to see”Sales Director

CULTURE:

“Agility, flexibility, ability to make quick decisions” – CTO

TECHNOLOGY:

“The crisis has sped up the utilisation of tools such as Microsoft Teams for meetings, e-signature software and other tech which will assist both with internal and external customers moving forward” – Investment Banker

GROWTH + INNOVATION:

We have built industry specific thought leadership and points of view that have historically fallen down the list behind client work; digitising our many face to face interventions, essentially helping us build out a whole new suite of assets that are now deployable in a virtual environment now and beyond COVID; more time for training and personal development – Learning and Development Manager 

Conclusion

In summary, the crisis presents a significant opportunity for all leaders and firms to reset and lean-in to fully understanding what is going on in terms of how the crisis is impacting organisations in the short-term, what this might tell us about longer-term impacts, and where and how to focus efforts and investments across the operating model.

The Post-Crisis World of Work With Adam Grant

As people and businesses plan for pandemic recover and rebuilding, experts such as organisational psychologist Professor Adam Grant of Wharton are a great source of inspiration.

He gave a recent interview with Ross Chainey at European Business Magazine which provided a tonne of insight into the future of work in light of the ongoing crisis.

It was so good that I had to provide an edited transcript of the conversation below. Enjoy

First and foremost, this is a global health and economic crisis. But, for many millions of us, we’re battling a loss of normalcy in our daily lives. How well-prepared do you think we are to deal with a situation like this? Does it play to any of our natural strengths or is it more likely to expose our weaknesses?

It’s a little bit of both, like everything else. The challenging part is, as human beings, we don’t like uncertainty and unpredictability. There’s even some evidence that if you’re highly neurotic, you actually prefer experiencing pain over being in the dark about what you’re going to experience. That’s a part of the crisis that’s really a challenge.

On the flip side, we’re highly adaptable. Darwin wrote when he was building his theory of evolution that natural selection favours a sense of flexibility. It’s not always the strongest species that survives; it’s sometimes the most adaptable.

I think one of the ways we can cope with the uncertainty is: when you can’t imagine the future, you can actually rewind and think more about the past. You can recognize hardships that you’ve faced before. You can learn something from the lessons of your own resilience and then try to figure out “what did I do effectively before that might work for me today?”

I still hear a lot of people complaining about FOMO – the fear of missing out – even though there’s nothing really going on. Has COVID killed FOMO or exacerbated it?

I prefer to think about this less in terms of FOMO and more in terms of what’s often called JOMO, which is the joy of missing out. I actually made a list of all the things I’m thrilled that I don’t have to do, and that includes changing out of sweatpants [and] having to commute.

This is a practice that’s pretty useful for people. We have a lot of evidence that marking moments of joy can actually create those moments of joy because we’re more likely to notice them. We’re more likely to savour and share them. Being able to capture a few things that are really joyful about getting to stay home seems like a productive step.

We’re all separated from our teams. How can we maintain a sense of belonging while isolated at home?

I don’t know that it’s easy. In one company, they did a virtual tour of their home offices. That gave them the chance to talk about some of the mementos that they keep nearby. They were showing off pictures that their kids drew for them. And it was a great moment of personal connection in a way that never would have happened if everyone was in the office.

I’m not suggesting that’s the perfect fit for everyone, but it seemed like a small step that can make a meaningful difference in feeling like I learned something new about my colleagues, [that] I see them more as human beings as opposed to just achievement robots.

Every team has its introverts and extroverts. Do you think this crisis has levelled the playing field between them?

I wouldn’t go that far. I think the reality of the current situation is we’re still catering to extroversion. We’re now sitting on video calls all day, as opposed to saying: “You know what, maybe we should have fewer meetings”.

We’ve known for a while that that introverts’ voices tend to get overlooked in a group setting. This would be a good time to experiment with moving towards some more independent individual work, which we know is the best approach if you want to generate lots of good ideas in groups.

One of the simple practices I would recommend to make sure that introverts don’t get drowned out is to shift from brainstorming to brain-writing. So brain-writing is a process where you [ask] all the people in a team to come up with ideas independently, then submit them. Then you review them. That leverages individual strengths around coming up with original ideas and allows the group to do what it does best, which is to begin to evaluate and refine. That’s probably one of the most effective ways to make sure that introverts are heard.

Through this crisis, managing expectations has become even harder. All of a sudden, we’re workers, we’re teachers, we’re providers, we’re cleaners. Should we try and keep up? Is this good for our sanity?

This is a time when leaders need to be flexible and compassionate. This is not an experiment that any of us opted into, but as long as we’re stuck with it, as a leader, it’s an opportunity to say: “If I impose less control over people’s schedules and plans, that’s going to teach me whether I can trust them or not”.

We’ve known from a couple of decades of research on management and monitoring that when people are monitored too closely, that signals distrust and they respond by saying, “I don’t really feel obligated to act in a way that you might consider trustworthy”. Whereas when you allow [people] to make some choices, they start to feel a greater sense of loyalty and they reciprocate the trust that they’re shown. Given that we don’t have a lot of options anyway to control people, this is the ideal time to do a little bit less of it.

Is this a particularly challenging time for managers, and what advice would you have for them?

I think this is a great time for leaders to be more hands-off when it comes to scheduling and planning. Where leaders may need to be a little bit more hands-on is in figuring out how their people are doing on a day-to-day basis. This is one place where leaders have an opportunity to learn.

Imagine if you’re a manager, how awkward it would be in year two to sit down and say: “I’d love to find out what you’re finding interesting in this job; what aspects of your work you find meaningful; and are there changes we can make that would make your job a little bit more exciting?”

This is a moment when leaders can take a step back and say: “I haven’t always learned as much about my employees’ values, interests, strengths, motivations as I should have, and what better time than now”.

How does work/life balance work in a crisis like this?

Work/life balance has been a myth for a long time. If you care about your family, and you care about your job, and you also want to prioritize health and friendships and hobbies, the idea that you might have even a day where all those things are in perfect harmony to me is hysterically funny, if not just wrong.

What I always strive for is balance in a week, where I might have two days where I’m pretty focused on my work and I don’t get as much time with my family as I want, but then I’ll have two more days where I’m in family mode and work takes a backseat. That’s probably the most realistic way to manage this crisis – to say [that] instead of work/life balance, we ought to think about work/life rhythm.

You’ve written a lot about givers, takers and matchers. Does this period of self-isolation when working remotely magnify or reduce these qualities?

Giving, taking and matching are just different styles of interaction that we bring to the workplace. Givers are people who by default want to know, “what can I do for you?” Takers are the opposite. They’re interested in figuring out “what can you do for me?” And then matchers hover in the middle of that spectrum and say, “I don’t want to be too selfish or too generous, and so I’ll do something for you if you do something for me”.

The takers may feel like they have a little bit more licence to shirk, maybe to steal credit for other people’s ideas. I think though, we’ve seen an incredible outpouring of generosity in this crisis. The givers really see this as a situation where they need to step up. They feel a sense of responsibility to try to help. My guess is that matching gets weeded out a little bit. I don’t think that most people operate like matchers because it’s their core value. I think people match because they’re afraid of the risks of over-correcting on either side. In these situations, people probably gravitate more toward fundamentally, am I more of a selfish or generous person?

One of the big frustrations for givers in a situation like this is they don’t always know where they can help. A couple of years ago, I cofounded a knowledge-sharing platform called Givitas, to make it easy for people to seek and give help in five minutes a day or less. I would love to see more of those kinds of efforts to make sure that we can make people’s needs and requests visible, so that the people who have the motivation and the ability to contribute are able to direct their energy in the way it’s needed.

You said recently that interruptions are part of our new reality. Many people are struggling with distractions and procrastination. Are there ways to make ourselves more resilient to this?

I don’t know that that resilience is possible when it comes to interruptions, because the problem is less that they’re a source of hardship; it’s more that they’re distracting and it’s hard to get back into the task. Probably one of the best things we can do is try to find a sense of self-compassion.

Psychologists like Kristin Neff say, “think of the kindness that you would show to a friend who was in a situation like yours. What happens if you apply that same kindness to yourself?” When we get interrupted, instead of getting frustrated, I can say, “okay, this is a really difficult time right now”.

Interruptions are part of the human condition. They are an intensified part of the human condition during a pandemic. I know I’m not the only one facing these. Let me just see if I can get through today without losing control. If I don’t succeed today, I’ll try again tomorrow. When we don’t beat ourselves up like that, it’s a lot easier to move forward as opposed to wallowing in the challenges we’ve faced in the past.

Is there anything positive that may come out of this crisis?

We’re going to see a lot of employers embrace more flexibility around working from home and having virtual teams. They’re going to find out that it wasn’t as impossible as they thought it was, and there are some productivity gains that come from not having to commute, and getting to work where you want.

On an individual level, unfortunately, there are some people who are going to face post-traumatic stress. The encouraging news psychologically is over half of people report a different response to trauma, which is post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth is the sense that, I wish this didn’t happen but, given that it happened, I feel like I am better in some way. It might be a heightened sense of personal strength; it could be a deeper sense of gratitude; it could be finding new meaning, or investing more in relationships.

Being so eager to get back to normal, having gone through this long crisis, how do we make sure that we learn from this experience?

Learning from an experience like this comes from reflection. As people come out of this crisis and start coming back to work, the first thing that I would do is have a discussion about what everyone learned from the experiments they ran. Some of those experiments were by force, others were by choice, but we’ve all had to test out different routines and the way we work.

I’d want to hear what everyone tested out, what worked and what didn’t, and then keep evolving what we thought were our best practices in light of that. That would be something that you continue doing. Last I checked, experiments are the best way to learn.

Presumably there’ll be some powerful insights for you to learn from this whole experience?

There are going to be some incredible natural experiments that are already being run. They’re going to be analyzed, and we’re going to be able to see what’s the effect of having to work from home on productivity at a scale that’s never been tested before. We’re also going to learn something about what happens to people’s creativity and connection when they can’t interact face-to-face with their colleagues.

There’s a whole group of organizational psychologists, as well as sociologists and management professors, who are going to spend the next five, 10 years studying the effects of this pandemic in different places. In a way, another form of post-traumatic growth is we gain new insights about how to work together effectively from a distance that we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. And I wish we didn’t have access to it. I’d rather not go through this crisis. But given that we’re stuck with it, we might as well try to learn from it.

How Airbnb Cut 25% of Its Workforce

Every day we have been witnessing examples of great leadership (or not so great). On its face, the approach to layoff 25% of Airbnb’s workforce – which until the crisis was on track for a bumper IPO – seemed like another one of those great examples.

However, the coverage has been both supportive and negative. Without going into the detail of it, my initial thoughts are that if there was ever a ‘classy’ way to do this, this was it. 

You can read the full statement from CEO Brian Cesky here and judge for yourself. 

 

Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19

On Friday I caught up with a friend who works at WhatIf (now owned by Accenture). We were talking about the impact of COVID-19 on the future workforce. He mentioned an interesting point around how the crisis could drive increased mental health impacts as employees (and companies) grapple with the future transition from ‘work-from-home’ to whatever is the ‘new normal’.

Some firms may stay as is, some may adopt a hybrid model, and some may go back to offices full-time. Whichever the model, each presents its own set of unique short-term challenges for staff and firms.

Gartner have a great article here discussing these issues further. It is called ‘Leading Your Employees Through The Emotional Side of COVID-19’. If you are leading or managing teams, I suggest you take a look.

Strategic Responses of Firms to COVID-19 Crisis

This week I developed and launched a survey designed to gather insight on how a range of firms in different sectors are responding to the COVID-19 crisis. If you are interested in completing it, the survey is here.

To provide more context, I’ve pasted below what is contained in the Introduction section of the survey:

Overview:
This survey seeks to understand what strategies, tactics and activities a sample of organisations large and small across sectors are undertaking to manage the current crisis. It is a project being run by Andrew Essa of ROCKET + COMMERCE (a management consultancy). An advisory board of cross-industry leaders is forming to interpret the results.

Geographies surveyed include firms based mainly in Guernsey and Jersey (Channel Islands), although there will be respondents from UK, EU, US, and APAC.

Timings:
The last day to complete the survey is 30th April 2020.

Interviews:
A number of short interviews via VC are also being conducted with select leaders or senior managers. If you would like to apply, please contact Andrew Essa via the details below.

Insights:
The results will contribute to a white-paper and new report series e.g. Disruptive Change 2020 Report. I will share these with all respondents in due course. It is expected to generate useful market insight for firm leadership on how your peers within or across sectors are managing and strategically responding to the crisis. The results therefore should improve firm decision-making in the short and long-term, including strategic planning, operational reviews or change management.

There may be further (e.g. 3+) surveys across the year to track strategic responses and changes over time as the crisis develops, but this will be kept under review.

Audience:
The target respondent is a senior manager, executive or experienced professional within an organisation. Firm sizes will range from international business to local SMEs, with sector coverage broad including Technology, Financial Services, Legal, Accounting, IT, Retail, Aviation, Health, PR, Government, Corporate & Fiduciary Services, Education, Charities etc.

Disruption 2020 Symposium

The MIT Sloan Management Review have released a Spring edition entitled Disruption 2020. On 21st April they are running a virtual symposium with about 5-6 speakers who are thought leaders on relevant topics including strategic response, trends, innovation, leadership and prosperity. For example, Scott Anthony (Innosight), Rita Gunter McGrath (Colombia Business School), Amy Webb (NYU and Future Today Institute), and Efosa Ojomo (Clayton Christensen Institute).

I have just signed up for it. Check out the link here if you are interested

Disruption 2020: A Virtual Symposium | April 21, 2020

 

 

14 Sources of Disruption

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant or catastrophic disruption to many organisations, it is almost crazy to think that COVID-19 represents one source of disruption. Obviously it is a major shock and is inter-related with other forces (e.g. economic). However, from a crisis response perspective and the need to re-set short and longer-term strategic plans, it is important for leaders to always look at the bigger picture.

Why? According to Amy Webb, founder of  The Future Today Institute:

If leaders think that they are aware of the forces that might disrupt their company, their lens’ may be far too narrow…

To support such analysis, I use a tool called The Strategic Forces Framework (SFFF) which Amy Webb discusses in detail here

MAG-webb-essay-s1

Clearly, the SFFF builds on long-standing (and less comprehensive) frameworks including PESTLE. Many forces will seem obvious, but others less so.  

Amy Webb provides context on using the tool:

The SFFF helps clients identify external uncertainties which broadly affect business, markets, and society across positive, neutral, or negative dimensions. In over a decade of strategy consulting and research, I have observed that all major or ‘disruptive changes’ are the result of one or more of the 11 forces. 

For leaders and executives, the critical skill is being able to look for areas of convergence, inflections, and contradictions, with emerging patterns especially important because they signal ‘transformation’ of some kind. People must connect the dots back to their industries and companies, and position teams to take incremental – or transformative – actions as required.

Whilst many of the 11 sources of disruption might seem obvious or onerous at first, taking a broader viewpoint provides perspective as the tool can help identify critical growth opportunities (e.g. market-creating innovations) or areas of potential disruption (e.g. new business models). For example, an established regional farming equipment firm tracking eco-friendly infrastructure trends could be a first mover into new or emerging markets, while a traditional electronics retailer (with online operations) monitoring 5G, IoT and AI plus segments of non-consumption, could be better positioned to compete against the big e-commerce platforms.

Whilst Amy uses 11 forces, I add 3 more to make 14. See below for details but I believe that Legal, Industry, and Business Models deserve their own line of enquiry. You only have to think about the music-industry in the early 2000s to understand why that matters.

Sources of macro change encompass the following:

  1. Prosperity: the distribution of income and wealth across a society; asset concentration; and the gap between the top and bottom of the pyramid in within an economy.
  2. Education: access to and quality of primary, secondary, and postsecondary education; workforce training; trade apprenticeships; certification programs; the ways in which people are learning and the tools they’re using
  3. Infrastructure: physical, organizational, and digital structures needed for society to operate (bridges, power grids, roads, Wi-Fi towers, closed-circuit security cameras); the ways in which the infrastructure of one city, state, or country might affect another’s.
  4. Government: local, state, national, and international governing bodies, their planning cycles, their elections, and the regulatory decisions they make.
  5. Geopolitics: the relationships between the leaders, militaries, and governments of different countries; the risk faced by investors, companies, and elected leaders in response to regulatory, economic, or military actions.
  6. Economy: Standard macroeconomic and microeconomic factors, including interest rates, inflation, exchange rates, taxation
  7. Public Health: changes occurring in the health and behaviour of a community’s population in response to lifestyles, disease, government regulation, warfare or conflict, and religious beliefs.
  8. Social: Life-style, trends, ethics, norms, religions, diversity and inclusion, culture, religion, demographics, population rates and density, human migration, and other dynamics are leading to shifts in communities, markets (including non-consumption) and societal needs
  9. Environment: changes to the natural world or specific geographic areas, including extreme weather events, climate fluctuations, rising sea levels, drought, high or low temperatures, and more. Agricultural production is included in this category.
  10. Communications: all of the ways in which we send and receive information and learn about the world, including social networks, news organizations, digital platforms, video streaming services, gaming and e-sports systems, 5G, and the boundless other ways in which we connect with each other.
  11. Technology: not as an isolated source of macro change, but as the connective tissue linking business, government, and society. We always look for emerging tech developments as well as tech signals within the other sources of change.
  12. Legal: Privacy, health and safety, labour, consumer rights, product safety 
  13. Industry: Suppliers, buyers, non-buyers (e.g. non-consumption), competitors (current and new), substitutes, distribution channels, partners, ecosystems and value-networks 
  14. Business Models: The incredible pace of technological change continues to open up more ways to make money and go-to-market. Combined with the tremendous disruptive impact business model innovation can have on traditional firms and industries, I believe it is critical to include it as a separate category for investigation e.g. Software-as-a-service, Direct-to-consumer, Pay-as-you-go

How best to use the SFF?

Most companies we encounter use the Strategic Forces Framework to help make sense of initial or deep uncertainty, optimise existing planning processes, or reinvent how that is typically performed. Some use it at the start of a strategic project at corporate levels, while others use it as a guiding principle throughout their functional or departmental work streams, processes, and planning. The key is to make a connection between each source of change and the organisation with questions such as: 

  • Who is funding new developments and experimentation in this source of change? 
  • Which populations will be directly or indirectly affected by shifts in this area? 
  • Could any changes in this source lead to future regulatory actions? 
  • How might a shift in this area lead to shifts in other sectors? 
  • Who would benefit if an advancement in this source of change winds up causing harm?

Here are some good examples of use in business as usual (BAU) provided by Amy Webb:

I have seen the most success in teams who use the macro change tool not just for a specific deliverable but to encourage ongoing signal scanning. One UK-based multinational professional services firm took the idea to an amazing extreme:

    • It built cross-functional cohorts made up of senior leaders and managers from every part of the organization all around the world.
    • Each cohort had 10 people, and each person is assigned one of the sources of macro change, along with a few more specific technology topics and topics related to their individual jobs. 
    • Cohort members are responsible for keeping up on their assigned coverage areas. A few times a month, each cohort has a 60-minute strategic conversation to share knowledge and talk about the implications of the weak signals they’re uncovering. 

Not only is this a great way to develop and build internal muscles for signal tracking, it has fostered better communication throughout the entire organization.

Whilst this process might go against the established culture of your organization, embracing uncertainty is the best way to confront external forces outside of your control. Seeking out weak signals by intentionally looking through the lenses of macro change is the best possible way to make sure your organization stays ahead of the next wave of disruption. Better yet, it’s how your team could find itself on the edge of that wave, leading your entire industry into the future.

Reed Hastings

As part of the 30 Disruptive Leaders in 30 Days Challenge that I set myself here, today I provide some insight around one of the best examples of a disruptive leader in Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix.

If there was one word to describe how he demonstrated disruptive leadership, it would be this: Courage

Courage (noun)

  1. the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.

“she called on all her courage to face the ordeal”

Why?

For almost a quarter of a century, Netflix and Reed Hastings have been in a constant stream of business wars, technology paradigm shifts, business model innovations, consumer habit changes, and multiple economic crashes. Despite this, Netflix has not only survived this chaos with Reed at the helm, but on multiple occasions, come out on top (as at April 2020).

A few examples of courageous (or, audacious, bold, daring, fearless) decisions made by Reed and Netflix during this time include:

  • Decision to bid $100M (at the time a significant chunk of revenue) to win House of Cards from cable rival HBO in 2011, and launch a risky backwards integration strategy into original content production;
  • Decision (2007) to open up its recommendation algorithm to the public and offer $1M to anyone who can improve it by more than 10%

However, it was the game-changing decision in the mid-2000s to pivot the company to invest and scale a streaming model which I believe was the most significant. To execute, the company split into two business units and the management team of the DVD business –  at the time representing 95% of revenue – were allegedly told by Reed to stop attending Netflix senior management meetings (see CNET article here).

Reed explains his thinking below:

“For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming,” Hastings wrote. “Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores — do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business.

“Eventually these companies realise their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover,” Hastings continued. “Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.”

4 Resources to Learn More About Reed’s Leadership:

CNET article (2012) – A brilliant inside look at what happened during Netflix’s 2011 price-hike crisis which cost it 800k subscribers and stock to crash 77% in 4 months. A few leadership learnings from Reed are below:

  • Do not underestimate the need to manage different businesses separately;
  • Be forthright and transparent with customers at all times
  • Take responsibility, quickly.

TED Interview with Chris Anderson (2018) – A great interview which goes deep into Reed’s leadership style, decision-making, and ethos. According to Reed:

‘…courage is a value which must permeate the organisation. employees to have the courage to speak their mind as otherwise ‘to disagree silently is disloyal. You need the debate but it is not intense; it is more curiosity, to draw people out…’

Netflix Culture and Philosophy – This has been codified on its careers site. Once you read this, you are not left to any doubt as to why Reed – and Netflix – has been able to successfully lead the firm through disruption. More than once.

Reed’s Top 10 Rules for Success (see below). This is a compilation of advice from various interviews Reed has conducted. It is nicely put together. Key themes are :

  • Be Authentic
  • Edge of Chaos
  • Create Joy
  • Known Your Mission
  • Be Honest
  • Keep Improving
  • Think Long Term
  • Focus
  • Strong Values
  • Patience

 

 

 

5 Disruptive Leaders 5 Days

Following my crisis leadership post (here), I’ve been thinking a lot about how the senior management of businesses around the world – whether multi-national companies with 300k staff or small SMEs with a few employees – are leading their firms through these disruptive times.

So starting tomorrow (Wed 8th April 2020), I’m starting a mini-challenge: 5 Disruptive Leaders in 5 Days.

Each day I will focus on a business leader who has demonstrated leadership through a disruptive crisis, whether due to competitive threats, new business models, war, product liability, terrorism, or economic meltdowns. I’ll keep it simple with a few practical tips on key things to learn, including leadership attributes they demonstrated, and links to a few resources to learn more (e.g. videos, podcasts, books, articles etc).

Right. Let’s do it #5DisruptiveLeaders5Days