Uncertainty has been discussed for some time and in 2020, we experienced it in a new dimension. I used to ask leaders to show me their 18-months plan from 18 months ago. Now, I think it is clear that past plans don't hold a lot of guidance anymore. How can we still lead our teams and create confidence and success?
Anita Sands shared in this article the seven habits for highly effective leaders in times of uncertainty. A great real life experience sharing what works for some of the best leaders. These seven points allowed me to reflect on four pillars of my Wheel for Agility - I haven't been so far off.
1. Balance Realism And Optimism - People in general prefer bad news over uncertainty. Not knowing what comes is very stressful. At the same time, even the worst situation holds opportunities. As a leader it is important to strike a balance between the two. Get the people out of a downward spiral.
2. Communicate Often And Authentically - Proactive communication goes hand in hand with the first habit. Vulnerability shows that we are human and that creates better connections. If we don't have an answer for the future, we still have the values we are proud of. Let's continue to live by them.
3. Focus On Purpose And Culture - Many successful leaders have evoked passion in their employees and their customer base. Why am I giving a lot of my life's energy for this company? A leaders provides a meaningful answer to this question. I like to call this creating a collective dream.
4. Nourish Yourself - As a leader we are giving a lot of energy to the people around us. Do you have enough energy yourselves that you can give away? This means we need to continuously fuel our body, mind, heart and soul. Be generous to yourself!
5. Evaluate Competitive Positioning - Many organisations fell in a fight/flight/faint/freeze mode due to the huge negativity created in the past months. As a leader it is important to create a positive environment that allows creativity and the discovery of new solutions that bounce us forward. This also requires a deep understanding of the needs & challenges of our customers.
6. Get And Stay Curious - New solutions only come from experimentation - let's try things out and evolve from what we learn. As a leader we need to be curious ourselves, and we need to empower our teams to be curious and experiment. Further, curiosity is correlated to resilience; it enables a range of cognitive, emotional and social capabilities that allow us to cope with duress. Let's walk around with a beginner's mind.
7. Pause And Celebrate Successes - Simply rushing forward might make us blind to understand if we are on the right path. Regularly pausing and reflecting on what we have achieved and learnt; this gives us the space to focus on the right opportunities. Celebrating even the smallest success, will bring some of the positivity back. This gives us a glimpse of the blue sky above the clouds.
How do you inspire your teams?
Today was Day 2 of the APAC Operational Transformation Summit with a inspiring speakers that look at new aspects of Operational Excellence: culture, sustainability and agility.
Eric Tachibana started of with an deep dive into culture. Culture is important because there is a clear correlation to financial success - btw, strategy doesn't show this correlation. At the same time, it seems to be difficult to grab and manage. Eric introduced a model to make to make culture more tangible: values, rituals, stories and artifacts. Influencing culture starts with the little behaviours we conduct every day in these four areas. He shared that at Amazon there is a strong focus on the leadership principles that provide guidance to the entire organisation and to create new routines across the four elements of culture.
Luanne Sieh introduced another angle to operational excellence and illustrated the impact of human society on our planet in the last 100 years and how it shot through the roof. In today's business, we need to look at the triple bottom line - profit, people, planet - in order to establish a sustainable operation. Investors today are more and more interested to go beyond th short term financial KPIs and push the companies they are investing in to be active in creating a better world for our society and our planet. This essentially will bring new business opportunities and allows companies to distinguish themselves in the market.
Majid Bhatti supports the view that innovation is essential for business success; creating new products, increase motivation, increase productivity, establishing new relationships. Innovation is not only about creating ideas; selecting the right ideas and executing them are essential parts of innovation. Successful innovation is based on collaboration and interaction between people; based on empathy and understanding. In this context, he introduced agile methods which have a strong focus on interacting with peers and customers. Getting early feedback from them is essential to develop solutions iteratively. Agility also suggests that we are creating flat organisations and facilitate the flow of ideas and improvements from all corners of the organisation. Agility is a platform for innovation and improvements in our operational excellence.
For me, it was refreshing to observe a broad perspective on how we can improve our operational excellence and look beyond the usual set of tools. Diving deep into culture, sustainability and agility might create more engagement within the ecosystem; looking at a wider range of criteria can drive improvements in our daily operations.
Today was Day 1 of the APAC Operational Transformation Summit and we had a great lineup of speakers. I could clearly see a red thread going through all the presentations. Operational excellence is based on digital transformation; and the success of digital transformation is enabled by the people.
First we had Michal Golebiewski from Microsoft sharing how digital transformation is a journey and that starts with the definition of a new you; based on a purpose. This purpose is guiding the customers, the partners and the employees on how we are kick-starting this journey. We need a vision & strategy; a northstar. We need to look at the culture and mindsets that will allow experimentation and stimulate a growth mindset. The unique assets and the capabilities of the organisation need to be aligned for this journey. And finally, success is based on employee empowerment and we need to stay engaged with them. These are the ingredients for success.
Abhishek Sharma, Axa, continued the journey and added that the tools and the process are necessary to bring fruits from these ingredients. In order to start your digital transformation journey, you need to investigate your what, who, how and the impact you want to create. He illustrated that you will not reach the peak in the first round. As a leader, you encourage your team members to climb the mountain by themselves - milestone after milestone. At the same time, you are there to hold a guiding hand when necessary. This will build confidence and the climb will become easier. The transformation journey is triggering a cultural shift that involves everyone. This is why it is important to cultivate trust with your employees, your customers and in the entire ecosystem.
During my presentation, I took the concept further and introduced positive leadership that allows you to drive engagement, motivation and therefore operational success. Today's uncertain and complex business environment requires agility in order to create success. This agility is based on empowering people to experiment, guiding them with a collective dream, creating an understanding how to create value for our customers, and lastly on building a collaborative platform to facilitate relationships and trust.
Finally, Kesavan Sivanandam, from AirAsia, shared an inspiring story about perseverance and pushing boundaries. Needless to say, the airline industry is hit very hard and AirAsia took this as an opportunity to push digital in the end-to-end experience. He shared the story how strong collaboration with various agencies and business partners allowed them to achieve a contactless solution from "curb to gate" within a few months time. This was possible based on a common purpose within the ecosystem to keep the business going, in a safe way. And in this journey, it was important to keep the people engaged under this collective dream.
Day 1 of the conference was a lot about creating a common purpose, engaging with the people, and cultivating relationships. Key ingredients for a smooth and sustainable digital transformation journey. I am curious to hear more during Day 2.
"When you bring a problem to me, also come with a solution." This has been a very common manager practice. Since a while, I believe that this statement is flawed. How do you expect your team member will react? Will they be openly and willingly approach you with their struggles? And, how does this contribute to a positive environment which is essential for creativity?
When your team is facing barriers in creating success then the entire team has an interest to overcome this barrier; the team needs transparency in order to excel and grow. As a leader you want to be a sparring partner for your team. Instead of looking at how we ended up with that problem, positive leaders will turn it into an opportunity to learn and improve the way we serve.
When we are facing a challenge, it is important to create a deep understanding of what is the problem and to withhold thoughts about possible solutions until a very late stage. Let's first identify the people we are creating value for; what are these people's needs and pain points; how can we make them excited? How are we delivering value to today and where are the gaps? With a solid understanding of the challenge, we will identify opportunities to reduce friction. Solution ideas will easily emerge.
Next time a team member comes to you with an issue, appreciate that they are sharing it with you and ask: "What did you already try?" and lead the conversation towards a factual analysis of what have encountered so far.
In my practice to give operational excellence a people-centric angle, I am always curious to learn more about how to experience and influence change. It is not possible to force people to change - and I think this is an important lesson for any leader. You can only create an environment that facilitates people to change.
Recently I stumbled across this article - How to (Actually) Change Someone’s Mind - that illustrates how we can work together with naysayers that are opposing the change we want to initiate. We all experienced the detractors that seem to be have this deep-rooted resistance to change, right? Here are three strategies that might help.
The cognitive conversation is about holding an objective and positive chat that uncovers new, specific information that can sway the decision into another direction. For success, it is important to consider the existing arguments and to keep emotions out of this discussion.
The champion conversation helps in situation where logic is not an important factor. The underlying relationship might be week and is in the way of changing the decision. We want to become a champion in the conversation, get to know the people and allow them to get know us from different angles. For success it is important to stay authentic and continue to rely on logic.
The credible colleague conversation is an approach when deep believes are in the way of change; logical and emotional arguments are not working to overcome deep values. Sharing experiences from another person might help to see that other values are in favour of the upcoming change. The positive aspects from another angle might change deep-rooted opinions.
These types of conversations are not only great when dealing with individuals. The principles also work when designing the journey for large scale transformations: use logic, build authentic relationships, expand people's experiences.
Thank you Laura for putting these thoughts together and sharing these great examples.
In an environment of uncertainty and complexity, anti-fragility will allow you to create lasting success. That's a nice sentence and many people agree to this. And then the big question comes: how do you get there? how do these puzzle pieces fall in place?
Two months ago, I posted my leadership view on the four pillars for agility: customer value, purpose, relationships and experimentation: How to reach agility? Four Key Drivers for Leaders. Today, I want to come back to these pillars and share how they fit together.
The underlying premise is that your company is acting in an uncertain and complex environment. Now, in this uncertainty, you want that decisions are made fast and bottlenecks are removed. This means, you need to empower the people at the front to experiment and try out what might work - and learn. You need to increase their autonomy to allow your teams to run forward with high velocity.
Now, many people argue that this will only lead to chaos. Yes, and while we allow our teams to run forward, we need to ensure that they are moving fast in the same direction. The organisation requires an aligned and transparent understanding of the big picture purpose. Important, this is not a top down vision. I like to call it the collective dream which is evolving with everyone participating.
What is the key ingredient to this collective dream? Our customers decide if we are successful. That means, we need to create value for them. The company purpose and the different team purposes are highly influenced by how we are creating value to our customers. And this is based on a deep understanding of their needs and challenges.
The fourth pillar is about creating a platform that allows the teams to run forward in the right direction. This platform facilitates cross-silo collaboration which allows quick sharing of information and further eliminates barriers to speed and fuels creativity. Smooth collaboration is based on common goals and good relationships.
As a leader that drives anti-fragility, your role boils down to two things: bring the people together to define a meaningful and customer-focussed purpose. With this established, the second role is removing bottlenecks, providing resources and further driving motivation. Sounds easy and yes, it takes a lot of efforts to become this agent of success.
In German we have this expression - "Wer den Pfennig nicht ehrt, ist des Talers nicht wert"; basically saying, only when value you small change, you are worthy of the dollar bills. Did I get this right? In many efficiency improvement projects, companies deploy small focus teams that are working on the large improvements; within a few years they can achieve great improvement results. Why is this not enough? How can these initiatives excite the entire workforce? And do these central projects have a lasting impact?
In Southeast Asia we engaged in an energy efficiency project for about 15 factories. And, we took a different approach: we directly asked the frontline people where they see improvement potential. I clearly remember a few projects we celebrated together with the staff at the factories. One was the idea to change the switches in a large warehouse. Imagine a large warehouse, and whenever you enter it, there is one switch for all the lights. The team experienced this as a waste of energy and suggested multiple switches for the different sections in the warehouse. Does this have a million dollar impact on your business? Even we might consider this as a small improvement, we celebrated it because the behaviours is correct and we wanted to stimulate more of the same.
The next time this team walks past a idle running grinding plant, they will switch it off and will save significant energy costs. Based on over a hundred similar small projects, we were able to reduce the annual energy cost by a three digit million dollar figure. Plus, we created ownership, commitment and engagement from everyone working in our plants. This was an exciting journey.
A case study from Coca Cola in Sweden shows similar results - Improvement opportunities that are hard for managers to see. The study compared the improvement impact of a Six Sigma initiative with an idea system for continuous improvement. The sum of the small ideas in total generated 6 times more savings than the big projects.
A positive leadership engaging all the workforce to participate in the overall vision of the organisation will have significant and lasting effects on your bottom line. How will you implement this in your company?
In general, I am a forward looking person and striving to excite people about the future. Even these times are full of positive experiences and opportunities. And sometimes, it is great to explore the past - historians play an important role in our daily life. This article is looking at studies from previous crises and shares interesting conclusions - What you can learn from history about innovating during a crisis.
The companies that invested in innovation during the crisis displayed 14% more growth in the following decade than the companies that did not. What did these companies do differently? They collaborated with other businesses, explored new market opportunities, leveraged technology in new ways, and were competing on value instead of price.
At the same time, in a crisis companies need to be cautious with spending. The research shows that investing into innovation is not the only driver for success. Companies need to find a balance between investing in innovation and reducing your cost structure. Though, firing staff is not the preferred way to control your costs - this will only backfire in the near future.
Here are cost management strategies that have been proven successful in previous crises:
While these defensive measure are in place, follow your customers and invest where you can create value. Allow your staff to experiment with new ways to interact with customers and learn as much as they can. It is very important to build a solid foundation that pushes you into the pole position when the economy is picking up again.
Where do you find inspiration in this list of measures? How will you start to balance innovation and cost control?
Tim is a change practitioner in the area of innovation and excellence. He is working with teams to accelerate innovation, collaboration and agility.