The Top Five Strategies For Leading During Radical Times

Jack Prot

As we move into future, we are going to be experiencing both changes and opportunities in the business world that are going to challenge us in ways we have never experienced in the past. As business, community and political leaders, we are going to be called to step up to the plate and embrace our employees, constituents and customers as our most valuable assets, because more than ever before, they are going to hold the secret to our success. I know that we hear this every day, yet many people honestly don’t know how to build a sustainable company through people. In this article, I share five of the most important skills leaders and teams will need to embrace in order to thrive in tomorrow’s world.

1. Radical Innovation

Is your business or organization really designed for innovation? Are you sure? Every day I speak to leaders who swear that their businesses are designed for innovation, but in my opinion, this is usually not the case. Why? Because they are stifling open debate, shooting the messenger and making it unsafe for people to voice their opinions.

If your business or company is truly an innovative one, your doors will be open for debate, and your culture will be designed to make it psychologically safe for both employees and customers to voice not only their suggestions, dreams and goals but their concerns, complaints and frustrations. A recent article in Harvard Business Review: The Customer-Centered Innovation Map is a must read for any business that wants to thrive in the future. The article comes from the perspective that when a customer buys a product or service from your company, they are actually hiring you to get a job done. This “job to be done” could be to make more money, look more beautiful, live a more healthy life, move into a dream home, become more credible or build a better relationship. At each step of the process of the job getting done, both your employees and customers are going to experience both successes and struggle points (and some people will struggle more than others.) By carefully mapping the job a customer is trying to get done, you can find golden opportunities to innovate as you help the customer through your process. Along the way, you will want to ask questions such as “How can we do this much more efficiently?” and “What struggles and inconveniences are our customers experiencing?” and “How are trends affecting the way the job gets done?” and “What causes execution to go off track?” As you move through the life cycle of working with a client, looking at each and every compliment, complaint and challenge can open the door for your company to provide a new product, offering or level of customer service that will set you apart from your competition.

2. Intellectual Horsepower

It is going to become more and more difficult in the future to stay ahead of your competition if your team is not the best and the brightest in your industry. Intellectual horsepower includes not only IQ (many people believe that an IQ of 130 is needed today to be a top player) but includes transferable skills, the ability to understand and break a complex situation into logical steps and being super sharp, agile and a quick study. Intellectual horsepower also includes being able to embrace paradox and ambiguity and being adept at functioning effectively in the midst of opposing ideas or forces.

If you go back and consider the above topic about mapping the job the customer needs to get done, you will be able to identify the skill deficits in your organization. Each time a customer voices a success, ask yourself “Who worked with this client, and what skills were at play to make this customer experience outstanding?” On the same note, if a customer’s job is not getting done, it’s time to step back and ask “What skills are missing from this process that we need in place?” From there, you can provide your team with the training and development needed to create outstanding customer experiences. Once you have trained your employees, if you have someone on your team who just doesn’t “get it”, then it’s time to replace that player with someone who can “get it” and get it quickly.

3. Employee Development

There are two scenarios that I often see in the work I do as a leadership coach:

1. The company relies on the heroism of a few employees to keep customers happy or

2. Customers constantly run to the owner of the company, who seems to be the only person who can clean up a mess

Both of these scenarios probably mean that your company is failing, that your service is lousy and it’s time for some rigorous employee development, and I don’t mean putting your team in a training room hoping they will get what they need in order to do a great job. As a leader, your job is to build a true learning organization, one which provides your employees with ongoing customized training and coaching so that they can step in and run your company at a moment’s notice. This process begins with a very thorough examination of what’s really going on in your company (this is time for you to become your biggest critic), making a list of every asset and shortcoming and each employee’s key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Your next steps will be to design and implement a customized program which includes an on-the-job training and development program for each employee in the company.

After six months (12 months max) of on-the-job training, if someone in your company cannot be “trained to move up”, then as harsh as it may sound, that person will more than likely become obsolete in the next few years. As technology advances and our global economy become more and more competitive, it is going to be critical to have a rock solid employee development system in place, and that development program should be designed so that an employee can advance in your company. If an employee cannot develop the skills needed to move up in your company, that position will become a financial and productivity strain on your company. Simply because you are not addressing training and development does not mean that your competitors aren’t, and those that do will have one leg up in the future. It’s that simple.

4. Strategic Agility

In today’s world, your customers may know what they want, but in most cases, they don’t have a clue what’s possible and what creative offerings you can bring to the table. One of the reasons Apple is so successful is because Steve Jobs has an uncanny ability to know what customers need and want before they request it. None of us knew that we wanted a white ear bud and 10,000 songs in a tiny device that could easily slip in a shirt pocket or the palm of a hand, but boy did we ever eat it up! By fine tuning your strategic thinking, you will be able to anticipate future consequences and trends, create competitive breakthroughs and paint a vision of what your company will look like tomorrow (which always infuses a sense of inspiration and optimism into a company). One of the best ways to strengthen strategic agility is to move your team from working on details to a place of curiosity and imagination. By asking some radical questions such as “What would a doctor, actress or astronaut tell us we need to do in the future” or “How would we change our business if we moved the headquarters to China?”, you will find that your perspective will broaden and your focus will sharpen.

5. Technological Savvy

I know, I know. Everyone is so tired of talking technology. But there are some amazing things happening out there right now. Many cutting-edge companies are using Facebook to build networks, the tool Second Life for training purposes, and games like Warcraft, EverQuest and Lineage are being used to strengthen strategic thinking, the quest for speed and to stimulate discussion about the world of business and finance. I believe that Generation Y holds the key to your ability to build a tech savvy organization, so don’t discount what they can bring to your company. They are our future, and it’s time to start welcoming them and allowing them to teach us what they know so that we can leverage their knowledge for our future success. Generation Y will provide you with a terrific opportunity to deliberately develop out your company’s capabilities, so embrace them, learn from them, develop them and lead them. You will set the tone for generations to come that you respect young, eager, creative minds.

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