What a time to be a manager, an executive, a business leader of any sort! Today's business climate is characterised by extraordinary levels of uncertainty, disruption, and change, and the forecast is for such turbulence to continue long into the future. Yet with all the dangers and threats come extraordinary opportunities. Leaders must chart a course through this stormy environment, developing and implementing effective business strategies while maintaining drive, morale, motivation, innovation and vision for their people and organisations. Success, and even survival, depends on it.
What is the toughest part of management in times like these? Recently graduated managers may say that the important thing is ‘knowing your stuff': managers in finance need to really understand finance; the marketing people need to know their marketing, etc. But ask executives and managers with five or ten years experience and they'll tell you the tough part is people. Of course, managing people can be challenging in the best of times. But it's far more challenging in this climate of uncertainty and change where your people are prone to being anxious, defensive, resistant and confused.
Business leaders rarely get the education and training they need in key behavioural aspects of management. In a stable and friendly business climate, intelligent managers may get by on intuition and on-the-job practice. But leading people through turbulence is a different story.
Fortunately, leadership research has developed rapidly in the past 20 years, and there is now a considerable body of scholarship that managers can draw on to help them guide their people and organisations through changing conditions and unfamiliar terrain. The following key success factors will enable managers, teams and their organisation to emerge from changes and disruptions stronger than before:
Redouble efforts to establish trust and credibility. You are going to be asking people to make sacrifices and take risks. They need to know that your motivations are legitimate and your actions are well reasoned.
Move from competing agendas to organisational alignment. Your organisation is not monolithic. Subcultures and rivalries have created separate beliefs and expectations. Alignment requires surfacing and reconciling these different perspectives.
Avoid chaos, unintended consequences, and working at cross-purposes. When the going gets tough, people naturally tend to focus more narrowly on their own piece of the puzzle. Coordinated action requires making sure your people don't lose sight of the bigger picture.
Manage dilemmas to increase the effectiveness of your strategies. Competing goals pull people in different directions, and sometimes entail painful tradeoffs. Compromising between goals and abandoning some goals in favour of others are common mistakes. Navigating turbulence requires accepting some dilemmas as inherent, and managing them optimally.
Ready your team or organisation to seize new opportunities. Organisations that excel at performing business-as-usual typically lack the creative thinking and innovative processes needed to cope with a changing environment. The good news is that innovation happens best when the old order is shaken up. Enable your organisation to seize the day by removing hidden barriers to creative thinking.
Win hearts and minds to the efforts ahead. In a turbulent climate, getting people to do what you want them to do is not enough; you need people who are really on board and actively participating. Carrots and sticks are not enough. People must be genuinely persuaded that the course they are following is a good one.
Empower your people to perform their best even in trying circumstances. When you ask people to change what they do and how they do it, they need more feedback, guidance, and help. Research shows that feedback is regarded as one of the most valued functions of management and one of the least successful. Provide people with the guidance and resources they need to find their own solutions.
Accomplishing these goals can be difficult and labour intensive. In stable times, they might even be regarded as a luxury, as icing on the leadership cake. In turbulent times, however, setting these key success factors in motion should be a leader's top priority. Those organisations and managers who do so will be the ones to thrive in the future -whatever that future turns out to be like.
International practitioners, Joshua Klayman and Jackie Gnepp will be delivering Mt Eliza's new program Leading and Embracing Change: a business imperative. Click here for program information or contact our National Enquiry Centre: Toll free 1800 00 66 80 (AEST business hours), Telephone +61 3 9349 8788, Facsimile +61 3 9349 8799, Programs@mteliza.mbs.edu