When I meet with CEOs I like to kick off our catch up with an open ended question that provides the context for a ‘two-way learning conversation’.
After five minutes of reconnecting, I get down to business by asking: “So, what’s the three biggest challenges you’re facing right now?”
The answer these days is typically pretty much the same:
Getting those in the top team off the bus who aren’t keeping up with change
Either breaking down silos, or building a high performance culture
Why is Profit such a challenge?
When I ask why profit is such a challenge, I get a list of reasons that include hyper competition, commoditisation, digital disruption, well informed customers becoming more objective about making purchases, and the wide level of uncertainty arising from political changes at home and abroad, resulting in customers being cautious about spending.
“And, oh yes, a new entrant from outside the sector is offering a bundled solution that’s eating our lunch… everyone seems to be attracted to these new guys on the block who have a cool, simple, powerful, “digital” component integrated into their value chain. These upstarts have literally shot out of the ether.”
CEOs have clarity around the problems but are struggling to find the solutions
What I notice and hear in these catchups is that CEOs are long on ‘environmental’ and ‘market factors’, but short on strategic solutions.
“Geoff, the problem is that I’m trying very hard but am held back by legacy factors. Decisions and investments that were made by the previous CEO and/or by the Board are limiting my choices, and making it extremely costly and slow to pivot.”
Reacting impulsively without a strategic framework
When I ask CEOs what business model they use to drive up financial performance in this digital economy, they say something along the lines of: “We need to become more agile and more innovative, but that’s not proving as easy as it sounds. It’s like swimming against the tide.”
Those CEOs that have recently been to Harvard or the likes, present the context of business in a very confident, articulate and compelling manner.
We are all bombarded on LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube with what these digital age challenges and threats are, loud and clear, but what’s missing is a simple yet profound model showing the integrated drivers of business performance, which I consider to be the sum of strategy and the power of people.
As I sit here in the Shaky Isles cafe in Commerce Street over my Friday morning ‘premium strong roasted long macchiato’ and reflect on those CEO discussions, I recognise that times are changing at the speed of light and the power of a tsunami, and sense that management theory and practice is no longer solving the purpose and problems it was designed, 50 years ago, to solve. The lingua franca of these times is populated with “like”, digital, disruption, algorithms, AI, lean, agile, the Internet of Things, blockchain, crypto currency, auto-responder and so on.
One wonders how busy executives, struggling to reactively keep up with all of the change in their jobs, can possibly find time to keep on top of all these new topics, let alone make sense of how they can find an integrated performance model and toolkit they use to inform their focus, decision making and leadership style to drive their business in an integrated way.
So, how can ISL best support our clients during this time of change and uncertainty?
Our research team in the LeaderLAB are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity, time and focus to meet with an array of senior executives, ask questions, triangulate answers, co-create, and build simple yet powerful models. These models integrate the new approaches and overlay the new paradigm upon the timeless fundamentals of human behaviour that has been captured in our collective DNA since hunter-gatherer times. Solutions to complex environmental and competitive issues have been solved, for thousands of years, by tribal groups who get to the heart of things by working together, thinking collaboratively in a way that considers the dynamics of group behaviour, as well as the cutting edge tools that chop through the dense woods.
Putting it simply in a current context, “how can a company effectively organise itself, and work together collaboratively in teams? How can we craft a winning strategy that sets our business apart from the rest? Which team leadership style can we adopt to work in an agile and innovative way?How can we ensure that all of our teams mesh like cogs in a clock, so that the success of one cog drives the others?”
These are the multi-million dollar questions begging an answer.
The Institute for Strategic Leadership [ISL] has designed and developed Smart Leader Apps to provide Strategy, Finance and OD-Tools and a digital performance platform for its clients and other businesses and government organisations.