If you’re having to tell your people to work more hours, it’s time to revisit your own leadership practices!

At the beginning of the Mental Awareness Month this year, I would like to draw the attention of leaders to the importance of creating a work environment that prioritizes employee physical and mental health. Relying on financial growth and career progression opportunity alone to motivate people means that they work for you because they have to, not because they want to. Many leaders wonder why their people aren’t bought into their visions and giving their best. People will only do their best in environments where their mental health is not being jeopardized through a series of unreasonable requests or disrespect. As I typically say to my clients, try a little more compassion and kindness.

I was discussing this with one of my favorite clients a couple of weeks ago and he drew my attention to the fact that it took two. As the CEO of the organization, he pointed out that if your “senior leaders are constantly under delivering and hurting the business you may yourself having to pressure them to work harder and put in more hours.” After a short conversation we agreed that feeling the need to manage your employees’ time and workload is a symptom for a bigger issue that requires addressing. Start asking yourself about the balance your work environment provides, mainly related to the following:

  • Competence. How do you feel about the ability of those who constantly under deliver to address the responsibilities you’re assigning to them?
  • Support. To what extent are you supporting your team with their enablers for success?
  • Accountability. How effective are your management practices in establishing and enforcing accountability?
  • Consequences. To what extent do you, your leadership team, and other employees bear the consequences of your own lack of commitment?
  • Engagement. How would you rate the actual buy-in of your vision and why it makes sense for people to do what you’re asking them to do?

Typically, the answer is some combination of all the above. So making everyone work much harder will make the problem fester longer and result in dissatisfaction among those who are actually delivering. If you ask me what to do, I would say do what my client and I are doing: identify and resolve the actual problem(s). And while you’re doing that don’t forget to give your employees the best wholistic employee experience which would encourage them to give you their best performance. Otherwise, they’ll keep doing what will secure their paychecks and protect them from any headache noncompliance may cause.

Photo by PhotoMIX Company: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-sitting-behind-counter-under-television-518244/

The Resignation is GREAT, but are your strategies great enough?

Like many business leaders, many of my executive coaching clients are concerned about their ability to stay afloat, let alone grow in the face of the increasing risk of employee attrition. We can claim that this post-COVID19 phenomenon has caught us by surprise. But we will soon be out of excuses. The global trauma that we all been going through remains a wake-up call for many. And many of your employees may very well wake up to the fact that they do not want to be working for you!

However, it seems that many leaders are still handling the Great Resignation in a reactive manner that falls short of addressing the tectonic shift that it is. Working through this situation with several of the executives I coach, I have become familiar with the temporal nature of this challenge. Therefore, different strategic options emerge different time frames. Below I offer a framework for a more proactive approach for handling the retention challenge.

Immediate: the Departing Employee Matters

The fact that there is a mass exodus from the workforce, some of which without immediate reentry, can just be a symptom for bigger issues. Also, your leavers my continue to be good resources for you. Therefore, consider the following:

  • Take the exit interviews seriously. Beyond being an HR formality, they are an opportunity to learn about challenges to talent retention in your organization. They will be helpful for reducing your attrition rates.
  • Avoid burning bridges with the departing employees. They are important future human resources for you. Your brand as an employee and a business will benefit from their word of mouth. Also, you may be able to establish contract arrangements with some of them to help with easing off the workload and sustaining your operations while you figure out longer term solutions. And, you may stand a chance of attracting your top talent back!

Short-term: Beware of Similar Decisions in the Making

Your exit interviews will provide you with a foundation for understanding the attrition risks you could be facing. Next, I recommend that you engage managers and employees, establishing partnerships to address some basic questions?

  • Who’s next? Who else may be having similar concerns to the leavers and, thereby, contemplating similar decisions?
  • Do you want to retain them? What can you do to retain them?
  • What are the morale and workload implications on those who may be happily choosing to stay with you?
  • What are some creative resource solutions to rationalize the workload?

Medium-term: Work Ethics Matter More Now

Another phenomenon that is emerging is that some employers may now be rushing to refill the open positions so fast that they forget to check on the candidates’ work ethics. In less drastic cases, they may sacrifice the cultural fit. What my clients have learned is that they may loose more time through the damage that a misaligned employee may cause. Eventually, they will have delayed their recruitment of  ‘suitable’ candidates by the few months it takes to recruit, hire, and fire the wrong candidates.

Long-term: Time for Leaders to Play Catch Up

The world has moved on from the “because I said so” leadership style and it’s time for leaders to play catch up. The Great Resignation is here to teach us a few leadership lessons. Leaders now are constantly being challenged to sell the idea of employment to their employees- let alone the idea of working for their organizations and each of them in person. This is probably the subject line for another blog. But what we know for sure is that two sets of long-term strategies must be in question now by most organizations:

  • Talent acquisition, development, and retention strategies
  • Leadership selection and development strategies as well as the key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success and keep leaders accountable

And, finally let’s keep in mind that “human” resources require authentic and compassionate human leadership that values them and prioritizes their fulfillment and growth!

Whether you’ve been directly affected by the Great Resignation or not, its disruption of workforce dynamics will affect every organization and its leadership. To discuss what it means and how to be more proactive about it, contact us to schedule your free strategy development consultation.

 

Diversity and Inclusion as an Enabler for Great Leadership

On this International Women’s Day, let’s talk about empowering leaders not women because they need strong and diverse partnership now more than any gender ever needed help

It’s time to shift the global mindset around women issues. Regardless of the roles they play in families, communities, businesses, and/or governments, it has become crystal clear that women can be astonishingly resourceful, insightful, and powerful. Even in the most disadvantaged or traditional communities, matriarchs have been known to have transformational impacts on their tribes including the most mature and strongest male leaders. Organizations and communities that deprive themselves of real contribution from women could be depriving themselves of not only opportunities to grow but also their chances of survival. It’s like turning off half of your brain or one side of your body and expecting to compete with those who bring their whole bodies or brains to every situation.

Historically, many of us come from communities that held matriarch leaders in high regards. But, we’re having to fight some long battles in modern times to secure seats around the table as women leaders. Now more than ever, new and different risks and opportunities are facing community, business, and state leadership everyday. This diversity in challenges and opportunities requires diversity in thought and approaches. Yet in many circumstances we find ourselves having to justify the need for inclusive leadership. And we still address women issues from the point of view of solving problems for women and empowering them. Effective and successful leaders understand that they are not going to be able to conceptualize and realize grand visions just by surrounding themselves with people that look, think, and interact like them. They look to empower themselves with improving diversity and inclusion (D&I) at the top levels.

“A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.” Nelson Mandela

As eloquently put by Nelson Mandela, great leaders seek diversity in thought and get excited about engaging in debate and growing collectively in the process. They understand that by inviting differences in opinion, approach, and human interaction style they will be able to expand their opportunities and mitigate their risks more and more creatively. The opportunity costs of homogeneity in leadership can be very high and many of us have observed them first hand. I believe that improving gender diversity and inclusion will require a mindset shift around the way we approach leadership development and assessment. Realizing our full leadership potential going forward is going to mostly hinge on a leader’s ability to leverage D&I as an enabler for their own growth and success rather than an objective in and of itself.

Starting with vision, we have long entered a world where leaders are differentiated by their ability to develop and realize visions that go beyond their individual imagination or the imagination of those with similar backgrounds. A key question for leaders to consider is: to what extent have women and other diverse groups with different backgrounds influenced your vision?

When it comes to strategy, regardless of whether a leader is be empowered by D&I or not, their competitors, vendors, and clients probably are. Leaders would benefit from continuously asking themselves if they are at least at par with their competitors and vendors in terms of the diversity of expertise they attract and truly leverage. Another important question is about the extent to which members of leadership teams represent current and potential market niches. Much money is being left on the table by leaders that refuse to build leadership teams that match the diversity of their clients and competitors.

And of course the importance of communication to successful leadership cannot be overstated. Effective communication takes listening to what’s not being said in addition to what’s being said, which can be very challenging. Another challenge is getting your message across as a leader in ways that motivate an increasingly diverse workforce and attract an increasingly diverse client and investor base. In today’s complex world, it’s practically impossible for a homogenous leadership team to master communication without the contribution of leaders whose genders, backgrounds and experiences prepare them to communicate differently.

I’m sure much of what I shared here is not shocking. But what’s shocking is the fact that we still talk about helping women much more than we talk about helping leaders and organizations through attracting more insightful, powerful, and resourceful women.

Lessons for Leaders: What has 2020 told us about 2021?

In bidding 2020 farewell, the world has been filled with hope that the suffering of 2020 will come to an end as the year came to an end. But it is no secret that the world doesn’t necessarily go through a factory reset on January 1. This is not all bad news though. The turbulent ride that 2020 was has given us certainty about the uncertainty of our present and future! Things are going to remain volatile for a long time.

Now we can stop guessing

Most of the risks that leaders and strategists typically incorporated into extreme future scenarios in the past ended up manifesting one way or the other in 2020. You probably remember when extreme strategic scenarios reflected one or two of the following combinations:

  • A serious global pandemic resulting in major lockdowns and geopolitical disintegration
  • An oil market crash and major global economic downturn and restructuring
  • A breathtaking digital transformation connecting human communities in new ways and threatening personal privacy and security
  • An expedited energy transition supported by breakthroughs in alternative energy and storage technologies
  • The expansion of the virtual workplace, and exponential growth in ecommerce
  • Increasing weather volatility and natural disaster occurrence

Many of these risks are here to stay. And even if the pandemic situation is resolved in the next year, many of its implications are long-lasting if not permanent. Of these, we have identified five themes that appear to be most critical for strategizing for success in 2021 and beyond. Several of these have already been discussed in previous articles over the last couple of years, as noted below.

1. Energy Transitions, ESG, D&I and the Human Race’s Search for Purpose

We clearly are at an interesting stage of development as a race. There is a rising sense of consciousness over how what we do and how do things impact our environments and the lives of other people and creatures. This is especially true for most millennials and Gen Zs who tend to at least partially evaluate employers and product and service providers based on their approach to diversity and inclusion (D&I) and environment, sustainability, and governance (ESG) issues. Employers are also now being increasingly challenged to align jobs and assignments with employee purpose.

By the same token, the investment and regulatory communities are gradually withdrawing support from entities whose operations are believed to simply pollute the environment or reinforce bias and discrimination. There is no going back from this and regardless of how much we may want to argue against it, financial and economic metrics along won’t be sufficient going forward.

As we discussed in a previous article, sustainability-oriented business models will have better chances of winning in the new normal. This, together with the demand shifts described below will continue to accelerate the transition of the energy system away from the domination of fossil fuels. The pace of this transition is still being debated. There is growing conviction among many including oil and gas supermajor that we are already beyond peak oil demand. This is a huge departure from the previous consensus that it wasn’t going to occur until the late 2020s – mid 2030’s.

2. The Expansion of the Virtual Workplace

The technology that supports remote working, team building, and leadership solutions had been here for some time. But the imperatives of social distancing in 2020 drove significant investment in and utilization of digital applications for establishing virtual workplaces. In the middle of the year, major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter began making announcements that their employees would be allowed to work from home permanently. Leaders have now had experience with the remote workplace concept and developed more appreciation for its positive impacts on efficiency and effectiveness. My earlier article on employee and leadership behaviors in the new normal describes shifts that drive the expansion of the virtual workplace beyond COVID into the next normal.

3. Freelance Work and Small Business Sector Growth

Empowered by technology and challenged by economic downturns, freelancers are finding flexibility and security in establishing multiple sources of income. On the other hand, employers, and especially other freelancers and small businesses are increasingly finding it more cost effective to rely on freelancers. This is especially the case for temporary or intermittent resource and unique skillset needs. In 2019, about 35% of Americans freelanced and it is estimated that 43% were freelancing by the end of 2020. Also, freelancing tends to be favored by younger generations, with 53% of Generation Z (18-22 years) freelancing by 2019. By 2027, some expect that freelancers will make up more than half of the U.S. workforce.

By contrast, the small business sector contracted in 2020 as a result of the COVID health and economic crisis. But the outlook for small business growth in the next few years remains strong with millennials and Gen Zs continuing to show preference for being their own bosses. In addition, barriers to entry are now lower in many industries as the digital transformation is availing new analytic and business networking capabilities that may be much easier for smaller and newer entities to leverage.

4. Major Demand Shifts Driven by the Technologically-Empowered End User

End users are being empowered by technology in a few ways, as I elaborated in an earlier article. These include the growing availability of information about products, services, and providers as well as the easier access to a wider variety of providers. This together with the expansion of the virtual workplace, and the growth of freelancing work and ecommerce are already driving significant shifts in demand for many commodities. Understanding and predicting such demand shifts can be very tricky but is absolutely critical for succeeding in 2021 and beyond. In the energy sector for example, the transformation in end user demand already drove profound shocks in the industry in 2020 as discussed in our article about energy demand transition. When combined with an expedited energy transition, demand shifts can change the landscape for oil and gas players indefinitely.

The airline and hospitality industries had already seen first order impacts from this dynamic in earlier years. Customers not only have access to information about their choices, but also have access to technologies that allow them to connect with family, friends, customers, and business associates without having to travel. Of course, these industries have been even more dramatically impacted throughout the COVID crisis.

5. The Humanization of Human Resources

Having been reinforced by the COVID experience, the overall wellbeing of employees is gaining importance as a driver of talent attraction, retention, and engagement. Pressure is mounting on leaders to demonstrate compassion and trust and approach their people as holistic human being, prioritizing their mental and physical health and family lives. As I discussed in another earlier article, there is near consensus that the leader of the future will only succeed if they consider employee fulfillment and purpose foundational to their people policies and strategies.

Now what?

Many of the events of 2020 were harsh for sure. But we were taught that it would not be impossible to grow and even win in this environment. The uncertainties that continue to materialize so rapidly before us present not only new challenges but also new opportunities. Success now requires new strategies that understand how each of the themes discussed here impact the overall business climate including customers and prospects, competition, and current and prospective employees.

Contact us to learn more about how we partner with executives to revisit their strategies and develop resilient leadership teams for winning during a historical juncture in human history.

What has the April 2020 experiment told us about the energy DEMAND transition?

Last year in September, we wrote an article on the challenge of meeting aggressive environmental goals while ignoring the demand side of the energy equation. Energy transition and climate change policy and investment initiatives had thus far been focused on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels in energy supply to control carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. But our relentlessly growing consumption of energy across the globe had made meeting aggressive emission reduction targets near impossible. The COVID-induced reduction in energy demand has more than demonstrated the significance of demand in realizing aggressive emission reduction targets. In its early days, COVID19 successfully delivered an energy transitions experiment, proving that these goals are only attainable through transitions in not only energy supply but also energy demand.

A quick analysis of the EIA July 2020 Monthly Energy Review reveals some key insights about the fast arriving transformed future that are critical for energy industry leaders and policymakers to consider when making strategic choices. In April 2020, the U.S. went through a somewhat effective energy transitions experiment. The outcomes have clearly been far from pleasant for the industry. But they offer some important insights about what it takes to for energy transitions and related climate change goals to be met and how they will affect fundamentals for players along the supply chain of the energy industry.

Sustainability and Climate Action Plans that Don’t Address Demand Growth are Just Plans

In April 2020, the U.S. energy industry saw the most meaningful reduction in its monthly carbon dioxide emissions in over five decades. CO2 emissions from energy consumption were about 8% lower than in June 1982- the lowest monthly emission level since January 1973. Many have rushed to thank recent innovations and investments in renewable energy technologies for the acceleration of energy transitions. But renewable energy production in April was actually lower than its monthly average over the last three years. Total primary energy consumption, on the other hand, dropped to levels not seen since September 1989 suggesting that demand contraction was the major driver behind the reduction in emissions.

The Sectoral Transition in Energy Demand is Pacing Up

COVID19 lockdowns, stay-home orders, and social distancing guidelines this year restricted human mobility to levels probably not seen in several decades. Fortunately, the digital transformation had delivered technologies that are making business continuity and social connections still largely possible. We now rely on technology much more expansively to engage socially, run businesses, and buy and sell everything and anything from home. This translated into much larger consumption declines in the transport, industrial, and commercial sectors compared with the electricity and residential sectors.

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In April 2020, the residential and electricity sectors represented a total of 46% of primary energy consumption versus 41% last year. As productivity and performance concerns around remote working and virtual meetings get addressed, it is unlikely that we will ever return to our previous norms of travel by air, sea, or land. The COVID19 experience has inspired leaders to think differently about resource allocation. Many major tech companies have extended their remote working policy until next summer and some announced that employees will now have the choice to work remotely indefinitely. This means that the energy demand transition from the commercial and industrial sectors to the residential sector, and from transport to electricity could continue even post COVID19. This trend could only get multiplied as a result of the transition of consumption from oil to electricity with the proliferation of electric vehicles. As a result, oil consumption may never return to its pre-COVID19 levels which suggests that “peak oil” may already be behind us.

The Role of Natural Gas as a Bridging Fuel Cannot be Ignored

It will take some time before we have fully figured out ways to manage our energy appetite, de-link economic growth and energy demand growth, or further expedite investments and innovation in renewable and storage technologies. The recent blackouts of a struggling electric system in California demonstrate why natural gas generation will still be important at least until sufficient storage capacity is in place to mitigate the intermittency of zero carbon generation and maintain reliable operations.

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In April 2020, when U.S. carbon emissions from energy consumption hit historic lows, natural gas consumption actually rose by 2% compared with April 2019 while consumption of all other sources (including renewable energy) declined. This was driven by the sectoral energy demand shifts described above: transport to electricity, and commercial to residential. Also, new efficient gas-fired electric generation continues to displace coal-fired generation. As a result, our energy consumption mix saw a larger contribution of natural gas compared to 2019 at the expense of petroleum and coal. This trend may not be indicative of the eventual destination of energy transitions but of the path to get there.

And Finally Understanding and Predicting Demand under Different Scenarios is Imperative for Success

It is unfair to argue that anyone could have predicted something of the nature and scale of the COVID19 crisis and its implications on the energy demand transition. But forming alternative views on the demand dynamics expedited by COVID19 was not out of reach, because they had been evolving for some time. Digital technologies had been enabling businesses, employees, and customers in new ways for some time. Sustainability and climate change goals had been getting more aggressive, and investment in related technologies had been pacing up for a couple of decades. And the abundance of cheap natural gas resources in the U.S. has positioned it for its temporary bridging role some time ago.

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As has been evidenced thus far this year, and especially in April, the progress made on energy transitions and the digital transformation increases the energy industry’s vulnerability to demand uncertainties- especially for oil and gas players. There are multiple sub-regional and global dimensions that we haven’t discussed here but will remain highly relevant and volatile. The ability to formulate and embed various energy demand scenarios into top level/big picture decision making will differentiate the winners not only in the long-term, but also in the short and medium terms as experienced this year already.

The April 2020 experiment, while painful from an economic and public health point of view, was a nice joined up energy supply and demand case study on what it takes to achieve aggressive carbon emission reduction goals. And regardless of our position on the science of climate change, as industry leaders we would all benefit from understanding demand transition dynamics and their implications on our business.

Contact us to discuss how we can partner to better understand transformational trends in your industry and strategize for evolving leadership within your organization to ensure winning in disrupted reality.

Transformational Leadership: Top 5 Traits and Top 5 Limiting Mindsets

This decade is already proving to be much more intimidating to the status quo than the previous three or four decades at least. And disruptive forces are challenging leaders in new ways across different industries. In the energy industry for example we are having to navigate three major transformations concurrently: the energy transition, the digital revolution, and diversity and inclusion (D&I). Environment, social, and governance (ESG) are top on the agendas of major industry players globally. Much of this has been expedited by this year’s events, especially the COVID19 outbreak and the growing concern about racial divide issues.

Building our transformational leadership muscle is now a ‘must have’ for those who are looking to pivot their businesses for wining in a disrupted reality. Leaders that had already aligned their overall visions with the digital revolution have been better able to run operations more effectively and efficiently during lock-downs. The resultant relatively safe and stable experiences for employees and customers in turn translated to favorable financial outcomes. Likewise, leaders that had already developed strong D&I brands for their organizations had better chances of avoiding the negative implications of perceptions about their bias on their sales and financials. And, oil and gas industry leaders that had already pushed their energy transitions/ESG visions forward probably felt more optimistic about the future of their organizations in the face of the recent oil price shocks.

But what does it take to excel as a transformational leader? And what traditional mindsets block the realization of transformational visions?

Top Transformational Leader Traits

Throughout my experiences in patterning with transformational leaders, I have observed that those who are able to excel in orchestrating major organizational shifts share five traits:

  1. Influential and engaging. Transformational leaders understand very well that they can’t go it alone. Their success hinges on their ability to engage stakeholders around common visions and well aligned strategic roadmaps. This may require a different balance between command-and-control and collaborative leadership styles compared with what worked in the past. In addition to securing buy-in and commitment to the vision, an effective stakeholder engagement approach establishes a safe environment for feedback solicitation, and innovative idea generation.
  2. Perceptive and insightful. Transformational leaders are insightful observers of events and developments within their businesses, industry sectors, and the wider economy. They tend to be highly talented in connecting the dots, realizing trends and identifying opportunities prior to others. They don’t have to be subject matter experts (SMEs) themselves but they know how to engage SMEs and translate their analyses and opinions into commercially relevant insights and drive results accordingly.
  3. Adaptive visionary. While being visionary is a valuable leadership trait in general, leading through transformations calls for a different type of visionary, the adaptive visionary. The adaptive visionary makes it a habit to check their vision against major internal and external developments as well as the views of experts and thought leaders within and outside their organizations. The highly disruptive nature of our times calls for dynamic rather than static visions and supportive strategies. The adaptive visionary is able to imagine and re-imagine the future under different likely scenarios as soon as early signposts emerge or are brought to their attention.
  4. Commerciallydriven. Many major projects and organizational change efforts end up running above budgets and schedules. I am sure some of us feel that most if not all transformational initiatives miss their deadlines and exceed their budgets. They may also place pressure on the financial performance of the organization’s core business by leaning on its resources. Keeping an eye on the commercial priorities of the core business is top on the transformational leader’s list. In addition, understanding and managing the direct commercial outcomes of the organizational change under different potential constructs of the future is foundational for their success. This includes adopting solid approaches to identify, quantify, and mitigate risks in the short-term let alone the long-term.
  5. Strategic risk taker. Massive transformative disruptions naturally bring new and completely unimaginable risks, some of which are actually hidden opportunities. Winning takes leaders who are not only proficient in identifying and navigating risks but also make some bold strategic choices. They understand that the risk of inaction can be much higher than the risk of action in disrupted world. Strategic risk taking at the top is also important for inspiring a culture of creativity and innovation across the organization.

Regardless of the scale of the disruption and the nature of the journey, my clients and I find ourselves leaning more on these traits as we partner on leading successful transformations. Pivoting into new modes of growth takes a dynamic approach to balancing these five traits, while constantly prioritizing effective stakeholder engagement and teamwork. I hope this is not a surprise!

Top Leadership Mindsets that Block Transformations

Over the last decade, I have had many opportunities to partner with leaders on achieving their ambitions to pivot their businesses into growth in a disrupted industry. This included supporting energy transitions visions, evolving analytics to elevate an organization’s brand along its value chain, and redesigning structures and roles to prepare for major transformations. Throughout my experiences I have identified five legacy leader mindsets that tend to block transformative efforts:

  1. Direct returns-based assessment of new initiatives. In many instances, leaders find themselves working too hard to protect the successes of the past. This mindset only considers the direct revenues of new initiatives and ignores highly likely risks to core business revenues as the wider economy transitions away. It also ignores other opportunity costs associated with unfavorable transformation outcomes for conservative leaders compared to bolder competitors. Being outpaced by competition is one of the easiest ways to to hurt your brand and your core business results.
  2. Deterministic leadership cultures. This is somewhat linked to the first mindset. In an industry that had historically been lucrative like O&G for example, a deterministic mindset that assumes the continuation of past trends could easily become the norm. As major transformations unfold, long-term trends are constantly disrupted. Deterministic mindsets can lead to the handling of disruptions as short-term inconveniences rather than lasting shifts. This can easily result in facing the risks of a transformation without sufficient preparation and missing out on its biggest opportunities.
  3. Traditional competitive assessment. When I ask leaders about the competitors to consider when re-envisioning their future, they mostly list their past competitors. In most of the cases and after a little bit of digging, my clients and I find some big surprises. Traditionally, their competitors were entities that provided similar produce and services to theirs. During major disruptions, most players are transforming their businesses and customer mindsets are changing so rapidly. New competitors emerge, potentially doing very different things but customers could easily be putting them side by side with some traditional offerings for picking a winner. Understanding who competes for your customer’s attention during a major transformation is paramount to success.
  4. Job description orientation. This mindset is common among leaders with a track record in climbing the corporate ladder and typically aspiring for the next move up. During transformations, they struggle with the lack of clarity and their struggles become contagious across their teams . This is a first for us all! And no job description or annual objectives will spell out what it takes to come out on the winning side of the energy transition, digital transformation, D&I transformation, or even the COVID19 disruption. Regardless of the size of your team or business function, leaders could benefit from finding ways to thrive in uncertainty while staying aligned with overall corporate visions and values. Limiting your own imagination and creativity will only limit creativity and innovation within your team.
  5. And the winner is the silo mindset. This is perhaps one of the most common barriers to any organizational change effort. The ‘what’s in it for me or my team’ foundation for decision making and resource investment can therefore be extremely limiting. The transformations reshaping the future of humanity today are all intertwined, inter-disciplinary, cross-sectoral, global in scope and extremely large in scale. Leadership teams will float together or sink together. The desire to stick to traditional product or service definitions, organizational structures, and team boundaries is an implicit decision to struggle throughout the transformation and remain a follower of transformational leaders rather than one of them.

There are other mindsets that tend to block transformational breakthroughs. And like the five most common ones they are mostly related to the human tendency to stick to tried and tested methods. Consistently staying the course has its merits during more stable times. But when we are trying to chart a new path the balance will need to be tilted toward creativity, innovation, flexibility, compassion, and alignment.

Contact us to learn more about how we partner with executives to build their transformational leadership muscle and identify and make the necessary mindset shifts. 

The Rise of the Digitally-Empowered Customer

A few weeks ago an energy industry executive that I look up to asked me a simple but great question: what gap in energy industry analytics is most significant to leaders? While I’d never thought of it this way in the past it took me only a couple of seconds to come up with my answer: demand scenarios! This is because over the past couple of years, many of my clients and I found ourselves repeatedly identifying the rise of the digitally-empowered customer as a gap in their vision of the future. Then came COVID19 to expose our limited understanding of digitally-induced demand dynamics and the associated risks not only for energy but across different industries. Many businesses now are keeping busy with their own digital strategies. But the future implications of the digital revolution on the behaviors and demand profiles of B2B clients and individual end users are rarely well understood. Winners during the ongoing health and economic crisis are mostly businesses that had historically better aligned their visions and strategies with the digitally-empowered customer. This alignment is more relevant now than ever as we all are getting more intimate with our devices while we socially distance from each other.

But don’t get me wrong. Aligning your business with the digitally-empowered customer is not just about perfecting ecommerce and digital marketing. It begins with a robust prediction of potential behavioral shifts and their implications on demand in your sector. The digital revolution is already empowering the individual customer in many different ways. Discussed below, these trends are here to stay and grow. How about your brand and business?

1. Access to an increasing amount of detailed product, service, and business information

Real-time access to detailed information about products, services, and their providers is getting easier every day. This information comes in different forms and shapes including customer and expert reviews. Businesses and individuals are now able to make their purchasing decisions on a much more informed basis, even without speaking to a single person. This means that unfavorable information about a single transaction or employee experience can remain online and hurt brands indefinitely. Winning businesses and leaders know how to use this challenge to their advantage.

The electronics industry is a great example where users, experts, and companies make it very straight forward for us all to compare product features and find the right fit for our needs with the least amount of effort. Electronic companies themselves report on the bugs and shortcomings in their products and how they plan to fix them in upgrades or new releases.

Do you have full knowledge of all the information that would influence perceptions about your brand? What are you doing to contribute to the dialogue in ways that strengthen your brand?

2. An expanding variety of product and service choices

Digital technologies enable providers to reach customers that they wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise due to financial or geographic constraints. Digital marketing requires much less financial commitment than traditional marketing. I am intrigued by how the digital revolution is challenging law and medical practices with all the new choices that are available to their empowered customers. Through search engines, social media, and specialized websites it is so easy to find and compare legal and healthcare providers in so many different ways. One bad patient or client experience can easily send a few prospective patients and clients away. Lawyers are starting to get much more active on social media, and doctors are probably next!

Barriers to new entry in many industries are also reduced by the ability of smaller, new entrants to adopt new technologies more easily and faster than larger, more established businesses. Clients now can easily find product and service choices that are more aligned with their own technology preferences, systems, or workflows. Through creative solutions, leaders of larger organization can turn this challenge into an opportunity as well. For example, tech conglomerates like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba have established internal venture studios to spin off innovative startups that are not limited by the legacy systems of the parent organization.

How is the digital revolution changing the competitive landscape in your sector? In what way will you leverage technology not only to stay but also to be ahead of the game?

3. The ability to form, join, and mobilize large virtual global communities

This may seem like it has much more relevance to politics. The ability of one or a few individuals to virtually ignite major social movements and revolutions has been changing the lives of billions of people during this last decade. As a result, economies and business environments are also being transformed in unimaginable ways. One recent example is the growing impact of Black Lives Matter (BLM), a movement that was founded in 2013 to address police brutality in the US. BLM’s expansion to become a global movement was only made possible through social media. What used to be a national concern is now an international issue.

These global cause-based communities are now able to not only change the socioeconomic landscape for businesses, but also directly make or break a brand. The effect of global virtual communities on individual preferences and brand perceptions is growing rapidly. In extreme instances, calls on social media to boycott businesses based on their stances on political or social issues can have serious implications on established brands. Even Facebook saw some losses as a result of the recent ad boycotts.

Are you familiar with the global communities where your customers and prospects hang out? How well are your values aligned with their causes?

4. More Independence, Less Reliance on Others

Imagine how our lives would have been during the COVID19 crisis if digital technologies weren’t making us this independent. While painful to many parents, teachers, and school administrators, their collective success in saving the academic year could have been impossible to achieve just five years ago. The list of applications enabling client independence had been growing fast even prior to the coronavirus outbreak: e-learning, homeschooling, electronic trading platforms, online banking, e-commerce, online health assessments, nutrition and exercise apps, etc. Digital technology is not just eliminating the need for some middlemen but also expert hours since expertise can now be digitally packaged and sold and resold to millions of clients indefinitely. This is in addition to the expanding application of robotics ranging from helping the elderly with independent living to helping doctors with surgeries.

For businesses, the challenges range from declining demand for their services and products to increasing competition from nontraditional providers.  This new competitive challenge comes in the form of digital or digitally-packaged and/or delivered products and services that improve client independence. At the same time, new opportunities are surfacing for those who are willing to get creative about product design and delivery and client engagement.

How is digital technology improving client independence and tightening competition in your sector? What product features or client engagement strategies will make you the go-to provider for those who are seeking more independence?

5. Reduced Need for Transport with Telecommuting, Telemedicine, Teleworking, etc

This is a trend that has clearly been accelerated by the COVID19 crisis. The preference for telecommuting is expected to remain strong for some time due to the challenges associated with reopening economies at a sustainable pace. Post COVID19, the pandemic’s prolonged socioeconomic and behavioral effects could mean that many of us will continue to travel much less by land, sea, and air. There will clearly be direct implications on the transport, aircraft and automobile manufacturing and energy sectors. In the energy industry, for example, the muted desire to drive or fly places downward pressure on transport fuel demand but upward pressure on residential power demand. This could improve prospects for renewable energy and other electricity generation sources.

Also, some other sectors will see second order impacts from telecommuting such as the hospitality industry. When working or spending our vacations at home, restaurants will suffer from lower dine-in and take-out demand. Likewise, hotels may continue to see much less in-person conventions and conferences for some time. On the positive side, the broadband industry is picking up much higher demand.

What kind of first, second, or even third order impacts is your industry seeing from the proliferation of telecommuting? What are your plans to navigate the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities?

The socioeconomic transformation associated with the rise of the digitally-empowered customer is already reshaping competitive landscapes and demand profiles. Success now hinges on the ability of leaders to revisit future visions accordingly and strategize for new challenges and opportunities surfacing as a result of the rise of the digitally-empowered customer.

Contact us to learn more about how we partner with our clients to navigate the digital revolution and other major transformations

Seeking New Normalcy: Winning Strategies

The new normal continues to take shape as social distancing and other health and safety measures bring transformational shifts to our behaviors, societal values, employment practices, and leadership approaches.  The demarcation between winners and losers in this environment may become clearer than ever. What it takes to be on the winning side could vary by industry, location, and/or profession. In our survey about the new normal, we asked leaders from the energy, health, and coaching industries about their views on what it takes for businesses in their respective sectors to excel in the new normal. Their answers indicate that bigger picture success drivers are similar across the economy. How each of these is interpreted will clearly be different for each organization.

What will take for businesses to be on the winning side in the ‘new normal’?

There was a great deal of consensus among our respondents that winning in the new environment will hinge on realizing and maintaining a tricky balance between flexibility and innovation on one hand and taking responsibility for sustainability on the other.

  • Innovation in employee and client solutions.  As discussed in earlier blogs, the preference for having the flexibility to work remotely and meet virtually when possible is expected to be here to stay. Applying communication and digital technologies creatively to allow employees to do their jobs while adhering to social distancing has already proven to be an important survival and success tool in the new normal.  Innovation in client solutions has also been a major differentiator for grocery stores, other retailers, and restaurants that were quick to upgrade their online shopping and delivery systems. Professional service providers offering research, advisory, consulting, and coaching services have also increased their online activity levels immensely. Even healthcare services are now trying to be creative about going largely virtual where possible. Our respondents feel that continued innovation in leveraging digital technologies to improve employee and client experiences to help establish diversified businesses will be critical for success in the new normal. 
  • A proactive attitude toward change and risk assessment and management. Embracing the constant state of change that comes with the new normal is viewed as a top driver for winning. While predicting the timing and nature of change accurately can be near impossible, winners will typically have established the capability to identify, assess and navigate risks. Being proactive about embracing change and assessing and mitigating risks calls for a great deal of operational and commercial flexibility and nimbleness. Also, while visionary leaders can be naturally gifted in identifying signposts for game changers, every leader can benefit from a mechanism for soliciting such input from visionaries within their organization and wider industry. The leaders we spoke to realize that it could be very complicated to be prepared for winning under many potential future scenarios for how things could evolve in the short, long, and medium term. But they’ve all agreed that otherwise success would be far fetched in an evolving and volatile new normal.
  • Sustainability-oriented business models. Leaders that had considered operating efficiency and emergency preparedness among their top priorities in the last few years, have been better able to ensure business continuity during the COVID19 crisis. Going forward, our respondents believe that taking responsibility for sustainability will require mental, emotional, physical, and financial preparation.  Effective sustainability business models will, therefore, have to encompass all aspects that impact operations including facilities, human capital, skillsets, structures, information technology, and financials. Also, an organizational culture that values continuous efficiency improvement can be  a real differentiator for organizations that prioritize sustainability. In addition to their operational, business continuity, and financial benefits, sustainability business models remain an important tool for realizing ambitious environmental goals.
  • Employee empowerment and engagement. Most of the leaders that responded to our survey agreed that the quality of leadership will be a real differentiator for winners in the post-COVID19 world. Engaging employees in identifying and addressing challenges and preparing for emergencies while ensuring alignment around organizational visions and missions is recommended not only for winning but also for survival. This requires an open exchange of feedback with employees and commitment to the greater good of stakeholders, not just shareholders. This in turn will allow organizations to function with a longer time horizon mindset, beyond maximizing next quarter returns and engender innovation in ensuring nimbleness in the face of volatility.

Interestingly, wining strategies in the new normal do not seem very different from some of the top leadership priorities that we had all been working on during the last few years: innovation, sustainability, employee empowerment and engagement, and a proactive approach to change and risk management. COVID19 and the ensuing economic crisis are now accelerating the attention to these priorities and reinforcing their importance for business continuity and commercial performance. In addition to assessing and managing risks, winning businesses will be those who are able to adopt and leverage these strategies to identify and capitalize on new opportunities in a socially responsible manner. If you think about it, these principles are relevant for establishing a new foundation for growth across the wider society- including public and private organizations across sectors, charities, special interest groups, communities, and even families. As influencers within several of such entities, we each have the responsibility to bring more agility, flexibility, sustainability, and engagement to our environments.

Seeking New Normalcy: Values

The values of the larger community have always been an important consideration for business success even prior to the COVID19 outbreak. Aligning corporate values with the values of the larger society is now becoming even more important for attracting clients and talent, securing employee and customer loyalty, and staying competitive. In our survey about the new normal, we asked leaders about values that are surfacing as we confront new health and economic challenges and will prevail beyond COVID19.

Which societal and business values are going to prevail in the post-COVID19 world?

A few of the leaders we spoke to doubted that there would be a lasting change to our value systems beyond the COVID19 crisis. But a good majority felt that this trying experience would stay with us long enough to bring about long-term shifts to our priorities and what we value. There was a good deal of consensus around some contradictory values that are expected to prevail ranging between the extremes of compassion and empathy on one hand and polarization and self sufficiency on one hand.

  • Compassion and Empathy. There is at least hope that what we are experiencing as a human race will lead to some mutual appreciation of of what others are going through and the environments they have to live and work in. As already evident, employers are expected to continue to demonstrate greater display of empathy for workers, their families, their health, and their well-being. The focus is going to be not only on compassionate leadership, but also compassionate collegiality and compassionate citizenship. The epidemic is teaching us that good hygiene and protective social habits are part of our responsibility toward the health of others in and outside of our immediate circles not just our own.
  • Volunteerism and Charity. Beyond being more empathetic and compassionate, there is an increasing sense of responsibility over the wellbeing of the larger community that comes with tragic crises. Given the duration, scale, scope, and economic impacts of the COVID19 crisis, this sense of responsibility is expected to be grow. Respondents believe that the greater public display of acts of heroism, selflessness, and generosity in business as well as social networks will extend even as we recover from the crisis.
  • Honesty and Transparency. The disparity in public and private entity transparency about the progress of COVID19 and protective measures has been appalling to many across the globe. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with how some governments, health authorities, medical institutions, and industries have handled the crisis. Trust has been broken in these cases in terms of both how honest leadership had been about the extent of the crisis and how seriously they’d been about protecting employees, clients, and the general public. Going forward, it is expected that the average citizen is going to command honesty and transparency from politicians as well as business leaders. Likewise, honesty and transparency is expected to be a requirement on the individual level about social activities and proximity to support pandemic containment efforts.
  • Self Sufficiency and Polarization. This value set is at odds with the first two, but they are expected to continue to coexist. As economically disadvantaged communities experience more health and economic tragedies during the crisis, preexisting feelings of inequality and unfairness would only get reinforced and stick further in the foreseeable future.  On the other hand, the more privileged nations and communities have now become more aware of the range of economic and health risks that surround them. As they become extremely protective of their stability and safety, de-globalization and regionalization trends will pick up even more pace. Self sufficiency is predicted to remain a priority at the expense of collaboration and globalization.

Expectations about values that would prevail in the new normal may vary from time to time, from one location to the other, and between social and cultural backgrounds. But it would be useful for leaders to form and regularly revisit their view on the prevailing value system. The ability of a public or private enterprise to align its actions with societal values can be a great differentiator when it comes to attracting customers and attracting and retaining top talent. Also, innovation in product and service design, development, and marketing has largely benefited from an understanding of the aspects of life experience clients value and would value over time. Leadership across many leading businesses and progressive nations have already been proactive about embracing the opportunities that come as different or new values prevail. What value shifts bring about new opportunities or risks for  your business, team, or career? What strategic choices are you making to capitalize on the opportunities and navigate the risks effectively?

Seeking New Normalcy: Leadership

As discussed in our previous article, much of our recent dialogue with leaders has been about basic questions about socioeconomic shifts that are shaping a transforming new normal in the post-COVID19 world. Answers to these questions define alternative and coinciding scenarios for customer demand,  competitive landscapes, and work dynamics within each, if not all, of the sectors of the economy. Having reviewed major insights from our respondents on the expected shifts to individual behaviors earlier this week, this article summarizes insights from answers to the second question:

In what ways will leaders continue to approach their businesses and employees differently even as we recover from the crisis?

Some respondents were very skeptical that all leaders will actually make long-term transformational shifts in their approach to leadership as we recover from the health and economic crisis. But there was  consensus about some overarching transformational themes that are here to stay beyond the COVID19 crisis.

  • Embracing remote working and virtual teams, and re-imagining the workplace. Remote working has enabled business continuity while adhering to social distancing measures. There is an expectation that leaders will now trust remote working more even beyond the crisis. Mandating physical presence as a condition for employment could become extremely challenging, especially for “at risk” employees, required to stay home if they have health concerns.  Also, ongoing experiences with remote working have already demonstrated the associated benefits of cost savings and access to more diversified pools of resources for building more effective virtual teams. As a result, companies could find themselves having to rethink the workspace to avoid physical proximity, allow telecommuting, leverage virtual teams, and achieve cost savings.
  • Empathy, balancing employee well-being with shareholder value. Leaders are expected to become more empathetic, and shift their emphasis from shareholder value to overall enterprise value enhancement. This will take additional attention to employee financial, emotional, and physical well-being. Even if some leaders don’t choose to be more empathetic, the COVID19 health crisis has made the direct connection between employee well-being and business performance clearer to employers. Employees would now be approached much more holistically as human beings and family members with priorities and demands that affect their contribution.  This could call for evaluating the need to upgrade their health insurance plans, mental health programs, flexible work policies, and compensation schemes. On the flip side, economic pressures are expected to motivate the reassessment and reduction of hiring and overall human resource needs.
  • E-commerce driven recovery and growth. Business leaders predict growth in established as well as emerging e-commerce markets with remote working and social distancing becoming the norm. Many businesses in the online retail and tech sectors have already seen significant growth in 2020. Leaders across sectors are upping their game, where possible, to identify and realize commercial opportunities for their businesses in a socially distanced, increasingly virtual world. Financial recovery and growth is projected to be driven by a continuous shift to e-commerce or products and services that support virtual work and communication and other social distancing measures.

Raising questions about how overall public and private sector leadership priorities and approaches could be transforming is critical for success in the new normal. These changes drive shifts in the competitive landscape, customer demand, and/or policy dynamics for most businesses. As leaders re-envision the future and redirect their organizations accordingly, it would be useful to consider societal values that will prevail in the new normal. The next article in our “Seeking New Normalcy” series will address the question of values.