Category Transformational Leadership

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.

Seeking New Normalcy: Behaviors

Globally, economies are being reopened while the fight to flatten the COVID19 curve is still on. The highly volatile ‘new normal’ is unfolding under our feet. Meanwhile, we’re being challenged to make sense of it and maximize gains or at least minimize losses. Leaders in the public and private sectors are under pressure to provide answers as the search for normalcy continues. This is probably distracting them from doing what successful leaders do best: ask great questions.

As a strategy partner, I work with my clients on raising and answering the right, sometimes very complex, questions. But over the last few weeks, we have been deliberating over some basic questions. To help envision a few alternative or coexistent scenarios for the new normal, we raised these questions with leaders in the energy, health, and coaching industries. The answers reinforce the complexity of the evolving new normal. But when it comes to what it takes to be on the winning side, the answers were not so different from what we would have heard prior to the coronavirus outbreak. We all probably just had assumed that we had more time to address the imperatives of innovation, sustainability, empowerment and engagement for example.

In this first article, we summarize the major insights provided by our respondents in answering our first question:

Which individual behavioral shifts will characterize the post-COVID19 new normal?

The first question is about the personal and professional behavioral shifts that will prevail even as the world recovers from the health and economic crisis. It is critical for every leader to make a habit of raising this questions to improve intelligence about client preferences, end user demand, and employee dynamics. The results of our survey show consensus around four areas of behavioral changes that are already transforming the landscape in most, if not all, public and private sectors.

  • Flexibility toward remote working. A conservative attitude toward physical proximity is expected to continue for some time, at least until real progress is made on an effective vaccine. Also, as employers experience cost savings and begin to trust the performance of remote workers, it is anticipated that many could follow Twitter in rolling out their indefinite remote working policies.
  • Virtual communications and team dynamics. Virtual meetings are expected to be an acceptable norm unless in-person meetings are an absolute necessity. Organizations and employees are also expected to continue to seek creative ways for remote team building and operations and virtual relationship building.
  • Personal health prioritization. Most of our respondents expect individuals to become much more aware of their health conditions and view improving their mental and physical health as a priority. This will affect how they view work and the work environment and their personal and professional habits.
  • New spending and buying habits. The economic crisis and resultant financial pressures and fears that followed COVID19 containment efforts are expected to linger for some time. Individuals and businesses have already become much more conservative spenders, an attitude that could stay beyond the economic crisis. Also, there is consensus that the growing preference for online shopping is here to stay not only to adhere to social distancing measures, but also to have access to a wider range of choices when it comes to product pricing and quality.

These and other behavioral shifts are presenting new growth opportunities for some industries such as online retail and technology. At the same time, unprecedented risks have surfaced for other sectors such as the airline and energy industries. Challenges on both sides require creativity from leaders in considering game-changing behavioral shifts and addressing their implications on demand for their products or services, their supply chains, and/or workforce dynamics for their organizations.

To continue to provoke thought around the ‘new normal’ scenarios evolving for different industries, we will follow up with three other blogs covering survey results for three more questions:

  • In what ways will leaders continue to approach their businesses and employees differently even as we recover from the crisis?
  • Which societal and business values are going to prevail in the post-COVID19 world?
  • What will take for businesses to be on the winning side in the ‘new normal’?

In the meantime, start thinking about how the ‘new normal’ could be shaping for your organization and larger industry and what it means for your priorities as a leader.



Remote working: how to make it work?

While it has become a necessity for many, remote working will not be ideal for everyone. Success can be challenging and complex even for the most seasoned and experienced employees and managers. The leadership challenges associated with such a wholesale and abrupt shift are numerous. Since we published our article about remote working last week, we received a number of questions about several of these implications: 

  • Which employees and/or roles will remote working hinder success for? Will remote workers have the ability to create the right environments for themselves?
  • How will they handle daily distractions at home? For example, as nice as it is to spend time at home with small children, how do you explain to them that it is work time when you’re at home all day?
  • How can managers establish supportive work environments and ensure effectiveness and relevance in employee performance?
  • How to keep teams together when every team member is sitting at home feeling lonely and/or scared, or being surrounded by family doing family business?

These questions highlight that despite the advancement in technology, moving away from habitual and traditional work environments hasn’t necessarily been easy. Some remote workers can feel isolated and experience difficulty in managing time. And productivity levels can be a contentious discussion. These issues are now compounded by the distressful nature of the COVID19 health crisis and the associated economic crisis. It can be near impossible for any of us to stay focused on task for a full workday.

But what does it take to keep your team’s or organization’s eyes on the prize during this crisis? It actually starts with you, the leader! What are you doing to transform your approach to leadership during these testing times? For example, are you taking full advantage of technology to serve your people and your business? This is the time for you and your leadership team to develop and/or leverage your online forums for building and strengthening your virtual teams in different ways.

Of course, sharing business updates, meeting outcomes, and employee business and personal achievements can be a great opportunity to improve engagement. And scheduled virtual check-ins may now be more critical than regular face-to-face meetings in the not so distant past.

But more importantly, leaders could benefit from some extra creativity in assigning performance objectives and projects to pairs and teams rather than individuals to ensure continuous team engagement. Also, technology-enabled feedback systems have now become much more important than ever for ensuring engagement and an instantaneous flow of information about how the employee and client experiences are evolving during the crisis.

The fast unfolding health crisis is making figuring out remote working solutions a necessity, almost for all but essential businesses and business functions. While this decision is already made for many leaders already, there are other decisions to ponder upon:

  1. The frequency of communication from/with CEOs, executives, and managers to solicit input on business decisions, or to just talk about non-work-related matters
  2. The frequency and balance of formal and informal team and one-on-one communication
  3. Identifying and empowering employees and roles that could even be much more successful in solitude
  4. Ways to adjust performance management systems to the new reality and develop, prioritize and measure team-level objectives
  5. Professional development resources to support managers and employees with the new challenges related to self-discipline, clarity of expectations, productive virtual team dynamics, and motivation during a time of collective hardship

The world is changing very quickly as the crisis unfolds, and that comes with opportunities to be creative. Perhaps with this crisis companies will exhibit a sense of urgency to build more on of the use of technology to their advantage. Be strategic with the crucial roles that will jeopardize the smooth flow of business. It is imperative that this is given immediate attention. There is no time like now.

A Case for Embracing Remote Working

The coronavirus pandemic is a harsh reminder that the world is changing more rapidly than we can comprehend. And the challenge to learn how to live, work, and do business differently cannot be overestimated. But the change presents real opportunities for some of us: those who have embraced the very different nature and pace of the shifts happening beneath us. Only those will be able to find out what works and how we can capitalize on the opportunities to make transformational improvements in our lives, businesses, and our larger environment.

Declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday, the coronavirus outbreak and the ensuing economic downturn or crisis are now compelling us to find new means for living, working, and running businesses. Schools, universities, and religious institutions are all now talking about going virtual. We believe that leaders who succeed at planning and implementing effective remote working programs will have a better chance at not only surviving but succeeding. While remote working is not perfectly right for every role and every organization, leveraging technology that’s been available for some time to help human beings and businesses survive is not just optional now. Every leader will have to address what this means for their organization or their team. The real winners are those who have been in the middle of this transformation for some time and are finding it more straightforward to adjust to the health and economic crises responsibly. Followers who have accepted the reality of change and are considering how to reshape work and the workforce could have good chances at succeeding.

In addition to business continuity and productivity goals, leaders and organizations now have an opportunity to meet some of their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals in new and creative ways. Accommodating remote work imperatives for employees is a means to demonstrate commitment not only to their health and safety but also to the health and safety of the larger community. As we have all learned, carriers can be asymptomatic. And social distancing has now been proven in China as a successful measure to slow down the trend of growth in new coronavirus cases.

Over and above the ongoing global force majeure of coronavirus outbreak, developing the ability within your organization to run virtually when necessary is helpful in many ways:

Working remotely can be a huge cost benefit for companies. Huge savings involve expenses associated with locating and leasing/buying the ideal physical location, purchasing, rental and maintenance. That money can now be allocated to marketing, additional staff benefits, to a cause supported by the company, and/or to improve overall finances. It can also be used to expand the workforce to undertake new initiatives.  The company would also spend less on overhead, and other menial unnecessary expenses which can add up. Also, introducing the remote working culture make organizations and employees better able to save on business travel as they learn how to productively run and participate in virtual meetings and workgroups. These are just some of the cost benefits that can make it attractive to begin the process of encouraging a remote workforce.

We shouldn’t always allow situations to force us into thinking of what would attract some of the best employees, however this more often than not is the case. Otherwise, they will probably end up with competitors who are willing to offer that flexibility. There is a case for working remotely. There are individuals who get more done working from home. Most people who work remotely will have more control as to how time is utilized, display a higher level of commitment, dedication and accountability because they are unsupervised and deadlines become even more important. Businesses who offer remote work opportunities also have a good chance of attracting some of the best candidates because they now have a much larger and more diverse pool to choose from. Attracting a diverse workforce is another key ESG objective.

Also, being able to work from home gives parents with young children the chance to spend more time and flexibility for raising their children just as they would like to. It may even become very convenient for parents to home school their children. Parents who feel confident that their children are safe will be more productive. Trust will be built and diversity and inclusion will be served, meeting ESG aspirations in yet another way. Also, when people have a good work-life balance there is a good chance that you have an employee for the long haul, higher work morale, less absenteeism, an opportunity to engage with other remote workers around the world which helps in expanding their knowledge at perhaps no cost to the employer. Working remotely reduces the pain and time spent on long commutes and unpredictable travel nightmares.

As we experience this new health and economic challenge, businesses will benefit from being intentional in their thinking and staying prepared for testing times. In cases of highly contagious diseases the work will still go on with less disruption unlike the panic and fear that can be caused working together in a huge office space or eventually not being able to work for long time periods. Forward thinking companies must spend more time exploring the reality of the constant changes taking place in the world and the workforce, and the effectiveness, growth and cost savings that come with working remotely. However, going virtual doesn’t come without personnel and operational challenges which we will soon discuss in another article.

In leading energy transitions sticking to a low-CARBon diet is about our energy appetite not only our technology choices

Last month, 16-year old Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, made headlines again with her speech at the Climate Action Summit in New York. At a young age, Greta is demonstrating impressive leadership in holding world leaders responsible for the lack of sufficient action to combat climate change. She felt that they left her and her generation no choice but to quit being kids and take ownership of their future, which is being destroyed by the greed of adults.

Greta was deeply concerned that world leaders were not ready yet to present real solutions or plans to meet the 1.5 degree by 2030 goal, because they were not “mature” enough. She cited an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report setting a “total carbon budget” of 420 gigatons of CO2 in the beginning of 2018. And it’s one we have already missed. This got me thinking…

While brave and admirable, will Greta’s activism be supported by the kind of multi-generational leadership the world needs to meet its climate change goals? Are the rest of us fully informed as to what effective leadership in this space looks like and what compliance actually requires?

As widely understood, the failure to meet carbon emission goals is largely driven by the reliance on fossil fuels to satiate our ever growing hunger for energy. This makes it easy to point at government inaction and the greed of fossil fuel producers and large consumers for limiting our access to an assortment of zero- or low-carbon technologies. Regardless of the extent to which governments and oil, gas, coal and related industries are responsible, environmental activism and related studies seem to be largely focused on one side of the energy equation: supply. The concern has largely been about our energy sources and the insufficient investment in zero or low carbon technologies. Understanding the demand side of our energy equation is obviously trickier. But if climate change activism and leadership across relevant industry sectors and economies are serious about meeting their carbon emission goals, they would benefit from addressing a couple of questions.

How feasible is it for investments in zero or low carbon alternative technology over this coming decade to grow at a pace that would support energy demand growth and displace fossil fuel sources?

Over the last decade global renewable capacity has more than doubled from above 1,100 GW in 2008 to above 2,300 in 2018 GW according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Still, renewable energy supplied about 15% of global energy demand in 2018 according to the EIA. Even if global consumption for energy were to grow by no more than 1%, we will see energy demand growth of 20% in the next 20 years as predicted by the Shell Energy Sky Scenario of 2019. This means that investments need to more than double current levels of renewable capacity only to support demand growth, i.e. limit further increases in rather than reduce CO2 emissions. To effectively displace carbon-emitting fossil fuel sources and reduce our emissions, the world needs to more than triple or quadruple its renewable capacity. The technical, geographic, and financial feasibility of the required fast-paced wholesale transition in the energy supply mix could definitely use some more analysis. To what extent is multi-generational leadership of climate change initiatives ready to drive this analysis?

And a more burning question is do we really believe that our global demand for energy will grow at a drastically slower pace in the next 20 years compared to the last 20 years?

The more we use energy for transportation, industrial activity, electricity, heating, cooking, etc the more CO2 we send to the atmosphere. And it could be that our growing consumption of energy is making it near impossible to meet climate change goals. Climate change science and activism is mostly originating in the developed OECD world and more specifically in the Western Hemisphere. This is where energy demand growth is beginning to slow down in many areas and is expected to remain flat or even decline in the future. In non-OECD, energy demand has grown by over 3% per year on average over the last 20 years. Most of the recent energy consumption outlooks expect energy demand in the developing world to adhere to a growth rate of no more than 1-2% per year over the next 20 years. The need to triple or even quadruple global renewable energy resources in the next 20 years is based on these low to moderate energy demand growth expectations. But is it realistic to expect the developing world in Africa and Asia Pacific for example to curb its appetite for energy to this extent, given all the socio-economic and political change?

Have traditional methods for understanding and forecasting energy demand become obsolete?

Global energy demand is an extremely complicated story that requires hard core data analytics and modeling. Energy demand forecasting models have typically been based on the extrapolation of past behaviors. The relevance of past trends is declining due to major socio-economic and technological transformations, not to mention climate change itself. Any serious demand forecasting exercise will need to address multiple dimensions around these transformations and they affect our appetite for energy, for example:

  • Home to more than one third of global urban population, the developing world is still primarily rural. The rate and nature of economic growth could drive urbanization much faster than historic rates in several of these economies.
  • The anticipated growth in economic activity and urbanization in the developing world simply means the need for automotive mobility will only grow. This will happen in places where economic pressures make it nearly impossible to see any form of meaningful adoption of newer fuel-efficient vehicles, let alone EVs.
  • About 14% of the world’s population (about 1 billion people) is still without access to electricity. Universal access is planned by 2030 in most countries according to the UN. Many uncertainties surround the timing and nature of this access.
  • Complicated decision making processes among individual energy consumers, consumer groups, or policy makers will drive investments in distributed generation, micro-grids, or electric vehicles. Understanding the impact of these decisions on the operation of energy systems and eventual energy demand growth can be even more challenging.
  • An ongoing technological transformation at a pace that is catching us by surprise every second. Digital technology adoption across different sectors can make energy demand growth easily exceed moderate expectations not only in the developing world, but also in the developed world. In the financial sector, a recent analysis by the University of Cambridge estimated that bitcoin-related activity alone consumes more energy than the entire nation of Switzerland!

The real challenge for energy transition leadership: combat climate change but cooperate with others around the table

Clearly, it’s much simpler to understand the investment and operational decisions of hundreds of regulatory bodies or thousands of businesses than it is to understand what these transformations mean for the energy consumption of 7.7 billion individuals. This is why understanding the responsibility of policymakers and energy producing and consuming industries in the success or failure of energy transitions is more straightforward. But the bad news is that if demand does not assume an active role in meeting decarbonization goals, we could see consumption growth at a rate that supply cannot keep up with.

The good news though is that one of the key demand challenges, the digital transformation, can be an enabler. We have the technology that will allow us to better access and understand behavioral, socio-economic, and energy demand dynamics and predict future dynamics. To support Greta and her generation protect their future, responsible multi-generational leadership of global energy transition takes two things:

  • Accepting the analytical challenge of projecting how energy demand will or won’t grow and its implications on carbon emissions; and
  • Setting clear objectives for energy demand growth and consumption profiles that support climate change goals and developing innovative strategies to meet them.

If the world needs to go through a low-carbon diet then having an exciting assortment of zero- and low-carbon technologies in its pantry alone isn’t sufficient. Like any diet, an intentional understanding and management of our energy consumption behavior is a necessity.

Five Mindset Shifts to Unlock Professional Growth for Women

As the 2019 Women’s History Month comes to an end, there is probably no better time for female professionals to take control of their growth and promise themselves a breakthrough year. While the role of employers can not be overemphasized, taking control of our lives and careers is definitely much more powerful. But taking control is not just about making a decision to do so. It takes making major mindset shifts to unleash our full potential as female leaders and professionals. Some, if not all, of these mindsets also apply more widely to non-gender based minorities.

  1. Avoid anticipating bias. The anticipation of bias and/or discrimination can be one of the most inhibiting self-limiting beliefs. It’s a form of bias against oneself.Many career and business opportunities are being missed everyday because of this expectation. Showing up without all of our confidence and enthusiasm is a sure way to project that we are not prepared to perform at the right level for the new opportunity. Earlier in my career, I recommended a friend for a job (with my employer then) that he was more than qualified for. Being a recent immigrant, he went into the interview with little faith that he would end up with the job versus an American born citizen. He lost the opportunity for sure, but to an even more recent immigrant. The hiring manager was concerned about his level of enthusiasm and interest in the job!
  2. Reflect on rather than reject feedback. It can be very easy to mistakenly assume preexisting conscious or subconscious gender biases are the source of most constructive feedback from male colleagues. It certainly could be the source of some feedback. Yet, bias against unpleasant comments as gender-biased opinion can waste much time and energy on defending oneself and proving colleagues wrong. As a result, we can easily miss the opportunity to identify and address real development needs reflected in the feedback. Another risk is bruised relationships with well-intended colleagues and discouraging others from providing honest feedback. Reflecting on all feedback and identifying common views across a wider group of colleagues as a first step can make a huge difference.
  3. Be ready to fail even if you are not ready to succeed. I am really not sure if this behavior is innate or learned. But, we generally seem to want to be more than ready for a new role or responsibility before we throw our name in the hat. This reluctance is another form of bias against oneself. Many men, on the other hand, are more likely to ‘fake it till they make it’. In an extreme cases, women may find themselves pushing their male colleagues forward for opportunities that they themselves may be as (if not more) prepared for. The fear to fail can immensely slow down our progress like bias and discrimination would. Putting ourselves out there and being ready to fail will only bring us closer to success much sooner. At least, we can start to eliminate what wouldn’t work!
  4. Promote diversity and inclusion. Professional women are generally very supportive of other women in and outside of the workplace. However, much of the support addresses the symptoms of limited opportunities and representation of women in senior positions. Topical treatments of the situation may appear like bias toward women, not necessarily the answer for bias against women. In reality, diversity (beyond gender) has become very critical for success for organizations today. The increasing diversity of challenges, opportunities, clients, and competitors calls for diversity in mentality. Homogeneous organizations will struggle even if they try to stay local because technology and demographics together bring the world to their doorsteps, both virtually and physically. Female leaders are in a great position to tackle bias, engender diversity of thought, and celebrate differences in gender, race, ethnicity, region, etc. Assuming ownership and leadership of diversity and inclusion goals is a sure way to unlock growth for ourselves, other female professionals, other groups facing bias, and our businesses.
  5. Be yourself. We have made huge progress in this area. Professional women now feel much more comfortable looking, dressing, and behaving like the women that they are. But as our world becomes more competitive by the day, there is pressure to “join them if you can’t beat them.” We have all probably watched male and female executives get caught in the race and start to communicate or generally behave like the dominant majority. There is growing awareness, however, that realizing one’s full potential takes understanding and applying your authentic self. Also, to pave the way for other women and disadvantaged groups to succeed it’s our responsibility to demonstrate how you can do it without sacrificing part of who you are.

There are definitely other issues that require attention for empowering female professionals. Many of these would require the larger organization, community, and their leadership to make cultural shifts and change their policy and approach. However, organizational and societal measures are only as effective as our willingness to take ownership of our success and growth and remove our own biases around bias!

Digital Transformations: four strategies that actually work!

In my previous post, I discussed some typical leadership pitfalls that derail digital transformations. I got some good feedback that it resonated with many who’d been involved in or leading such transformations. There seems to be some good consensus around the danger of neglecting the cultural and commercial implications of digital transformations and treating them like isolated technology initiatives. Also in follow up conversations, some common themes began to emerge around strategic approaches that actually worked. Collective experiences suggest that a combination of the top four strategies discussed below establishes a solid foundation for the successful integration of digital technology.

Communication: simplify the message

I actually heard this repeatedly from technology heads who felt that their teams and larger organizations would benefit immensely from simplified top leadership communication. These high-level messages need to articulate the rationale behind the transformation and what to expect during the journey:

  • What are the goals of integrating new digital technologies and going through an organization-wide transformation? How is this going to affect the bottom line, operations, or safety? Is the organization being reactive or proactive considering where clients and competitors are on their transformation journeys?
  • Which teams and functions are responsible for figuring out how to get there? The answer- which typically requires some investigation- need not include the fancy solutions that some executives tend to promote prematurely: the Internet of Things (IOT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Analytics, the Cloud, etc.
  • What is expected from other functions to support the planning and execution of the transformation? Will some roles and responsibilities change during or after the transformation? What exciting growth opportunities does this transformation present for people and teams?

Execution: demonstrate success

Securing stakeholder buy-in and commitment can be extremely challenging in ways that slow down transformations. Anticipating and mitigating this and other risks are not necessarily straightforward. One proven strategy is to start with small demonstration projects with direct commercial or efficiency impacts. Successes can then be scaled up and failures can be avoided. Organizations that use this strategy typically scope out and implements individual projects to achieve very specific digital transformation goals similar to the following:

  • Improving efficiencies in data gathering, manipulation, and analytics to liberate resources for higher value activities;
  • Raising safety standards or overall quality levels across operations;
  • Extracting better insight from employee and candidate data to inform HR strategies;
  • Enhancing existing products or launching new innovative offerings; or
  • Gaining additional intelligence on clients and competitors to support product development, and sales and marketing efforts.

Change management: engage the wider business

This is another strategic imperative that technology and data analytics team leaders are very big on. Their tech-savvy teams require so much support on understanding and transforming the employee and client experiences, which are what it all eventually comes down to. Therefore, it is critical that teams that are responsible for operations or interact with clients are sold on the value of the transformation and are partners in making it happen.

Effective engagement starts from the top and very early in the journey. It requires proactive communication and genuine solicitation of input related to the transformation. Otherwise, most employees will continue in a business-as-usual manner expecting some new invention to drop on their desks one day or maybe they won’t even have faith it will! Ineffective stakeholder engagement can easily make the latter a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Personnel: attract, develop, and retain hybrid talent

The scary pace of technological advancement is removing geographic and functional barriers much faster than we are able to adapt to it. Understanding and addressing this challenge is not only a strategy for success but also a necessity. Digital transformations involve changing the employee experience, or the way employees carry their jobs and interact with each other and with clients. They may also involve changing the client experience through enhanced and new products and services or more innovative methods of delivery and client interaction.

This requires not only solid understanding of legacy processes but also the imagination to visualize how these experiences would change. The latter calls for familiarity with the available technological options, what they can deliver, and how they can change employee and/or client experiences. Organizations will therefore benefit from the ability to attract, develop, and retain employees with hybrid skill sets that allow them to consider the operational, commercial, and technological aspects of the transformation. Defining what the ultimate hybrid skill sets and roles look like takes some work, but it is a clear necessity.

We are still in the middle of an overwhelming digital transition, which means there is still so much to learn about how organizations can make digital transformations successful. But our collective experiences are increasingly offering significant input on strategic approaches that work. What’s interesting about the strategies discussed here is that they are probably critical for orchestrating and executing any major transformation- digital or not!

Digital transformations: four leadership pitfalls that derail them!

Developing and implementing effective digital transformation strategies is becoming more and more imperative not only for growth but also for survival in many industries. If your organization does not become capable of fully leveraging the opportunities offered by new data technologies in innovative ways, your competitors will. Also, new competitors will emerge with the ability to readily adopt new technologies. Where relevant, this is being largely realized by executives who are making digital transformation strategies a corporate priority. However, to what extent are their approaches helpful or actually detrimental to the progress of their organizations?

Throughout my experience in the energy industry, which is pretty data intensive, I have noticed that the technology-driven transformations can easily be derailed by the same strategies that aim to support them. Some of these pitfalls can be more tragic than others of course but some combination of two or more typically collide to reinforce the natural resistance to change. Here the top four I’ve observed over the years:

  • Communicating the digital transformation as an end rather than a means. Introducing digital transformations as a vision for the future can actually be pretty confusing. A digital transformation strategy is actually a means to develop the ability to quickly leverage state-of-the-art data technologies to realize an already well articulated commercial vision. Through time, this is becoming more of a must-have than a differentiator. Clarifying the specific objectives of the transformation is the first step towards success. Are the new technologies and the data they avail going to offer more insight into clients and/or competitors? Are they going to improve the quality of the offering or enable the development of new offerings? Otherwise, if the ongoing global technological revolution calls for an overall vision revisit, that should be well articulated. Otherwise, eyes should still be kept on the prize!
  • Getting overly excited about solutions before defining the problem. Let’s admit it. Most, if not all, executives are not necessarily the most tech savvy in their organizations. A leader, however, may get extremely excited about the opportunities made possible by a specific concept like Big Data, Analytics, the Internet of Things (IOT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, the Cloud, etc. And if a leader constantly raves about specific solutions, these may end up being perceived as the desired answer regardless of the question. Going back to your vision as a leader, it’s best if your guidance focuses on where you think technology can be helpful. And trust your organization to identify and implement the suitable solution because before I finish writing this some even more exciting concept, technology, or application will have emerged!
  • Creating an unintended parallel organization. Investing in and empowering a highly talented technology team to migrate systems and data to new platforms is critical. But, if operations, subject matter experts, sales and marketing teams aren’t all fully engaged in the journey, the desired holistic shift could easily be slowed down or miss its business goals. Old systems and approaches may remain a mystery to the technology team, negatively affecting efficiency, quality, and, as a result, brand. Employee engagement and client centrism are significant ingredients for successful digital transformations. This requires a well formulated strategy for securing buy-in and establishing a sense of partnership among stakeholders.
  • Isolating innovation as an independent business function. Allocating a department or function to innovation can be useful at a time when technology is evolving faster than we can figure out what to do with it. But it can signal that the rest of the organization has no business being innovative. Also, innovative efforts across the organization that go unnoticed can be a huge demotivator. Adopting an innovative culture that engenders creativity, on the other hand, will have positive impacts on the pace as well as the benefits of the digital transformation.

As the digital revolution unfolds, leaders are challenged with having to develop and implement transformation strategies while learning from their own mistakes. The importance of dynamically understanding and managing the wholesale cultural and commercial implications of this transformation can not be overstated.

Leadership: the ignored career choice!

There is clearly no shortage of literature, training programs, degrees, and other efforts specializing in leadership development. There is also no shortage of professionals offering to develop and coach leaders, including yours truly. However, professionals typically go through these development experiences after they are appointed to leadership roles. Leaders are, hence, chosen but to what extent does each leader get to make the conscious decision to become a leader and keep climbing the ranks?

Since students wouldn’t go into undergraduate programs to specialize in leadership, a systemic approach to treat leadership as a career choice similar to major professions doesn’t really exist. Rather, a leadership role is generally perceived as an opportunity for advancement and who in their right mind would say NO to that? In many cases, this opportunity is offered due to the success of the selected leader in a technical role or maybe a smaller or very different leadership role. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll start saying no to promotions. But approaching the decision to take a leadership role like a typical career choice can be very helpful for effectively selecting and even developing leaders. This boils down to two simple questions:

  • What’s the desired capability profile of the future leader?
  • What makes the leadership role attractive for the ideal candidate?

As to the first question, each leadership role may require a unique profile. But there are certain capabilities that are simply required for success regardless of the size of the organization, team, or program. These basically enable a leader to define the destination, design the path, and bring people along for the journey:

  • Imagination of how the wider economy and relevant industries and communities could evolve or transform given how game changers would play out
  • Insight into the potential of individuals and teams and what it takes to realize it
  • Vision of how the organization or business would fit into the likely future scenario(s)
  • Influence to build cohesiveness and establish team-wide ownership of the vision
  • Inspiration of a growth culture that naturally attracts and cultivates leadership talent, thereby multiplying and extending the positive outcomes

As for the second question, it is probably more critical that leaders are fulfilled than it is for them to exactly fit into the role profiles. Developing some of the desired capabilities is less challenging than becoming effective while being unfulfilled and constantly struggling with personnel, financial, and competitive pressures. In addition to being results-oriented, highly successful leaders share personal characteristics that bring personal joy to their experiences:

  • Excitement about what the near, let alone the distant, future holds for their organization and people
  • A genuine desire to see people reach new, previously unimaginable heights, watch them grow, and celebrate together
  • Trust that their people have their minds and hearts in the right place and (with the right support) can and will do what it takes to achieve seemingly very ambitious goals
  • Appetite for failure because failures offer the opportunity for a leader to practice being creative and compassionate, and address the issues head on

Leaders who possess these attributes will typically find fulfillment in their leadership roles and create positive and fulfilling environments for their teams and organizations. Approaching leadership as a means to an end, or the surest way to get to the top of organizations and simply make more money is the most ineffective way to lead. Raising the two simple career choice questions about what it takes to lead and what’s in it for the leader is not just critical for making mutually satisfactory decisions about selecting leaders. It also offers a framework for developing leadership talent across a wide range of experience and expertise.

How scarcity mindsets scare businesses into contraction

I have struggled for some time with whether every leader had to be visionary- which is defined by the dictionary as “thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom.” Expecting the visionary leader to have imagination and wisdom implies that the their envisioned future state is a pleasant one. Ideally, visionaries are able to imagine and articulate a destination for their organizations to grow into. Growth aspirations send signals to businesses that there is abundance, i.e. there is more than enough success to be had and more than enough money to be made!

My recent experiences have taught me that while not all  leaders are visionary, every leader has a vision. And while leaders may spend so much time on crafting and communicating goals and objectives, their unspoken vision is perhaps the most accurate predictor of the future of their organization. A leader’s perception of how the future tends to unfold becomes clear from they way they carry themselves and make decisions. Foreseeing abundance, visionary leadership instills hope and inspires the creativity needed for unearthing and capitalizing on new opportunities. Non-visionary leaders run the risk of projecting into their vision of the future their perception of the past and the present. And the most dangerous ‘non-visionary’ vision is that of scarcity, instilling fear rather than hope. The future becomes about going after the opportunities of the past and the present, using old or new method. This makes scarcity a self-fulfilling prophecy that limits the imagination of the organization to grabbing a larger slice of the same good ol’ pie. But how?

  • Externally, the perception of scarcity generates a desire to beat rivals to protect and/or gain market share. This places the organization in a reactive mode to retain or attract clients away from competition. In the meantime, competitors are finding or even creating new opportunities in a world of abundance. They are leading the way in identifying new client needs, taking advantage of technological advances, and empowering creative talent. Scarcity-lead organizations continue to play catch up and even the most loyal clients may start to loose their patience. This reinforces the leader’s perception of scarcity, which in turn re-energizes the fear and the reactive catch-up craze.
  • Internally, slower growth and mounting competitive pressures sell employees on the notion of scarcity. Job security is not necessarily at its highest levels, nor is upward mobility. Squeezed between pressure from the top and dissatisfaction from employees, middle managers are in panic and barely surviving. In this ‘sink-or-swim’ work environment, competition with peers wins over collaboration. When it comes to sinking or swimming, one outcome is certain. Motivation, productivity, and innovation sink and even the most loyal employees may start to loose their patience.

It’s not that difficult to predict what the future now looks like given the combination of more innovative competitors, disenfranchised employees, and less satisfied clients. Destination scarcity  has now become an unpleasant reality. Clearly, no leader desires for their business to contract but what they miss is how influential their mindset is versus their stated goals and objectives. A mindset of scarcity rather than abundance paints a vision of rivalry and protectionism, rather than one of growth and expansion.

As a leader you probably invest heavily in assessing and addressing your external environments and team performance. But how much focus do you place on understanding and transforming your mindset? To what extent is your spoken vision aligned with your mindset? What is your plan for deliberately articulating a growth vision that reflects a mindset of abundance?