Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, believes we’re living through a period of “radical uncertainty”. He’s right. From the Brexit vote to terrorist attacks, change is now rapid and unpredictable. These seismic events are on top of major changes in markets, regulation and customer expectations that have taken place in recent years – all leading to the need for organisations to transform in order to thrive in this new world.
When the world can look so different after one month, never mind after a couple of years, the traditional way of delivering transformation needs to change.
Organisations need to stop acting like oil tankers set on fixed courses and become nimble racing yachts that can react quickly to external events.
We’ve identified five principles that can help you make this change.
Plan for different futures
Be ready to think through different scenarios and build a variety of options and outcomes into your transformation plan. Ask “what if?” at every stage of the planning process. You can never plan for every scenario, but visualising different possibilities will make your plans more robust, flexible and therefore more achievable.
By planning for different futures, leaders are able to visualise scenarios and prepare for them more effectively. This allows you to be able to respond effectively to different eventualities.
Develop leaders who thrive in uncertainty
Traditional leaders are measured on their ability to meet any given objective. Missing deadlines or changing course is seen as a failure. But this approach won’t work in times of intense and rapid change. So start developing and promoting a new type of leader.
Reward new-style leaders for being flexible and anticipating change. Support them for having the courage to stop a process if it no longer reflects the situation in the wider world. Make sure they’re humble and open minded, and willing to take advice and challenge from outsiders and experts.
TRANSFORMATION. Take a bespoke approach to business transformation
Make it okay to change course
Uncertainty demands greater flexibility, but this shouldn’t be used as an excuse for putting off decisions until the forecast become clearer. Decisions still need to be taken.
Take advantage of data, analysis and judgement to make the best decisions possible. Then make sure they are always viewed and judged in light of the information available when they were made. People should be able to change their minds and make refinements to a plan if circumstances change.
Win hearts and minds
Conventional transformations tend to focus on rational arguments and numbers. People are told “if we do this, we’ll save X amount of money or secure X new customers”. In an uncertain world, it’s much harder to provide definitive facts so provide more emotive arguments instead. For example, recent successful political campaigns such as the EU leave campaign in the UK, focused on simple and emotive messages rather than facts and figures.
Give people the power to innovate
Give everyone in the organisation the power to make their own decisions and respond to changes in their own environment. It’s the only way to make adaptive transformation happen. All your teams need a clear game plan and every player should be able to make their own decisions in light of what is happening in front of them. Decentralise decision making, support and reinforce a culture that supports innovative approaches.
These ideas can help you shape a new way of delivering transformation that works in a period of radical uncertainty. Stick with the old ways and you could find your markets, customers and technology have moved on without you.