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The new leadership agenda: A discussion with PA Consulting’s Frazer Bennett

Frazer Bennett, chief innovation officer at PA Consulting, speaks to Disruption magazine about why organisations need a new way to lead if they want to remain relevant.

The article talks about how business leaders need to adapt to today’s changing world.

“We see big changes, and that the rate of change is increasing,” Frazer says. “This is leaving leaders a bit stuck, frankly. It’s really difficult to know which way to turn, and so we tend to revert to type. We fall back on the stuff we know and trust, to behaviours that have been instilled in us all the way through our working lives. To systematise, regularise, create a process, formularise what we are doing, in order to try and solve the problems we face.”

He continues: “The issue is that our old way of doing business simply won’t cut it in the modern age. The problems organisations currently experience don’t lend themselves to formulaic solutions”.

“You can’t respond to the pace of technological change by installing a process that’s going to help you manage that change.”

“You can’t use a process to respond to the changing expectations of consumers, what they trust, how they make choices or their values – and how their values are impacting what they do,” he adds.

The article goes on to explain that instead of reverting to the familiar processes of the past, Frazer and his team at PA advocate focusing on the innate people’s qualities to solve problems. This is the human quality of ingenuity – a playful optimism, a creative kind of inspiration that can be applied to solving challenges, particularly those that we have previously shied away from.

“We think ingenuity can help to solve some of the really big societal problems,” Frazer says. “The kinds of problems organisations face today are driven by the kinds of problems humanity faces today, the big, macro-level, multifaceted challenges. These don’t just demand a point solution, they require a system solution. That’s why we believe you need a different way to solve those problems.”

He continues: “In order to address our challenges, we have to go back to what it is that makes us innately human. This is our creativity, our ability to adapt to change, to seek out and exploit difference – because differences represent opportunity. These are things that make us, human beings, and these are the skills that we need to be using.”

Frazer says that moving away from the tried and tested methods may seem daunting for many business leaders, but he stresses that making these changes needn’t be overwhelming.

“The good news is that the skills already exist in organisations,” he observes. “We all have them. It’s just that they have not been emphasised by the last 50 odd years of enterprise. So, leaders may feel uncomfortable, but if you think back to your early years, they were the characteristics we exhibited when we started our careers, when we believed anything was possible. We were insanely creative, and we went out of our way to build new relationships and find new ways of doing things. Those are the skills we have to tap in to.The only reason it feels scary is because we’ve been told for a very long time that these aren’t the skills to be focusing on.”

Frazer identifies four things leaders can focus on to harness the ingenuity of their employees, and bring about the kind of future they want to be part of:

  1. Build a climate of optimism
  2. Encourage team innovation
  3. Build an organic organisation
  4. Seek inspiration from unlikely places

Frazer goes on to note that many larger companies are currently reshaping their offerings in line with changing consumer expectations.

“Larger product companies like brand holders – the Unilevers and Procter & Gambles of this world – are reframing what their product is and thinking about it in terms of a service,” he remarks.

“We talk about servitisation, where instead of thinking about my washing powder as a product and buying it from the store, my washing powder becomes a service that’s delivered to me. The washing powder itself still exists but it is now delivered to me as an asset based on machine learning and an understanding of how I’m doing my laundry – a connectivity between my washing machine and the brand holder.”

“This happens as a result of the enabling technology, but companies have to rethink their relationship with the consumer too. Rather than a transactional relationship which takes place in the store, it becomes a longstanding, connected relationship. Companies doing this kind of thing are doing really well.”

Frazer speaks about purpose and how it is imperative for leaders to consider their employees in the business world of the future.

“I’m really pleased that purpose is becoming increasingly prevalent in the business narrative,” he says. “Lots more companies are talking about their purpose openly with their customers and with their employees. I think this is a reaction to two things. It’s a reaction to this big societal change where the values people have are changing, and it’s a reaction to what people expect from the world of work.”

“You speak to people entering the workplace today and the reason they choose to work for one company or another is very different to even 10 years ago. It’s driven by values. They really want to understand the values of the company they’re going to work for.”

Read the full article on Disruption

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