The art of shaking things up: How leaders can encourage internal disruptors
This article was first published in HR Review
Leaders are often incentivised to think short-term – it is hard to make decisions that will pay off later down the line when it is not clear how long you will be in post. Meanwhile, it is the board’s job to think long-term. But if the board community is insular, the potential for genuinely new thinking is harder to realise. Even when everyone is showing up at the top of their game, the set-up does not always allow for big thinking and bold action.
Our new research report on leadership examines ways that forward-thinking leaders can reconcile these kinds of challenges to build stronger organisations. Finding additional board support can be crucial. By giving more share of voice to internal disruptors, boards can broaden perspectives – supporting bold and brave leadership at all levels of the organisation.
RECOGNISE YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS
Traditional approaches to leadership can be lonely. Many leaders are high achievers who believe they must have all the solutions to be worthy of their role. That is too much pressure for one person to bear. So, as with all leadership behaviours, changing your mindset is key.
It starts with acknowledging that everyone in the organisation has the potential to spot problems, and to help solve them. Create the space for people to work at their best, including yourself, and trust that there is more than one way to reach the goals you’re trying to achieve. Recognise, too, that the best ideas can come from outside your organisation too. Why fear ‘not invented here’, if it can help unlock growth and disruption in your organisation?
Think of L’Oréal partnering with EMOTIV, a leading neurotechnology company, to develop personalised scents for consumers based around algorithms and neuroscience. Or of Jaguar Land Rover partnering with Pramac, a leader in the energy sector, to create zero emissions charging units from car batteries.
WELCOME CHALLENGING VOICES AND DISSENT
People who challenge the status quo are often labelled as ‘awkward’ or ‘difficult’. It can be hard to step away from that kind of thinking. But there’s a difference between naysayers and those who not only spot problems – but can contribute to solving them. These are the people leaders need to listen to. Doing so means moving away from taking things personally. The new way to lead calls for a level of emotional maturity, including the ability to handle challenge and dissent. If voices across the organisation are consistently calling out a problem, it’s time to listen and respond.
There are practical things to do here: creating spaces for people to share their view of the business – beyond the typical yearly employee survey. Surround yourself with people who are willing and able to challenge how things have always been done, if it leads to a better outcome. This calls for diverse teams formed of a mix of different skills, viewpoints and experiences – something that only 58 percent of leaders currently do.
Leaders should also seek out places where internal disruptors can come together for the common good. Less than two thirds of leaders told us that they deliberately bring together a mix of different skills, viewpoints and experiences when developing new products/services. Bringing people together in this way pressure tests ideas, and results in a stronger result. So there are plenty of opportunities to do more.
BRING NEW PERSPECTIVES – AND GIVE THEM POWER
Broadening board perspectives can support bold change and brave leadership. Implementing a ‘shadow board’ is just one way to achieve this. An effective shadow board brings together a range of diverse voices. But it needs to be more than a token effort. Although the board itself has the ultimate authority, a ‘shadow board’ needs to have real influence to realise its full potential. It is an approach used successfully by AccorHotels, the multi-national hospitality company.
Having previously failed to target millennials, a shadow board was formed of 13 under-35 managers who were diverse in background, geography and expertise. They were able to apply new thinking to create a new brand, Jo&Joe. And they also created the Accor Pass, a hotel subscription that provides people under 25 with a place to stay while searching for permanent residence.
Positive change starts with a shift in mindset, then filters into action. With humility and ego-less leadership, a willingness to hear discomfiting opinions, and with new and varied voices, organisations can include and embrace new thinking.