I thought a lot about that remark over the past few months. How people in general (and management teams in particular) desire certainty. And the question – how can leaders bring a sense of stability to their organizations in a time of instability? I think there are four key practices that enable leaders to create and maintain successful organizations in these trying times:
- Adopt an on-going strategy development (and re-calibration) process focused on being prepared for most scenarios
- Build an understanding across the organization that while many market changes are beyond the control of the executive team, you have a plan for all scenarios
- Focus on organizational performance, not on process
- Create stability in the present – and a process for making necessary strategic adjustments as needed
Adopt an on-going strategy development (and re-calibration) process focused on being prepared for most scenarios
Your organization’s strategy should be built on the premise that many market factors are uncontrollable. The more uncertain the future, the more it’s necessary to prepare for “future scenarios.” I like to use a three-prong approach:
- The strategic vision for the current market – This vision should focus on optimizing the performance of current operations (market positioning, market share, revenue, margins, etc.) and be revisited by your executive team regularly. The basic question: What does it take to “perform” (or in other words, execute consistently and constantly)?
- The strategic vision (or visions) for the future market – This plan should have a vision for your organization in its “next generation,” and determine the time and resource required to make that change. Your organization may never have to execute this plan, but you need to be able to “see” the possible futures either way just to be prepared.
- The transition vision to the future market – If it becomes necessary, this is the framework for moving from current market to future market, but you can only “land” in the right place if you are clear on how to get there.
The value of scenario-based types of planning isn’t developing a precise plan of what your team is going to do – it is creating a shared understanding of the plausible futures for the organization and anticipating those changes (see Considering Future Scenarios: The OPEN MINDS Guide To Scenario-Based Planning, A Chaotic Environment Demands Fluid Strategic Planning, and In Planning, ‘Keep Your Powder Dry’). This is really a “pre-mortem” of the potential market scenarios (see Performing a Project Premortem). For a great perspective on this, check out the Daniel Levitin podcast – Would Stress Be Less Stressful If We Planned For It In Advance?
Build an understanding across the organization that while many market changes are beyond the control of the executive team, you have a plan for all scenarios
All team members should understand that, while stress inducing, changing markets are markets with opportunity. And while a plan to deal with uncertainty is not the same as certainty, it creates a sense of organizational order to know that plans are in place should the market shift. This is a core responsibility of leadership – the role of leaders is to make sure their organizations are “positioned and prepared” (the sage advice of General John Buford – see Positioning For Success – General John Buford & The High Ground: The Beginning Of The Battle Of Gettysburg).
Focus on organizational performance – not process
While process excellence is important, the reason why it’s important is because it produces an outcome. Focusing your teams on what they do, rather than how they do it, creates a framework for change when the situation demands it. Think of it this way: navigation in the fog requires a dashboard.
Create stability in the present – and a process for making necessary strategic adjustments as needed
Leadership teams need to “own the anxiety” of these uncertain times and create a stable context in which team members can operate. My advice to leadership teams is assess the situation and the scenarios, devise a plan, and stick with it. Change for the sake of change only adds more chaos to your position. And when organizational performance isn’t where it needs to be, step back and ask: is it the strategy, is it the tactics, or is it the execution? If the market scenario changes, then you can develop a new plan – but there is enough change in the market without your team changing tactics on a whim.
Which brings me to the rock in the river. Rocks are heavy and stable – slowly polished and smoothed by the constant flow of the river. In the same way, individuals and organizations are polished and refined by the constant flow of challenges and uncertainties contended with. A big piece of the leader’s role is to build a stable organization that is able to be shaped by the flow of change – without losing its place. Make your organization that rock in the river.
I realize this isn’t a traditional take on leadership – but these are not typical times in the health and human service field. To succeed during the turbulence of frequent evolutionary and disruptive change takes a special brand of leadership. And organizations need to build that special brand of leadership by preparing their executives for the challenges ahead. There is building skill sets – planning, positioning, performance, change management, and more. But there is also building the strategic decisionmaking and organizational transformation competencies – the use of judgement in achieving stability and sustainability.
“Uncertainty and opportunity are inextricably intertwined. If you’re looking to make your mark on the world, you will have to learn to deal with the anxiety and stress of staring into the void of the unknown. My advice to my team and any team struggling with uncertainty is to find value in the discomfort. Instead of collapsing, remember the parable of the rock tossed into the river. The forces that push against you work to make you a smoother, stronger, and more well-rounded both personally and professionally.” – Chris Myers, author of Enlightened Entrepreneurship, in 3 Ways Uncertainty And Discomfort Can Help You Grow In Life And Business
To build your team’s leadership IQ, I hope you will join me September 25 to 29 in Gettysburg for our 2017 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat. This is an exclusive event (limited to 200 senior-level executives) focused on building executive leadership competencies and on building the resilience of individual leaders.
Leading off on Tuesday, September 26, is Martha R. Temple, Senior Vice President, Behavioral Health Services, Optum with her plenary session, “The Future Of Health Plan/Provider Organization Business Relationships” And, later that day a special treat, Harold Holzer, Director, The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, and winner of the National Humanities Medal, will conduct a workshop with a historical perspective – “You Were Right & I Was Wrong: How Abraham Lincoln Owned His Mistakes, & Accepted Responsibility, As An Ideal Leader.” And on Wednesday, September 27, Nancy Thaler, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Developmental Programs of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, will open the day with her session, “The Future Of Long-Term Services & Supports: A New Business Model For A Medicaid Managed Care Market.” Check out the entire week-long program at 2017 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat.