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Supporting organisations in strengthening leadership confidence during disruption

Supporting organisations in strengthening leadership confidence during disruption

Jon Sasserath, Head of our Digital Transformation Practice, responds to the recently published Odgers Berndtson Leadership Confidence Index and discusses how independent consultants can support business leaders in the face of disruption

The recently published Odgers Berndtson Leadership Confidence Index revealed that there is a clear crisis of confidence in top global leaders. The report, in conjunction with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, uses data from almost 2,000 senior executives, managers and board members of companies around the world to give a first measure of confidence in the ability of prominent business leaders to drive success in rapidly changing times. 

One of the leading statistics reported in the Index is that almost all (95%) senior executive respondents believe that managing disruption well is vital to the success of their organisation. Yet 85% of those executives do not have confidence in their leadership’s ability to manage disruption. This significant finding from the survey exposes the unpreparedness of a large proportion of the leading organisations for sudden market changes – whether that is economically, technologically or in the face of environmental or political uncertainty. With 88% of business leaders certain the pace of change will only accelerate in the next five years (this even before the current pandemic hit), now is the time to address the severe lack of confidence of leadership through disruption – the pitfall of organisations globally.

The biggest barrier to managing disruption well is a resistance to change. Senior executives across-the-board revealed their lack of confidence in having a collective vision and getting the all-important ‘buy-in’ and engagement from the extended leadership team and the broader organisational structure. Widespread collaboration from colleagues of all levels facilitates continuous evolution of the organisation, but without this there is an inability to be agile, to operate at pace or to adapt quickly to unforeseen circumstances.

Overcoming resistance to change, the lack of trust in the transformation programme and the senior leadership team’s ability to deliver it, is no easy feat in the best of times. However, establishing more open and consistent communication in tandem with fostering collaborative working is a sure-fire way to strengthening leadership confidence. Transparency is achieved by loosening the top-down approach to allow for more comprehensive engagement in organisational decision-making and empowering staff to be involved in change. Bringing in an advisory expert, an independent consultant who straddles the position of internal employee and ‘third party’ contractor affords them the confidence of senior leaders, middle managers and front-line employees.

To support this, a robust organisational purpose and vision must be established to act as the lynchpin of decision-making. By having a set of values, the leadership team can be aligned, and a disparate organisation can be unified in their mutual ambition; it encourages collective growth and development. In order to drive this message, an organisation needs a visionary leader with a comprehensive understanding of the business’s current state and its maximum potential future-state with achievable growth. The analysis of the company can be supported by an external consultant who is able to have an objective perspective on the state of the organisation and bring in expertise with market and competitor insights for future strategic planning.

This study resonates more so than ever given the sudden socioeconomic disruption we are currently facing. The pandemic we are up against has accelerated the pace of changing stakeholder expectations and demands, intensified the strain on technological infrastructure of organisations and caused severe market instability. The impact of Covid-19 has tested organisations in their abilities to adapt business models to a rapidly changing economic climate and to the needs of social distancing measures. Within the space of just two weeks, organisations across the globe have been dropped into unprecedented circumstances, requiring unforeseen short- and long-term business adaptation and change. It is too soon to say how this has fared for many, but it is clear organisational agility has been the decisive factor for organisations in successfully navigating the disruption. Those organisations that have persevered have proven their ability to weather further storms on the horizon.

There is a fine balance of resilience and adaptation that organisations are needing to achieve for resolute business continuity. Reaching such a balance is dependent on the speed of reaction and ability to pivot as the virus remains unpredictable and the full extent of its impact remains undetermined. Organisations are needing to recalibrate strategic plans. In particular, there has been an acceleration of transformation programmes. Where an organisation may have had a long-term plan to reconfigure a business function, implement a new working practice, or undergo a restructuring process, the timelines are being squeezed to bring the plan into fruition as quickly as it feasibly can. Although resistance to change and transformation is cited as a hurdle to overcome, in these current circumstances we are seeing a new dynamic. As a result of the catastrophic disruption and uncertainty, everyone across a business is now unified with the aim of overcoming the challenges being posed. There is an unprecedented resounding willingness to take on new ways of working, and quickly. It is only by the business leader harnessing and capturing this energy that real long-term change can be made to future-proof the organisation in the face of further disruption and the inevitable new circumstances that will result from the pandemic.

In these times of sudden disruption, the most sought-after transformation is digital. Remote working is an imperative for organisations across the country, but it is not viable without a sound IT infrastructure. Online workplaces require digital access to software, internal messaging platforms and cloud-based databases; the IT infrastructure is the backbone of communications, both internally and externally, giving the means to conduct and generate business. Although there is an urgency in providing new digital means, the rules of a successful transformation programme remain steadfast. Having a seasoned expert in digital implementation not only helps to quicken the pace of the programme but will also ensure it is a deeply embedded and long-lasting change.

Sudden disruption can only be managed by strategic and agile leadership. As the Index has reported, global leadership teams do not have the confidence in their leader to tackle unprecedented circumstances head-on. In times like these, turning to independent professionals with specialised skillsets built to plan and deliver change programmes is a readily available and an effective tool for ensuring business continuity. In the longer-term, independent consultants can evaluate how to adapt the business model to not only thrive in resulting new market conditions but also develop increased leadership confidence and bring about the agility required to take on future disruption.

For more information please contact Jon Sasserath.

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