The business environment will never be the same again. As the new decade unfolds, more and more business leaders and managers who have survived the recession and are rebuilding their organisations are coming to realise that their business models must be overhauled and that the old ways of improving performance and managing change will no longer work.
The pace of change is also now accelerating at a rate far in excess of the capacity of many leaders and managers to handle its implementation, keeping up to speed with the sheer volume of change is a growing challenge.
The old industrial management model is still grounded in many of the hard elements of business success, with a focus on the financial measures and ratios that need to be achieved from one quarter to the next.
Making the numbers' is as vital today as it has always been, but the implicit metaphor of the industrial age - that the organisation is like a machine and the most pressing challenge is efficiency - seems out of date.
We instinctively know that this age has passed and that in today's times being efficient is the entry ticket to the game not the means of winning the match. As Einstein said, "we can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used to create them."
We need to steer away from the practice of employing people 'from the shoulders down. Today's knowledge economy demands that we capitalize on individuals 'from the neck up', releasing them from the chains of command-and-control management and liberating them to contribute more meaningfully than they have in the past.
To win new customers and retain a competitive edge in the market place demands the innovation and skills to create higher value services and products. At the same time, customers are unrelenting and organizations who want to stay one step ahead of the competition cannot afford to stand still. Customers expect the organizations they deal with to have both the enthusiasm and the capacity for change.
All of this demands that leaders 'future proof' their organizations by building organizational capabilities which enable them to continuously win in their market place, anticipate and adapt to changing circumstances and creating the conditions in which every employee can genuinely be engaged and give of their best.
What is the best way to achieve this? It can only happen when business priorities also encapsulate cultural and people priorities. It's the inverted triangle – people drive value, which wins customers, which creates wealth. This in turn creates a sustainable organization with the potential to deliver against more than one bottom line.
Only by looking strategically at the people side of the business can organizations have any chance of delivering sustainable performance
So to be fit for the future an organisation's purpose must go beyond making money. Business strategy requires strategic clarity to succeed. People strategy requires meaning and emotional engagement to succeed. People need to feel that they are making a difference to something important; they want to make a contribution which matters.
When these two elements of making money and making a difference are successfully fused together through a strategic people approach they become meaningful and sustainable to all of the organisation's stakeholders. They produce strategic clarity which enables the translation of business imperatives into human capital priorities.
Assessing the people implications of the strategic plan is crucial. Organisations need to adopt a dynamic process for identifying which capabilities will enable success in the market place today and tomorrow and how those capabilities can be organised through an optimal organisation design. Capabilities create a critical bridge between strategy and action.
Understanding where the organisation may be at risk in the future, the gap between 'current' and 'future' requirements and what it will take to optimize the flow of capability in and through the organization are the outcomes of this process. From this will evolve any resourcing, performance management, leadership, talent and coaching priorities and plans.
Strategy also relates to shaping the culture of the business and how this is built through consistent leadership behaviour at all levels. This is reflected in the messages and communication that flows from senior team members. Strategic communication is what others receive.
Central to building energy and engagement for strategic direction is an exceptional communications plan which creates space for powerful conversations about the nature of change and what it means for teams and individuals deep within the organisation. Issuing top down edicts just doesn't work.
Evidence shows that, when employees are fully engaged with, and understand the strategy, it is far more likely to succeed.
There are a variety of effective techniques that can be used to build change agility and employee engagement. In one organisation I used storyboarding with the senior leadership team to create a picture (vision) of the future and the new business strategy.
These 'Big Pictures', together with session guidelines, were then used by leaders with their natural work groups to facilitate conversations on the strategy, what it meant for the team and what it meant for each individual. Over a 6 month period 3000 employees participated in these conversations.
The conversations helped to increase employee understanding of the strategy, provide clarity on the contribution that was needed from each person and each team and as such accelerated the translation of strategy into action. The leadership team also believed it had an impact on the bottom line with 40% growth in the subsequent 2-3 years.
A strategic approach to the people side of the business creates actionable insight by 'fusing' external market trends, broad societal and economic factors with what drives value and makes the business successful. It gives focus to the interplay between the hard and soft factors which can accelerate or derail business success both today and in the future.
Comprehensive strategic clarity integrates the business and cultural priorities of the business and sets the stage for the change work your organisation needs to do. To be change agile one has to be fit, quick on one's feet, constantly scanning for changes in the environment and how these impact the strategic choices of your organisation.
Effective change leaders create clarity of direction, liberate people to act and provide sufficient freedom for those closest to the work to alter the chosen course based on what happens and what is learned.