Unbelievably, it is nearly autumn, which means many companies have begun planning for next year. As leaders begin to think about 2023, they must also factor in all the uncertainty we continue to live with. The macroeconomic environment remains in flux as we live with Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and other related (and unrelated) factors that create unpredictability. While you cannot plan specifically for the unpredictable, what will help you get through is to not only have a solid business strategy, but a sound leadership strategy.
Every organisation is making changes. The right leadership strategy might need a refresh, too.
Over the last couple of years, companies have clearly been required to adjust their business strategy to respond to the rapid changes we have all lived through. Some of them had major rethinks, others made smaller adjustments. But either way, making business changes should mean also re-evaluating the leadership that must effect those changes. Ask yourself not only what business needs are different, but whether or not your current team has the right attributes to meet those needs.
A good example was this recent article about UK retailer John Lewis (for my non-British readers: John Lewis is a major brand with about 80,000 employees and $12.5 billion in annual revenue). For years, their hiring strategy was to replace more experienced employees over time as they got too expensive with cheaper (often younger) staff. But as they began to rethink their post-pandemic strategy, they realised they needed more of the over aged fifty worker profile. By allowing that demographic to float away, it put pressure on worker supply, driving up wages whilst losing the experience. Their leadership did a great job of explaining how they planned to attract the more experienced labour force back to work. The takeaway here is to think not only about that business strategy, but also how the organisation plans to achieve it. What kind of leadership changes might you need if, for example, you were recruiting a new profile of team members?
You need a plan for how you are going to lead your business. Determine who are the key people integral to the changes in your strategy. Will they be able to drive the organisation through the rough seas that are almost certain to accompany a significant change?
Three things to consider when assessing if you have the right leadership strategy:
1. Do you have a leadership strategy that aligns with your business strategy? That doesn’t have to include all of your senior management, but those who are key decision makers. Remember also that if your business changes require correction, consider whether those who got you into a difficult situation are really the right ones to get you out of it.
2. Is your strategy relevant? As you balance out all the potential outcomes of the business strategy you are planning, make sure that the leadership strategy remains relevant relative to those changes. Consider the mix of skills, traits, abilities and other strengths of your team and whether they still align with the business strategy. Someone who was great for growth in new markets might be the wrong fit for a retrench and restructure plan.
3. Recently I wrote about living the work culture that you want. If your business strategy changes, it might mean rethinking your culture. Is your leadership team capable of making the change? And will they be able to pull off the business goals that reflect that new culture?
Having the right leadership strategy is important, so think it through.
As you determine your business strategy, and then assess whether you have the right leadership strategy, be careful not to shut down your thinking too quickly. The changes you make will affect not only your executive team; they will be watched by all your employees. If you announce business strategy changes, everyone will take note of who is being tasked with making it happen. Who you choose will signal to the entire organisation the thoughtfulness – or lack thereof – that you employed in this process. These changes might begin at the top, but you will be communicating your decisions to everyone.
In terms of my background and expertise, I have spent my entire career working as a trusted advisor to senior leaders wanting to improve the effectiveness of themselves, their teams and their companies. Prior to starting my own consulting firm, I led the global executive assessment and development team for Cisco. Earlier in my career I held leadership roles with RHR International, PepsiCo, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School and the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.