3 Tips for Leading Your Company Through the Next Wave of Transformation

Many CEOs remember clearly the warning from Jack Welch back in the 1990s: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then the end is near.” True then, truer still today.

June 19 2014 by Eamonn Kelly

The business world was never simple, but it has also never been as complex and dynamic as it is at present. For decades, two key factors—globalization and technology—have driven profound change. And both have plenty more in store for us, at an increasing pace.

Digital technology continues to disrupt business, with cognitive analytics, “the internet of things” and 3D printing just some of the more widely commented-upon examples of the transformations ahead. Meanwhile, radical innovation deploying these and other technologies is coming from all around the world, not just from the developed economies.

Leading through these and other transitions ahead requires highly integrated and collaborative management and organization. Yet in some respects, that is getting harder to achieve. In recent years, most businesses have added new functional expertise to their leadership lineups. This creates real strength and depth—but it can also undermine alignment and coherence.

“Leading through transition requires
highly integrated
and collaborative management and organization. Yet in
some respects, that
is getting harder to achieve.”

In the past, few companies had a distinct “technology strategy” or “talent strategy” or “customer engagement” strategy. Today, many have multiple specific, parallel strategies—but unfortunately, they do not always add up to a coherent whole.

No wonder it sometimes appears that we have siloed departments working toward different goals. CEOs must ensure their leadership team aligns all the firm’s activities and investments together. And simply urging colleagues to “be more collaborative” is rarely effective. Here are three concrete approaches that work.

1. Companies should conduct a candid assessment to better understand how each function contributes to the organization’s overall strategy and essential capabilities, and identify opportunities for them to work together and leverage each other more effectively. It is surprising how often such a straightforward exercise reveals easily resolved gaps and unexploited opportunities.

2. Most organizations have an amazing untapped asset—informal but highly influential internal networks of opinion shapers, that transcend organizational boundaries. When these individuals are carefully identified and engaged to understand the leadership agenda, bewildering obstacles to the implementation of important changes often evaporate, as a “self-organizing” dynamic springs into life.

3. Finally, top teams can improve collective decision-making by combining “the three Ds”: data, diversity and dialogue. Leaders understand the power of data and their increasing availability. Leading companies also know that data can be interpreted and skewed by the lens adopted by the individual analyzing it. That’s where diversity comes in—different perspectives applied to the same data often yield far richer collective insight. But differences are challenging, and usually demand better dialogue. Today, readily learnable skills have been codified, and can transform the effectiveness of top team communications.

Together, these approaches can secure alignment through the transformative changes ahead— and greatly enhance the prospect of sustained success.