It’s Commencement Season. What Will You Begin?

CEOs have a unique opportunity to identify and embrace the unexpected opportunities that have emerged. Will they?

The season of commencement, meaning ‘a beginning’ or ‘a new start,’ is well under way.  High school and university graduates are beginning new chapters in their lives and careers. This year, business is experiencing a similar opportunity. We’re emerging from persistent crisis and rethinking how and where we work. We’re highlighting what we achieved and re-envisioning the future, once again embracing a longer view. For graduates and business alike, it’s commencement season.

A new beginning benefits from defining where you’re headed. In fact, I am supporting many of my executive clients as they decide what comes next, and rather than simply returning to pre-crisis norms, I encourage them to identify and embrace the unexpected opportunities that have emerged. Consider these:

• What parts of the playing field have been leveled over the last year?

• What has accelerated?

• What has stalled?

These three questions apply equally to both internal and external shifts. They inform immediate decisions, like your return-to-office plans. (See here and here.) They also illuminate important external shifts—changes to the competitive playing field, accelerating market trends or different customer needs. For example:

• Structure: Video tools literally created new windows into the lives of our leaders and staff. We invited everyone into our homes, perhaps for the first time. Formality and hierarchy gave way to familiarity and common ground.

• Relationships: Of necessity, we learned to relate differently to each other, our customers and stakeholders. Learning and adapting on the fly became critical to establish a new rhythm.

• Competitive landscape: After a drop in M&A activity early in the pandemic, opportunities and deals gained momentum during the second half of 2020, exceeding prior year’s activity rates. Merging companies figured out how to integrate businesses and create new cultures even while navigating a pandemic.

• Business models: Certainly, we can all cite examples of products and services that succeeded or failed during the crises. The systemic nature of the crises also had a profound effect on business models. In-person services, experiences and events rapidly gave way to other formats, creating new opportunities to generate revenue and capture customers. Consider the blend of old and new that makes sense for those you serve and your businesses.

Taking a moment to reflect on the three questions helps CEOs and executives to applaud accomplishments while also looking ahead. Identify the implications of these shifts to determine the actions needed to move beyond today. Prior ideas may have become irrelevant. New insights may elevate the potential for something sitting on the shelf. Or, innovation may take a new turn.

It’s commencement season. What will you begin?

Tara Rethore, CEO of Strategy for Real, works with CEOs, boards and executives to take strategy off the page and into action. Throughout her career, Tara has led strategy development and execution within global organizations and as a highly valued consultant. She is known for discovering leadership and strategy lessons in everyday situations which then become relatable examples for her clients. Currently, Tara serves on several private and nonprofit boards. She is also a Marshall Goldsmith Certified Stakeholder-Centered Coach. Tara earned an MBA from the University of Chicago. Learn more about making strategy work in Tara’s book, Charting the Course: CEO Tools to Align Strategy & Operations, or on Tara’s Real Strategy blog.