How can CEOs disrupt the status quo and create a new path?
Over the past 20 years, we have seen the pace of innovation accelerate. The IT revolution and free-trade movements have brought many people into the global economy, creating new and robust economic flows.
The 2020s, however, upended the economic logic of business with the global pandemic heralding our arrival into the new decade. Moreover, the tensions caused by the pandemic revealed a conglomeration of other disruptive forces that had been rising for years — both step-change advances in technology and innovation, as well as severe challenges to our economy, political stability and climate.
In Saudi Arabia, 70 percent of senior executives believe the frequency of disruptive forces will continue at the same pace or even increase over the next two to three years, according to the recently released AlixPartners Middle East Disruption Index.
So how do businesses respond to disruption when the entire planet gets disrupted overnight?
Leaning into the forces of change is the right way to go, especially taking required and swift action before you lose the ability to set your destiny. The macroenvironment may not be in anyone’s control, but how you respond and the rate at which you do so are.
The government in Saudi Arabia is leading by example, responding by staying at the forefront of innovation, exhibiting pace, agility, foresight and an action-oriented approach by outlining and bringing Vision 2030 to life.
To effectively support this vision while simultaneously responding to the challenges from disruption requires superb leadership and a nourishing culture. The latter, of course, derives from the former. But what leadership capabilities are needed to transform an organization to confront disruption and succeed?
Business leaders must be courageous to break away from tried and true but rapidly fraying business models, even when it feels hard. They should challenge all assumptions and make the hard decisions now, as they’ll only get more painful with time.
And they must keep it simple. The ability of individuals and the organization to focus on multiple priorities is limited, so they must paint the vision for disruption — and then disrupt.
Stay digitally fit
Digital is not something we do. It must be who we are. The digital capability will soon underpin every successful company everywhere. Like cell respiration for biological organisms, digital must become part of a company’s metabolism. It cannot be something that exists in a single department or outside of the core organization, but rather the lifeblood of the organization and everyone’s responsibility.
For businesses to thrive, leaders must focus on the business problem, not the technology. By focusing on the business problem, leaders can determine the necessary technological support and build a manageable and scalable program with a measurable return on investment.
Future proof workforce
Those leading businesses or human capital programs must begin to build the workforce the company needs versus the one it has. And they must think broadly across all staff areas — not just senior executives or elite talent, but all talent. Diverse capabilities will need to be sourced from atypical places with training programs devised for the skills the future company needs. Many jobs that need to be done aren’t jobs that have ever been done before, so we can’t always expect to find experienced workers to fill the roles.
It’s time to draw on the creative strengths of leadership teams while leveraging technology as a collaborator with talent, not a replacement. Future employees will need to be increasingly digital and be given the tools and training to stay on top of their game. A company’s workforce is its biggest asset. Investing in making it thrive will be essential to press through the disruption.
Need for speed
Leaders need to take an action mindset — plan less and do more. A solid plan to respond to the disruption that is implemented with speed and rigor will consistently outperform a perfect plan executed poorly. Leaders must learn to iterate and evolve plans while gaining experience and knowledge. If something’s not working, they must ask why, then address the issues and reorient.
Three skills are essential for a leader: resilience, adaptability and emotional intelligence. And this must begin with CEOs — how they lead, the types of leaders they hire and promote and the processes and results they reward. It must then cascade to the executive team and the rest of the organization.
To conclude, leadership, by definition, requires followers. If leaders do not inspire and guide others along their journey, any transformation will fail.
The 2020s is a decade filled with promise, but that promise is underpinned by the most disruptive outlook we have ever seen. The winners of disruption will only be those that embrace the new normal and are true disruptors.
• Gabriel Chahine is Middle East Lead at AlixPartners.