How would you describe being a leader in today’s business environment? Does the following describe you? “It’s like standing inside a shaken snow globe, having lost your bearings. Coordinates are out of focus. The snow covered up your tracks so you could not find your way back.”
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If so, you are not alone.
Disequilibrium is an occupational hazard today. Executives around the world are caught off balance and trying to adapt as best they can. “A lack of stability” was a common theme among the Fortune 500 C-Level and senior executives interviewed in a recent study commissioned by global communications firm Weber Shandwick and conducted by KRC Research.
C-Level and senior executives had an easier time describing the problems they were experiencing in this dizzying environment than offering break-through solutions that consistently worked. Creative problem-solving on-the-go seemed to be the overarching solution to tackling the challenges they were facing.
Very few were wedded to three or five-year plans. Some solutions that surfaced were fundamental to doing business at any time – ie finding the right talent, conducting market research, changing course, ensuring customer satisfaction, continuous product innovation and building an airtight culture.
Here are four unique and practical solutions they shared that may help you get your business to the next level.
Find the best talent and have the confidence to let them loose.
The right talent makes a difference. Whether executives found them inside or outside their organizations in the form of external partners, they were often mentioned as part of the fix.
In order to manage the vast changes in his particular industry, one CEO hired an individual from the sector’s most advanced and state-of-the-art firm. Bringing this individual with a deep R&D background on-board was a game changer. Not only was this individual able to explain the new technology and processes that needed immediate implementation but the new hire was an excellent communicator, team builder and motivator.
A Disruptor company had a slightly different talent solution. They asked a senior leader to stop doing what she was doing altogether to solve a critical problem the company was facing. The leader asked her to do nothing else but concentrate on the problem at hand. All other responsibilities were taken away.
Six weeks later, she had a beta product up and running and within two and a half months, the change was made and announced to customers.
“We found that that's the way you get enough focus and intensity on solving the problem as creatively and, hopefully, as quickly as possible, and that really worked well for us because she was not distracted by anything else and was able to put her full focus and creativity to bear with a small team,” the executive said. This identify-and-isolate strategy changed the company’s trajectory for the better.
Narrow your battlefield.
Several business leaders told us that in order to effectively manage the swift-moving pace of business today, they deliberately reduced their scopes.
“I managed the Latin American market. I looked at Latin America, and based on the economic opportunity and growth, there are primarily 12 cities in Latin America that provided the best growth prospect for us that we thought were in our sweet spot, and so all of those cities had either five million plus people in them, they had a growing middle class, and they had an evolving marketplace. And we primarily concentrated on those 12 cities,” said one business leader.
By betting on a smaller target where demographics were ideal and data more easily gathered, the company learned faster and was able to scale more quickly into other markets. The leader’s narrow containment strategy ultimately helped limit failure and grow the business.
Quantify but also qualify your business intelligence.
Realtors always say “location, location, location.” The business leaders we surveyed repeated, “data, data, data.”
Although many leaders, especially Disruptor company leaders, are dependent on data to help guide decision-making, most noted that qualitative assessment should not be ignored. Several business executives mentioned that the best approach to problem solving was applying a qualitative intuitive line of questioning to the quantitative data collection they had access to.
“I can have all the data and the analytics in the world, but what I would really want to do is understand who the person is or what the company culturally was like that I was trying to compete with. Because that to me informed a lot more ... rather than just the pure data and the pure analytics. There's a whole lot of psychology involved in this because we're all people, at the end of the day. We're not machines,” said one executive.
Despite being beset with too much information, business leaders did not rule out the need to trust but verify.
Divide to conquer.
Executives were quick to admit that technology had sped up time and made it easier to disrupt business models. Even Disruptors were changing business strategies mid-stream and agility was the name of their game. They acknowledged that the acceleration and speed of the market was incompatible with how business often operates around the world.
Time-to-solution was only getting shorter. To manage this oft-mentioned business challenge, one former chief strategy officer in the Asia Pacific region had a novel solution. He recognized that his firm was in the unenviable position of being sandwiched between slow and risk-adverse established suppliers and customers who were moving at the speed of light.
As he told it, “[Customers] are working 48 hours a day. We are working 24 hours a day, but our suppliers are working at like 12 hours a day.”
In order to reduce the internal havoc that was hurting the business, the officer’s solution was to split up the company into three pieces to match the turnaround times of its many partners. One team handled the fast movers, another the middling movers and the third, the slow movers. The leadership effectively altered time to help adjust their business tempo.
In today’s environment of disequilibrium, finding your balance may mean accepting and adapting to an iterative business model. Try, test, try again, begin anew.
Leslie Gaines-Ross is chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick.