What You Know May No Longer Apply

As I talk to clients, there are a couple really prevalent issues that are holding corporations back in today’s economy. These are issues that will require people to think differently to solve them. For years, we’ve tried to do things better, faster and cheaper. And while that is still critical, it has become the ticket to entry in today’s market. It is simply no longer enough to pull companies ahead. You’ve got to think in a very different way to build successful organization. In organization development lingo, these challenges are call adaptive, as opposed to technical, meaning that leaders at all levels will have to change their thinking, rather than reengineer or streamline what already exists.

The issues I’m hearing about are the need to do more with less (rampant in business today) and the need to be more effective at managing a global, multicultural, or at the very least, a diverse team. For the most part, these are things people are limping along with, but not doing much about. I contend that they demand action before they cause leaders to self-implode or burn out.

Believe it or not, these issues can be addressed in very similar ways. Both of them have to do with people, improving leadership and improving the alignment of leaders (with to each other and with their teams). It also has to do with managing talent in ways we’ve never imagined before (and may never have seen the value in) and with driving results and performance through others in ways we never had to.

There’s much less forgiveness today than there ever has been in the past. The margin for error is shrinking rapidly with the increasing pace of business and change in today’s economy. In most companies, resources are so tight (tighter than they ever have been) that you just can’t afford trial and error. That is a luxury of the past. Because of this, leaders at all levels must really think differently about how they lead and how they drive performance. Whether it’s creating alignment, managing more effectively to increase the performance of you team, or figuring out how people who are very diverse or even virtual (often in different countries) can work together more effectively, leaders must get it right the first time to be successful.

These are the things that are really going to impact a business’s ability to conquer the challenges of the multicultural teams and the need to do more with less. This need to think differently is all about doing things in a way that you’ve never imagined before and leadership is the first place to start.

The hard part is that there has been little in today’s leaders’ pasts to prepare them for this. How do you think differently when everything you know and everything you’ve ever done got you where you are? It’s hard. Like it or not, companies need to understand that the majority of leaders and organization are vastly unprepared to face these challenges. Many have been thrown in the deep end of the pool when the suddenly are forced to face situations like these:

  • The company discovers something can be done cheaper off shore. A director in the US is suddenly managing a team in India, China or Mexico. Put aside little knowledge of the culture there, but how to you engage people you’ve never met and can’t relate to when you’ve got to improve on a product in a market they can’t relate to…in 30 days or less?
  • The team they were sure they would be able to expand was just reduced by a third and then had to take on a new client or project while the workload was already high. Putting aside the mounting frustration, how does a leader allocate work, develop people on the fly and have candid performance conversations while driving the results he’s being held accountable for?
  • Divisions in several countries are suddenly told they will report to the same leader. How do they adapt to new leadership, preserve their top talent, and align around a common goal? How does the leader bring them together to drive collaboration in the face of little familiarity with the countries she’s managing and a lot of skepticism in her employees…and no travel budget?

These are the adaptive challenges, LeaderShift Insights, Inc, sets out to solve. It’s impactful and relevant work and the reason we bound out of bed every morning. There are some proven things we’ve seen work to address these adaptive challenges and we’re happy to share – more on that next week.