Adaptability is a central aspect of life in the C-suite. Still though, many executives find themselves caught unawares when a new phenomenon emerges unforeseen. It is important that we reconceptualize what it means to be adaptable so that executives can deal with disruptions effectively.
Adaptability. Agility. Malleability. As executives, we see these buzzwords everywhere. It is vital to our work. We would not be where we are were it not for our ability to prepare our organizations for the future. However, our constant exposure to these ideas and their connotations has affected the way we envision the role of an executive such that it goes beyond what is, in fact, possible.
We are so obsessed with the notion that executives should plan for the future that we forget that the most common disruptions are those that cannot be planned for.
Take AI as an example. We all know and understand what is coming. Corporate firms have released report upon report of statistics, models, ideas, theories and recommendations. Many of us have been selected for our roles based on our ideas about how best to take advantage of these changes. The ‘future of work’ can hardly be described as a disruption any more; it has been in the back of our minds for years. We have prepared for every contingency and worked out exactly how our organization will look in this not-too-distant future.
Unsurprisingly though, not every possible disruption is understood and expected in the same way that AI is. Government policy, international politics, economic booms and busts – these things can occur without a moment’s notice. We don’t know what is coming. We don’t know how it will affect our organization. We don’t know how we are going to respond. Still though, we do not alter our expectation that executives will plan for and respond to these unforeseen disruptions.
Executives are under the false impression that to be adaptable means to be prepared. The opposite is true. At the crux of adaptability is agility – that is, the capacity to respond in moment as opposed to years in advance.
According to Korn Ferry, two-thirds of investors believe that private-sector leadership is not able to handle future challenges. In particular, “a majority of leaders can’t make decisions [nor] take smart actions quickly enough.” Essentially, executives, when faced with crises, are not prepared to take immediate, effective action because they are so used to planning for disruptions. This cannot stand. Especially in the uncertain times we find ourselves in. According to PwC, 30% of CEOs expect there to be one or more global crisis in the next year.
Executives must begin to recalibrate their expectations when it comes to disruptions. Of course, it is vital to be prepared and plan for contingencies. Of course, you should try to mitigate future risk as best as possible. However, this should not preclude developing the ability to respond to crises that are not on the horizon.
This begs the question: How do leaders cultivate their capacity to respond to problems that emerge from out of the blue?
PwC, in surveying the attributes of organizations that survive and thrive through disruptions, have come up with several key features:
- Shared Vision and Purpose
There are multiple ways to respond to a crisis so it is central that everyone understands the core mission of your organization. That way, you can face the problem unified.
- Roles and Responsibilities Understood
While 91% of CEOs say they are in charge during a crisis, this should not preclude others from playing a part in navigating the storm. Communication and co-ordination can only be facilitated once everyone is clear on their role during a crisis.
- Right Mix of Skills and Capabilities
You never know the sort of person you’ll need in a crisis. It’s vital that you have different sorts of skills present in positions of leadership so that you have the right person for the right moment.
While organizations do expect a lot from their executives, thankfully, psychic vision is not part of the job description. While adaptability necessarily encompasses preparing one’s organization for the future, it goes far beyond this; adaptability boils down to an executive’s capacity to respond to crisis.
Make sure you have the right mindset and structures in place in your organization. This will give you every chance of navigating the inevitable storms to come – both those that appear on the radar and those that don’t.
The Complete Leader Program uses advanced analytics and big data analysis to help develop executives into the best leader they can be. If you are looking to find techniques to respond to crisis, please contact Melinda Fell .