Leading through disruption? 5 questions you need to ask to prepare for the future

Leading through disruption? 5 questions you need to ask to prepare for the future

Disruption should be considered an opportunity, in which leaders co-author a future where the full potential of your organisation and people can be realised, writes Anthony Mitchell

Whether disruption is an immediate business need or you simply want to be prepared, leading through uncertainty can be a significant weight to bear for any leader. Disruption can also have widespread repercussions on your employees, which typically materialise in three ways:

  • Uncertainty: there are a number of social situations that trigger physiological threat responses, and uncertainty is one. In the face of disruption, your people may be unsure about what the situation is, how concerned they should be about it, and what their role may look like in the future, or indeed if it will even exist.
  • Confusion: with the need to think and act differently in order to remain relevant in a changing world, your team may also experience confusion around the organisation’s vision and purpose, as well as their place in this ecosystem.
  • Resistance: major changes to tools, systems and processes have the potential to create resistance and overwhelm your employees, who either don’t agree with the changes or don’t understand why they were put in place.

These experiences have the potential to distract staff and seriously hinder the motivation, performance and wellbeing of the people who will ultimately contribute to your organisation failing or thriving through disruption.

As a leader, you have the power to harness the full force of your greatest asset – your employees – in a new age of work. You might have the urge to protect your staff from disruption, but this is likely to fuel uncertainty, confusion and resistance. Instead, have open lines of communication around current and future challenges, and keep your team involved in the ongoing process of change and adaptation.

“As a leader, you have the power to harness the full force of your greatest asset – your employees – in a new age of work”

To counter disruption and help prepare your people for a future of machine learning, new customer expectations and behaviours, as well as a new breed of competition, begin by asking yourself five questions:

1. What opportunity do we have to create a future-fit strategy?
Evaluate your business purpose, vision and direction. How is your customer base and market offering changing, or how will it likely change? What do you bring to the market that’s unique (i.e. what would be missing from your industry, sector or the world if your organisation didn’t exist)? Mobilise your people to help define these answers.

Once the strategy is in place, engage your teams in building priorities around your future-fit objectives. Consider multi-channel engagement methods to ensure everyone can participate, regardless of position, experience level and location.

2. Where can we maximise our human potential?
Uniquely human capabilities (such as resilience, creativity, empathy, change agility and collaboration) will become more important than ever in maintaining a competitive advantage in the face of disruption. Use your strategy to identify two to three critical capability gaps, and prioritise these across the organisation. Maximise the return on your capability development efforts by ensuring people feel autonomy, mastery and growth as part of the process, allow them to make meaningful decisions about their development, and incorporate learning experiences that help to stretch and grow their capabilities.

3. How can we empower our people to fight fire with fire?
People will go above and beyond when they feel connected to their organisation and experience a sense of purpose about their role. When you have a clearly communicated and shared purpose, you will be in a good place to encourage the type of innovation that will set your organisation apart.

Create a psychologically-safe environment where people are motivated and encouraged to be the disruptors, one where they can experiment with new ways of working and products, and they are trusted to create small, cultural shifts from the inside. Enable a culture where asking for and giving feedback, done with the intention of facilitating growth and success, is normal.

“Now, more than ever, is the time to eliminate antagonism, hierarchy and competition between different business areas and levels”

4. What data can we gather beyond these four walls?
Disruption is hard to predict, so gathering insights from national and global trends will only get you so far. Engage in the experiences and interests of your people, and encourage them to bring fresh, analogous outside-in perspectives to your organisation: what insights do they have from previous roles and companies that could be leveraged here? What are other industries doing to future-proof themselves, and what can we learn from them?

Go a step further and encourage yourself and your team to consider the challenge through a human-centred lens: what conversations can be had with your end-users to understand their evolving needs and expectations, and can this be fed into your client strategy?  

5. How can we use the wisdom of crowds?
Cognitive diversity is a key driver to top team performance, benefiting from multiple perspectives to solve complex challenges. This is particularly true for the adaptive challenges that disruption brings, where technical expertise is less relevant. Now, more than ever, is the time to eliminate antagonism, hierarchy and competition between different business areas and levels, so that everyone can focus fully on collaborating to create value, scalability and learning.

While you’ll need to prepare for it, consider disruption as an opportunity. It compels you to be creative, encourage your whole workforce to ideate and experiment, and ultimately co-author a future where the full potential of your organisation and people can be realised.

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