It is within the realm of leadership to prepare for the future and become future-ready. Specific leadership capabilities need to be developed and practiced to become a Superpowered organization. This second part in our series will show you how.
In Part 1, we laid out the case for why new leadership capabilities are needed to address the complex and dynamic challenges leaders and their organizations face in turbulent times. It is futile to plan for the future or attempt to become future-proof. However, it is within the realm of leadership to prepare for the future and become future-ready.
Becoming prepared and ready for the future is the responsibility of the entire leadership team, not just HR. The CHRO and the rest of the HR have a leading role but can only do it with the leadership team's collective voice, engagement, and ongoing and active support.
This is not rocket science. This does not mean it is easy, however. Capabilities need to be developed and practiced. Mindsets need to shift in many instances. At its root, culture needs to change. The difficulty comes from those who think they know better and are set in their ways, want to protect what they have under the status quo and fear change and losing power.
In Part 2, we will introduce and discuss the remaining three Superpowers: the Prepared Risk Taker™, Strategic Executor™, and Accountable Collaborator™. Then, we will discuss what this means for individual leaders and the leadership team, how the Superpowers support and reinforce one another, the benefits of becoming a Superpowered organization, and how to start becoming a Superpowered HR Leader and organization.
Let’s set the stage for the next three Superpowers. The Present Futurist provides us with the contextual information we need for the present and to prepare for the future. The Experienced Learner is about being open to new ideas and learning so we can adapt and be prepared for whatever is thrown our way. The next three are capabilities necessary to make better decisions, act effectively in complex, turbulent environments, and work effectively together.
First and foremost, a Prepared Risk Taker recognizes that intelligent risk-taking is essential to business success. They realize every decision and action has some risk, positive or negative. The same applies to those who choose not to decide or act, although many fail to realize or account for this.
They recognize the benefits of improving organizational and individual preparedness and resilience in an environment buffeted by accelerating change, frequent disruptions, and rampant uncertainty. Preparedness and resilience act as disruption shock absorbers, dampening the potential downsides of risk, speeding up recovery, and enabling those with it to pounce on opportunities faster, amplifying upside returns.
A Prepared Risk Taker plays to win (offense), not to avoid losing (defense), remembering it is offense, not defense, that scores points. A Prepared Risk Taker™ does things like:
The Home Depot’s and Publix Supermarkets’ approach to hurricane preparation in the southeastern US are great examples of being Prepared Risk Takers. They monitor the weather in the tropics, and when a storm forms, they spring into action. They watch where it is predicted to go and when it is expected to arrive. They preposition critical people and supplies like lumber, generators, and bottled water in advance. Doing so prepares them to help their customers and communities in the affected areas. They do not wait for the storm to hit and then react.
Is there a risk and cost to doing this? Yes, mainly if a storm does not materialize. Sure, however, the risk and cost of being unprepared and not ready to help their communities prepare for and recover is far greater. It is a bet worth taking.
For HR leaders, being a Prepared Risk Taker and fostering this capability in others is vital. HR Leaders must move beyond having a compliance mindset to one of strategy and value creation for all stakeholders. This Superpower applies to succession planning for critical positions, identifying selection criteria for hiring/promoting executives, designing leadership development programs, testing alternative work and staffing approaches, and coaching leaders throughout the business.
“Strategy without execution is the slowest route to victory, and tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” — Sun Tzu from the “Art of War.”
A Strategic Executor recognizes that strategy and execution (operations) are integrally linked and must be considered jointly. They acknowledge that balancing and focusing on strategy AND operations, not one at the expense of the other is critical. They understand that rash decisions in the short term can have long-term implications.
A Strategic Executor™ does things like:
Consider Delta Airlines: according to CEO Ed Bastian, “When COVID hit, Delta was the most profitable, best-performing airline, not just in the county but in the world, ever.” As soon as the pandemic hit, it lost 95% of its business. It was a critical time for the industry, let alone Delta.
From the outset, Ed Bastian functioned as a Strategic Executor. Quickly realizing he and his leadership team did not have answers to the emerging challenges, he communicated the principles and values to guide Delta through the pandemic: Focus on protecting our people, customers, and their safety. Protect and be mindful of our cash while safeguarding our future. The latter point is essential to be a strategic executor. By adhering to these principles in its decisions and actions, Delta emerged stronger and faster than its competitors, many of whom struggled to return.
For HR Leaders, being a Strategic Executor™ is critical. Tightly aligning HR strategy, people practices, and operations to support business strategy is vital. This requires HR and other business/functional leaders to work hand-in-hand on areas like talent management (end to end), leadership development, workforce planning, organizational culture, and communications. This is everyone’s responsibility, not just HR.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” — Albert Einstein
Let’s look at each part of the Accountable Collaborator Superpower:
Leaders/managers tend to want to know whom to hold accountable for something happening in virtually everything we do. It's as if we always must find someone to blame when things go wrong. A client once said, “I need to know who to kill if this goal is not met.” Secondly, our culture tends to glorify individual heroes versus great teams. Being an Accountable Collaborator flips these ideas on their heads.
An Accountable Collaborator recognizes that collaboration across functions and organizational boundaries is necessary to address most organizational challenges and opportunities — because these challenges and opportunities are multi-faceted and complex. Accountability must rest with the team, as individuals cannot handle and resolve these challenges/opportunities alone. Responsibility for outcomes (not activities) rests with the team. Individuals are accountable to each other for fulfilling their roles and supporting each other. They know achieving results is far more critical than completing activities.
An Accountable Collaborator™ does things like:
The US Women’s Champion Soccer Team exemplifies being Accountable Collaborators. They recognize they cannot succeed unless they operate as one team. They are focused on scoring and winning, which are the outcomes that matter. They do not focus on keeping track of activities like possessing the ball, kicking, and running. They are accountable as a team for scoring and winning. The team holds its members accountable for their roles, which are fluid and flexible. These are the things that have made this team hard to beat.
HR leaders can do little alone. However, much can be achieved by being Accountable Collaborators with other business leaders. Working together, leadership must identify, understand, own, and deliver critical people outcomes to achieve desired organizational results. Collectively, all leaders are accountable for achieving these outcomes. Silos must be broken to enable the work to get done. Choosing and tracking outcome measures like % of key positions with an identified and ready successor is more important than activity measures like hours of training delivered or training hours per employee.
The Five Leadership Superpowers are far more impactful when taken together. They help organizations withstand shocks, recover faster, and be positioned for future opportunities and able to pounce on them quicker. They enable organizations to scale more effectively and proactively create and act on their new opportunities. How?
Each Superpower informs and supports the others leading to more and better insights, innovative thinking, and the development and sustainment of more robust and relevant capabilities. This leads to exponentially better and more sustainable results for the organization and all stakeholders.
Let’s see how, by way of an example:
Present Futurists play an ongoing informing role for each of the other Superpowers.
Yes and no. Yes, to understand each of the Superpowers. No, for an individual to be proficient in all five. However, a leadership team should strive to be collectively skilled in all five. Working as Accountable Collaborators, the team mitigates individual weaknesses and reduces or eliminates blindspots. The organization benefits from the collective strength of all five, which exceeds the sum of its parts. Remember, strategy is a team sport!
While generalizations are risky, here are a few illustrative examples for specific executive roles.
While these are generalizations, they are illustrative. Not every CXO will follow a similar pattern.
The Superpowers improve individual and organizational preparedness and resilience. The Superpowers lead to more valuable discussions and value-creating decisions and actions, whether in the face of disruption and uncertainty, when novel opportunities present themselves, or when trying to grow and scale for future growth.
The Superpowers help identify, unlock, and unleash organizational capabilities and potential, often making the improbable possible. The benefits are unmistakable. Performance improves, and stakeholders receive greater value with less relative risk and uncertainty. Here's how:
Each benefit reinforces and supports the other, resulting in a virtuous cycle. To sustain these impacts, the Superpowers must become part of the organization’s fabric and continually be used and improved upon.
That depends on where you are. Every organization and everyone can have a different starting point based on their history, current circumstances, and practices.
Here are five suggested questions to start the discussion:
The goal is to discuss and build a consensus on the present and desired future state. Then discuss what it will take to get there. Based on that, here are four steps to consider individually or in combination with one another:
While these are steps you can take on your own, it is best to have the assistance of a subject matter expert, who can be objective and candid, and create a constructive and safe environment for necessary discussions. Furthermore, having someone who has done this can help avoid common pitfalls.
Ready to act now,