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Leadership in the era of disruption: how business leaders can ensure continuity

18 January 2018

As featured on Enterprise Innovation (Online) - 18th January, 2018 

Corporate leaders who want to manage change more effectively need to stay curious. In the era of rapid digital, economic and political change, that is one core trait that will help corporates stay adaptable; rigidity and a strictly hierarchical frame of mind will no longer work. Staying dynamic will help leaders not only set the pace, but also lead the race.

One key facet to effective change management is nurturing a culture that prizes innovation, to help teams be at ease with change and ambiguity – hallmarks of today’s business environment. A winning work culture is one that will engage and drive employees to embrace change, and encourage the sharing of innovative ideas.

Experimentation – the key to responsiveness

Like the business leaders I meet across the Asian countries, today’s business leaders are aware of the plethora of emerging technologies in the market, all with promises to revolutionize the way they operate – from AI and machine learning, to IoT and blockchain, the list is endless. At the same time, these leaders have to master the fine balance between managing the risk of deploying immature technologies, and being left behind by disruptive trends.

The easiest way to adapt is to start encouraging teams to experiment. Experiments small and large will help employees to question long-held assumptions about how and why we work the way we do. These experiments can lead the way to small proofs-of-concept, which will go a long way to developing best practices and building organizational capacity for tomorrow’s digital business models.

As this is an experiment, it’s more than alright to fail fast, but the learning comes in fixing it, and moving on. Constant experimentation and innovation are essential if companies are to keep up with the rate of change.

However, organizations may find themselves challenged by a shortage of digital talent, especially when trying to scale up smaller experiments. A way out is to reinvent the organisational culture for constant innovation, across disciplines, indirectly also creating a high-performance culture.

Most businesses, including start-ups, are switching to cloud-based people management and human resources solutions because it allows them to access employee data while on the go. Having a 360-view into their workforce is a lifesaver for business owners and company leaders who are sometimes juggling multiple hats. Being able to analyze data about their employees will not only allow companies to gain better visibility into their company, but helps in planning for the future by streamlining existing processes and having an automated workflow to enable better inter-department communication.

An innovative culture

The lack of digital talent today is no news. A recruitment firm surveyed over one thousand tech hiring managers and recruiters and found that almost 9 out of 10 respondents had faced difficulties in finding and hiring workers with tech skills.

Yet, many large organizations still treat innovation and disruption as sandboxes that only techies can play in. Common strategies range from setting up venture capital funds and incubators, and running innovation challenges, to investing in and forming strategic alliances with tech companies. However, innovation is not isolated to technology alone. Rather, teams ranging from human resources to finance need to regularly engage with emerging technologies to better understand what they mean for the company’s future. It is thus vital to adopt innovation as part of a company-wide mandate and integrated into an organization’s culture.

Leaders who want to successfully ride the coming wave of change will need to deliver a clear vision through compelling storytelling, in order to get the buy-in of all key stakeholders within the organization, and make it easier to execute a future-ready business strategy. Having your employees advocate not only your vision and strategy, but encouraging each other toward this common goal, is a sure way of internal success.

Developing a winning workplace

While business leaders work hard to steer the ship, it is also important to make workplaces more conducive for employees to do their best. Through my years of managing different lines of businesses and experience in different organizations, I remind my leadership team that employees are the backbone of every organization.

A holistic and customized policy that addresses the uniqueness of each individual will allow for a more robust, lean and flexible organization.

One area in which employers can better accommodate employees is through personalized work experiences. The one-size-fits-all workplace is now a practice of the past. Individual offices, cubicles, open floor plans – these office design trends are generic answers to individual preferences, and are more likely to make employees feel weary. Today’s “palette of places” has already been adopted by innovative companies like Google, Facebook and IBM, and feature a mix of spaces that allow for both vigorous collaboration and quiet thinking.

Another way that organizations can help employees stay at the top of their game is by embracing the on-the-go workforce. Today’s consumers have a demand for all things mobile, and it only makes sense to bring this mentality into the workplace. For example, by creating digestible chunks of online video and audio content, businesses can help employees and customers to constantly upskill and encourage continuous learning.

Implementing mobile applications that allow employees to check inventory, take customer orders, approve purchases, create and send business invoices and view key performance indicators, will also eliminate inefficiencies and encourage productivity, and is a business benefit that our own customers great appreciate and leverage upon to drive their own success and growth.

With the business world changing at a never-before-seen pace, leaders face disruption on multiple fronts. To tackle this, today’s leaders, be it of big or smaller businesses must employ a dynamic leadership approach, which will prove crucial for their organisations to not only survive, but thrive in our digital world.

This article first appeared in Enterprise Innovation. For further information about the publication, please view here.