Leaders must constantly grapple with an inescapable paradox when it comes to keeping strategy on-course: How can we plan for the longer-term while also focusing on the imperatives to survive short-term challenges?
As leaders, we must own the narrative with our customers and our teams about our direction and focus, both short and longer-term. How can we maintain this split focus to see and seize new opportunities? Here are seven practical behaviors you can demonstrate every day and incorporate into your leadership routine with your teams.
1. Scope the landscape.
As a leader, you need to accurately understand and assess all the complexity, ambiguity and dissonance of the current landscape. This requires a kind of dual vision—to see clearly and respond to short-term priorities while simultaneously looking further out at a long-term vision. Leading through the current landscape means being able to determine the scale, pace and depth of action required to meet both the short and long-term challenges you identify. Crucially, you must be flexible and adapt your assessments as the landscape changes.
2. Plan for different scenarios.
Identify plausible but uncertain future scenarios and assess the likelihood of each. Next, identify signals that can point to which scenario will emerge. Plan the potential impacts from each and identify your responses, from financial impact to talent, while assessing your team’s potential to respond. And finally, define new planning paradigms—rather than using last year’s—based on key metrics (new market size, desired market share, salesforce capabilities, potential competition). For more info on uncertainty planning, see the Harvard Review’s breakdown of four uncertainty levels.
3. Optimize new ways of working.
Those able to identify opportunities amid challenges will usually emerge in the best position. Consider what opportunities a short-term crisis reveals in ways of working. Try to identify unique opportunities to enhance productivity and better serve the customer. Think about where possibilities to improve performance may be hiding within challenges. These may be in organization structure, technology, or rapid learning, among others.
4. Lead with calm confidence.
Re-engage with your team to check that they share your assessment of the landscape and your long-term vision for the future. It’s important they are aligned with you. Amid the current pandemic, short-term challenges still loom large; but a new normal is already starting to disrupt established industry structures and practices. This can understandably cause uncertainty and stress for individuals, customers, and businesses, emphasizing your need to stay calm, clear, consistent, and focused on the landscape, its challenges, and the decisions you need to make in order to succeed.
5. Engage and collaborate.
It’s time to move from a paradigm of hierarchies and silos to one of networks and teamwork. The bottom line is that collaboration moves faster, so enlist allies and build coalitions around your priorities. Storytelling will help you engage your stakeholders in your vision and own your narrative. And remember that collaboration depends on the establishment and nurturing of trust (trust = transparency + relationships + experience).
6. Speed over elegance.
Agility and speed of delivery will be key in the new normal. As the speed of change increases, the most successful leaders will move earlier, faster, and more decisively, but in order to do this you’ll need to dial up your and your teams’ capability to innovate and learn fast. You’ll also need to change your previous perceptions, welcome diverse thinking, and avoid getting stuck in the weeds. It’s easy for leaders to become rigid, but in the new normal, flexible leaders will be able to deliver better results, faster in this changing world.
7. Stop seeing the return as a destination.
A return to a new normal is only the first step towards realizing new opportunities. Focus in the short-term on recovering revenues while keeping an eye on the longer-term vision. Rebuild your operations where required. Don’t be afraid to rethink your organization and ways of working—including how you use technology, the advantages of which can be accelerated if you focus on their impact.
This is neither the first nor the last time you’ll face uncertainty amid a shift to a new normal. Remember that change always carries with it new opportunities. Keep these seven practices front and center while you navigate uncertainty, and you’ll find yourself on calm waters in the new normal.