"Finding the right talent for the future", said the veteran CEO of a non-profit services organization when asked what his biggest challenge was. He confided that he most likely would not (re)hire the same team again (if given the chance) considering the growth and change that had taken place over the last 7-10 years and where the organization needed to head in the future. Surprisingly, he went on to say he probably would not (re)hire himself to be CEO.
He confessed that as the organization grew, it did not keep up with the times nor did it enhance its capabilities consistent with the dramatic growth they had and changes they faced. He was very uneasy about it. He felt they were unprepared for the future and the challenges it would bring.
I asked what they were doing about it. He said, "Honestly, not much. We keep trying, but every time something else always comes up that takes precedence". Always important, it was never seen as urgent. Now, the CEO realized it was. He and the leadership team felt they were behind the 8-ball (their own fault). They were unprepared for the future - for the expected growth of the agency and evolving needs of its ever-increasing client base.
I believe in today’s disruptive, often unpredictable, and complex environment, it is imperative for organizations and their leaders to always be asking:
1. Are we Sensing Differently to better understand the current and future business and environment? Are we Thinking Differently to identify alternatives, evaluate them, and select the right set of solutions to meet the challenges we face and will face? Are we Doing Differently to more effectively and quickly execute on our decisions to drive better outcomes for customers/clients and business results?
2. Are we sustainably Ready, Prepared and Able to act on and adapt our strategy to the everchanging environment and win in the future? Do we have and know what it takes to reach this state? If not, what do we need to do?
3. What are the attributes(e.g. learning agility, etc.), skills, and capabilities that our leaders and the organization need to be able to succeed in the future? How do we recruit and hire for these? Can and how do we develop these in our existing organization?
Herein lies one of the biggest challenges that leaders face today.
So, where do you start? The answer: In the future. Imagine, for example, it is 2022 and your organization is recognized by the press as having met its objectives. What does it look like? Where is it (metaphorically)? How does it act? What is it known for? Why do customers choose it over others? These and other similar type questions help paint a vivid and “real” picture of what the company looks like and represents at that point in time.
These questions need to be asked and answered individually and then discussed by the entire leadership team. Choices and decisions need to be made so that the picture of the destination and direction are clear and the organization is aligned to and unified behind this vision. The message needs to be actionable and able to be clearly communicated across the organization.
Then looking back from this future, describe the few key things (themes) the organization needed to do to over the intervening 3 years to get there (the future). Next, identify the barriers it had to overcome in its journey to the future and how it addressed these (looking back).
Lastly, deeply sense and understand where and who the organization is today and the environment it operates in. With this information, the organization can begin to plan its journey forward and take its initial steps towards the future.
This is not a one-time effort, but one that needs to be revisited regularly (not annually) based on the velocity of the business and changes in the environment. Unlike in the past when plans would last years and necessary skillsets and capabilities were steady and predictable, the opposite is now true. This new journey requires two additional capabilities:
• The ability to learn.
• The ability to adapt.
Without these, future CEOs will end up asking themselves the same question we started with and end up with the same answer.
It is time to step up to ask these crucial questions and initiate these crucial conversations before it's too late. These can be hard to do on your own. Having an outside facilitator/guide who understands these challenges, who can understand your business, organization, and operating environment, and who can ask the right questions is often the key to a successful effort and faster business results.
We have worked with CEOs and their leadership teams across numerous industries, in key support functions, and in public and private companies.
• We have guided them to define their futures, identify keys to get there, design the roadmap to make the journey, develop the capabilities necessary for successful execution, and manage and navigate the journey even in the face of turbulent conditions.
• More importantly, we simultaneously helped them build and sustain an organizational state of preparedness, readiness, and ability to act so they can do this on their own.
Combined this creates an advantage that is hard to beat and leads to breakthrough results.
Copyright, Jay Weiser and Weiser Strategy Group, 2019.