Business leadership paradigms have evolved over the past few years. Historically, leaders were chosen for their business acumen and strong goal-directed behavior, like military commanders. Now, we see a new face of leadership in companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google, who create new frontiers in the marketplace.
Leaders are shifting from an autocratic-military leadership style toward a more participative-empowering style. Leaders will flex, adapt, and eventually thrive as long as they are open to embrace challenges like digital transformation and the rapid change of technologies. Leadership will play a pivotal role to compete and win in the hyped “disruption age.” The question is, Are the leaders ready to embrace all these changes? The struggle for change is real. Those who are slow to change will be at a disadvantage. Those who strategize and act now will get ahead. How can we bridge the widening gap between the laggards and the adapters?
The two forces that will shape the strategy of a 21st century leader are customer experience and an engaged workforce. These forces will greatly influence how heads of companies will lead.
I have identified a three-step communication model that I have used in my work with senior management of companies and business unit leaders during the last decade. This model focuses on the customer at the heart of the strategy and the workforce as the centerpiece of execution.
1. During the strategic planning stage, leaders do not just communicate—they connect.
Leaders cannot strategize alone; it’s a collaborative effort. They need to be more aligned with the business by establishing regular meetings with the cross-functional teams at all levels, where leaders can ask frontliners to share their stories and experiences. It is here where road maps are designed uniquely reflective of the actual needs, priorities, and goals of the business and employees. Customers will be at the core of the discussion.
Questions for this discussion include, What are the current realities of the business? What are the pain areas? What is the happiness index of the workforce? How can we deliver amazing customer experience? What is your perception of our potential?
Answers to these questions should be data driven, measured, and analyzed. Connecting is not limited to planning alone but encompasses all aspects, from hiring to strategic planning to implementing and far beyond. Leaders are curious and interested with novel ideas enabling them to connect with empathy. They are willing to take risks, inspire and motivate, and build new strategic partnerships. They emphasize the value of strong and long-term relationships. They manage their own emotions well and remain calm in times of stress and crisis.
2. When executing the plan, leaders implement an effective performance management process.
Great plans should be matched with seamless execution. It all starts with setting and articulating clear goals and objectives, followed by monitoring and action.
Questions leaders ask include, What should we assess? Are the employees meeting their goals? Is their work improving over time? What resources and technologies do we need to enhance our performance? What are our capability enablement programs to upskill our workforce? What excuses will we let go of today to drive performance?
Leaders can use a data-driven system to differentiate a high from a low performer, and know the importance of developing an individual performance plan.
Allowing employees to formulate their own action plans will enhance their accountability. Empowered employees trust their leaders more, and they are strong. They will not quit when challenged, and they are likely to respond to changes and develop innovative ideas.
3. Leaders continuously evaluate impact and progress for the company’s overall health.
Leaders should understand how to use performance analytics and close performance gaps. As is often said, “What gets tracked and measured gets accomplished.” Measuring performance is like going to the gym and tracking the number of minutes, calories, level, heart rate, and so on to achieve better performance day in, day out. Leaders must know how to give feedback—not just data, but behavioral feedback. What follows is a transparent rewards system, which is a good way to reinforce good behaviors. This will complete the communication cycle back to strategic planning, creating a culture of continuous improvement.
This three-step communication model will leverage the simple process, with laser focus on customer experience and the vision of an engaged workforce. This will help leaders gain confidence to be ready and prepared for the challenges of the 21st century. Being ready for the future goes beyond digital technologies, beyond robotics and automation. When leaders can connect to the heart, execute, monitor, and evaluate, they are beyond ready to lead their teams toward the future.