As we get fully into the swing of 2023, it’s clear it will be one for the books. Not only are the tendrils of pandemic-time disruptions still around us – from inflation to supply chain issues to altered consumer behaviors – we’re also looking at a wide array of future-facing shifts.
Shakeups and layoffs in the tech world, a looming recession and disruptions from AI are making it clear that 2023 will present some potentially significant challenges. How leadership adapts to the myriad of marketplace changes coming at them will be pivotal to the future success of their organizations.
Companies employing intentional strategies to flex and adapt are the ones that will navigate these times successfully.
From my perspective, the best strategy is not to buckle down and harden operations, but rather become intrinsically ‘built for change’. In other words, companies employing intentional strategies to flex and adapt are the ones that will navigate these times successfully. Those resistant to adaptation are unlikely to fare as well.
There are a number of steps leaders can take to position themselves, their teams and their companies to be built for change, but the most essential in the short term are the four outlined below.
When significant changes are happening in the marketplace, rather than rejecting the unknown, it’s best to lean into the reality of the situation and get curious about it.
Leaders should ask questions, listen intently and be open to possibilities regarding what’s going on ‘out there’. In a turbulent marketplace, as much as you’ll face challenges, you’ll also be presented with opportunities. But you won’t know what they are if you don’t investigate.
If applied correctly, curiosity is one of the most powerful competencies for leaders to cultivate in themselves and their staff. Lean into the curious part of yourself, bring it to conversations and open up to new ways of thinking. Realizing opportunities in the moment can help organizations learn, adapt and pivot more effectively.
Curiosity can spotlight new avenues for your organization to explore, but you can’t follow every potential path. Doing too many things at once often muddies the waters and prevents leaders from delivering the outcomes they want. The solution is to get clear about the most prudent path and learn to say no when you need to.
As an example, the founder of a software gaming company was raising funds for its series B round. When he looked at the funding and his company’s stats, he couldn’t see a way they would be profitable using their current model.
If you can’t link the path you’re on to the outcome you want, it’s generally best to move on.
He took the bold step of returning the funding and focusing efforts on the chat function that was built into the software. That software built the company we know today as Slack. If it were not for this leader being honest about the original company’s prospects and refocusing on what he had the foresight to see would be a path forward, his company would have failed.
If you can’t link the path you’re on to the outcome you want, it’s generally best to move on. I always encourage leaders to get comfortable with saying no and prioritize ruthlessly to find the best path forward. Leaders should embrace the courage it takes to walk away from work that is not going as planned rather than feel the shame of failure.
Solve with simplicity
As leaders, we often overlook simplicity and instead overcomplicate our problems. This doesn’t come from a bad place; intelligent people think in complex ways and like to understand every nuance of an issue. But the reality is that even seemingly complex problems can have simple solutions.
Moreover, your problem is likely not unique to you. Others have almost certainly encountered it, or something like it, before. Start with the assumption that your problem has been experienced and solved before and seek out people who can help. The answer to most problems is already there, or at least a stone’s throw away. You may be surprised how simple the solution was in retrospect, especially if you seek out those who have already found it.
Empower through patience
Finally, patience is a competency, for both obvious and less obvious reasons.
One benefit is simply to provide ourselves space to manage the unknown. When we’re spearheading a change or responding to outside pressures, we like to see immediate results. But things almost always take longer than we like, and we need to be OK with letting the results come in their own time. Focus on the effort, not the outcome.
You have to exercise patience and give your employees the opportunity not just to say no to things, but to say yes.
The more nuanced part of patience is that it affords employees the space for creativity and flexibility. Google did a study a few years back where it found that the most successful teams were the ones who experienced more psychological safety or the freedom to try things out without consequences.
Having this feeling puts one in a state of creativity and flexible thinking rather than stress-inspired fight-or-flight thinking. For leaders, this means you have to exercise patience and give your employees the opportunity not just to say no to things, but to say yes.
These are just a few ways in which leaders can set themselves up to be built for change. The key is not making one big change all at once, but rather small shifts regularly, which fosters a little-and-often change mindset. This will set you and your company up to meet unknowns head on, both in 2023 and beyond.
Alex Bombeck is the CEO of leading change and transformation consulting firm North Highland. For more than 25 years, Bombeck has helped organizations adapt their customer and employee engagement strategies in a market that is constantly in flux.