Transformation comes with a cost – time, effort and, yes, money. Money, however, is the least important factor. Today, the vast majority of the C-suite are skittish about the vocal market demands for change, huge pressure from an explosion of innovative disruptors and stakeholders’ rising expectations for effective strategies in response.
Reinventing yourself versus starting anew
If you are a corporate leader or SMME business owner, it is vital you are researching how to reinvent yourself in business. This is a good mantra throughout your business life, but the pressure to do so is even more critical now. This pressure has been growing and compounding since the previous decade.
Reinventing yourself regularly does not mean constantly starting new businesses. It means brainstorming, market research and deep thinking about:
Better ways to run your business
Service offering reinventions to meet changing market needs
The target horizons of business plans are much shorter in this decade. There is a pernicious uncertainty that needs to be addressed if you want to remain healthy as a leader and ensure your company’s longevity.
Your target audience
Your target audience is constantly coming up with new expectations of convenience and business values. This means they require greater adaptability from your business. The societal expectation of sustainability and fair trade is an excellent example. Your company can try to skirt these requirements, but as Lancelot says in ‘The Merchant Of Venice’, “..truth will out.”
Your human capital
It is not only your target audience that will be making demands on the C-Suite and entrepreneurs – but it is also your resource pool of quality skills and talent. Research, and decades of data, shows that an organisation is only as good as its human capital – from the top down.
Human capital is vital for the success of a company. There is a direct correlation between your skills and talent, and the development of it, with the economic growth, productivity, and profitability of your business.
The global resource pool of workers are looking for employers that can offer the right blend of old-school guidance, innovation, ethical values and new-school freedom.
The urgent need for change has seeped up to the C-Suite, and the leaders that care enough for the future of the business are opening up to change. Ironically, the personality traits that often drive executives into the C-Suite can make it very difficult for these leaders:
Drive change from the top down
Change based on pressure from the market.
So what does reinventing yourself mean for you and your business? What changes are needed so that your business can accommodate the changing market, the new norm at work, and compete with the inevitable disruptors?
The new wave of disruption
Whilst that heading might sound like a music band name, it is not a joke to business owners. Google holds a Zeitgeist every year. This is the annual thought leadership conference organised and hosted by the tech giant. Their aim is to bring together 100’s of C-level executives and Google partners for “speaker sessions, evening events, networking, and Sandbox exploration”. The event is significant and spans 2 days. The theme that was chosen for this year was aptly named “Great Expectations”. If ever there was a phrase that could sum up the market – that is it! The market, the resources, the stakeholders – they all have great expectations of your company. Google’s Zeitgeist worked through issues predicted for our collective future.
Businesses experiencing turmoil
The conference notes referenced 2015 as the year wherein the term ‘disruption’ was at its peak use. Never before had so many changes exploded into the market, and “the first wave of businesses” were in turmoil. Speakers concurred that, in the majority, those companies most affected by the unprecedented quantity of disruptors were businesses with software in their core. This software was either performing the role of a production platform or controlling the distribution channels. At the time, it was not easy to see which sectors were being ‘hit’, but retrospect is very helpful.
Looking back, we can see that insurance companies, non-cloud IT services, banks, financial institutions, and newspapers were at the front of the battlefield, fighting for their lives against major challenges. Due to lack of data and time constraints, they were often fighting blindly whilst scrambling to build strategies. Those companies that had been monitoring the venture capital, angel funding and seed funding sectors would have been able to see the disruption building. Then, again, they may have tracked it but not believed it. In the latter half of the previous decade, companies needed to change by pivoting or by fading into obsolescence.
“From 2008 through 2015, more than 500 banks failed, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) data. In contrast, in the 7 years that preceded the recession, 25 banks failed.” – The Federal Reserve Bank Of Cleveland
A second wave of changes
Since 2020, a second wave of changes is showing a growing force, and it appears to be affecting industries that have greater degrees of apathy in their production line. The group of industries that needs its leaders to be innovating and adapting include:
Pharmaceutical development and production
The challenges they face are in relation to planning, agility and talent attraction.
The current environment
Ironically, the C-suite leaders in the affected industries, and their boards of directors, are currently caught in a catch-22 situation. It has to be acknowledged that the current global financial situation of our markets is not very inspiring. This economic environment makes it difficult for any leader to take chances and to adopt a higher risk profile.
The need for innovation and adaption is not ground-breaking as large amounts of data were created from the learnings that the businesses that were disrupted by the first wave. We can look back at the changes made 5-10 years ago and learn from their effectiveness and progress. It is clear that the most success was achieved when the change of mindset started with the leaders themselves.
Democratised leadership and culture
The predominant learning distilled from that changed business world should have sounded alarms or conglomerate death knells. This is because it is necessary to disrupt the traditional understanding of corporate collaboration as a well-lubricated hulk of a machine with gears and cogs. This must be hastily replaced with the goal of creating small, self-managed delivery teams and the all-powerful C-Suite needs to transform into a democratised leadership and culture that wholly supports the small teams.
This is the definitive key in the reinvention of an organisation. It future-proofs your company with the creation of small, supported, proxy-enhanced, semi-autonomous teams. It creates platforms and business services that remove the friction and causes disengagement within the life cycle of these more dynamic teams. It also gives the small teams the courage and power to take on change, experiment without dire consequences, and adapt to change pressures brought about by new business conditions.
How to create small, agile, powerful teams
The full solution cannot be covered in this article as there is a long list of mechanisms required to achieve this outcome.
Firstly, group functions need to change their mindset to see themselves as service providers, not dominators, authoritarians or clients of the small teams.
Establish a framework and support
A carefully planned and tested framework must be established to allow for the coordination, not the dominance, of the teams. The fiercely guarded decision-making rights must be delegated out to the delivery team level.
The teams must be supported as they are the power pack pulling the business strategy to the ever-new finishing lines. To this end, they need dynamic advisory boards which fluctuate or morph to the team’s needs. The goal of these boards is the success of the teams above all else. The boards must advise and help the teams in their growth and their experimentation. The boards must bring about the team’s maturation through facilitated coaching, mentoring and any other tool that drives the teams’ success.
A transformed culture
The culture of the company must actively be transformed into one that:
Focusses on and values dialogue
Breaks down the hierarchy
Offers psychological safety
Encourages a strong growth mindset (including the related increase in risk)
These words are easy to put onto digital pages and turn into inspiring reports. The execution of this is hard, though. It is very, very hard.
This tough journey all starts with the need for the C-Suite, or the entrepreneur, to understand that the business’s success requires a predominant genuine interest in the people at work – and the success of that will bring about the soundness of the business.
The reinvention starts with personal change
Learning from the butterfly
The transformation of a business or a person is often accompanied by a romantic analogy involving a butterfly. What the analogy never states is the incredibly difficult process that the caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly (or moth).
It is akin to liquidising yourself and rebuilding your body with the base material. The caterpillar, when in its cocoon or chrysalis, experiences a drop in juvenile hormones, and its ecdysone hormones drive the metamorphosis process. This triggers a set of enzymes, called caspases, that race through the body, digesting it as they progress throughout the entire larva.
Next, sets of sleeping cells called imaginal discs (which are similar to what we would call stem cells) activate. The imaginal discs are the only things that are not dissolved and contain the critical DNA for growing butterfly body parts. They use the protein-rich soup they are suspended in to fuel their rapid cell division, e.g. from 50 to 50,000 cells, and create the wings, antennae, legs, etc, of a butterfly or moth.
That is now a good analogy for reinventing yourself in business. Dissolve what is outdated in yourself and the business, that which is no longer serving the future purpose of the business. Keep the key elements and build something stunning.
Spend the time
It takes months of input, influence, and reflection for the leadership of a business to change, not days and weeks. Once a critical mass is achieved, their thinking, prioritisation and urgency suddenly changes. You can visibly see their new focus in meetings and their increased involvement in the engagement and deployment of people. Agility and experimentation are given time and resources, and their expectations for all teams to show agility and collaboration grows quickly.
Interestingly, many of those leaders do not get the necessary motivation from within their companies and, therefore, they look for the drive from their C-peers. This collaboration at the C-Suite level is from leaders going through the same changes or having the notches on their belts from reinventing themselves (and businesses) in the first wave of disruption.
The challenge with change
As our caterpillar analogy hopefully shows you, change is hard. It’s disruptive and turns things inside out (or turns it to mush). You need to break old habits, shut down old safe havens and establish new forms of these. What is clear from the research is that the C-Suite, business owner or entrepreneur needs to reinvent themselves first. Do it solo or get professional help but re-evaluate your mindset as well as your approach to what work is and why you work through that office door every morning. You need to find your new purpose and that of the company.
Yes, change is hard, but the benefits are profound. You achieve:
Better resolving of mistakes
As was said in the beginning, however, the investment can be considerable. In your preparation for your reinvention journey, you will need to debate with yourself and others about what it will take to achieve the reinvention and what losses will be acceptable.
You will find deep resources of knowledge in the minds and learnings of those who have changed already. Contact those peers or get introduced to them and draw on their highly valuable information. Then translate those learnings into the context of your own leadership and business with your leadership team and, indeed, with your staff.
Tenacity, agility and meeting market expectations will win the day.