What is required to be an effective leader in today’s totally disruptive business world?

A discussion and running theme that seems to be on every leadership and executive director’s mind, is ‘what is required to be an effective leader in today’s totally disruptive business world’?

Experts have opined for decades on the reasons behind the spectacular failure rates of strategy execution.
In 2016, it was estimated that 67% of well-formulated strategies failed due to poor execution.
There are many explanations for this abysmal failure rate, but a 10-year longitudinal study on executive leadership conducted by my firm showed one clear reason.
A full 61% of executives told us they were not prepared for the strategic challenges they faced upon being appointed to senior leadership roles.
It’s no surprise, then, that 50%–60% of executives fail within the first 18 months of being promoted or hired.

Becoming a disruptive leader is not a straightforward journey, no matter your background. It requires the embrace of wholesale change, the nurturing of innovative thinking and behavior, and the management of outcomes rather than resources. It requires a personal transformation that many will choose not to make.

Over the past year, we’ve been struck by how many times we’ve heard C-suite leaders use these words, or very similar ones, to describe the strengths they believe are critical to transforming their businesses, and to competing effectively in a disruptive era.

What’s equally striking is how difficult organisations are finding it to embed these qualities and behaviors in their people. That’s because the primary obstacle is invisible: the internal resistance that all human beings experience, often unconsciously, when they’re asked to make a significant change.

Cognitively, it shows up as mindset — fixed beliefs and assumptions about what will make us successful and what won’t. Emotionally, it usually takes the form of fear.

Amazon changed how we buy things. Netflix transformed how we consume videos. And companies like Airbnb and Uber have shaken up the hotel and transportation industries.

A few years ago, digital disruption was something that happened to someone else. Now, no company is immune.
Disruptive technologies, products, services and business models are being introduced almost daily. So executives need to take charge of their organisation’s response to ensure long-term business success.

But while many organisations are eager to “get ahead of the curve” on digital, there’s no instruction manual or template on how to do it successfully.

A recent KPMG survey of chief executives and chief information officers found that while most are concerned about digital disruption, few are adequately prepared to address it.

Although digital may be disrupting your business model, it also creates opportunities for those that embrace change. Organisations that don’t will find it increasingly difficult to catch up as technology continues to advance rapidly.

So where do you start?

First, understand how digital disruption is affecting your products, services and business model. Then develop a digital strategy. That includes acquiring the necessary digital skills and getting the company to buy into the required changes.

KPMG’s CIO Advisory survey shows this won’t be easy.

The majority of CIOs (58 percent) and almost half of the CEOs (43 percent) are involved or very involved in their firm’s digital business strategy. But only a small number are actively leading the effort.

Given the magnitude of digital disruption, the lack of strong leadership could have a major impact on the company’s ability to adapt.

Companies must master and implement new technologies. That requires new skills, many of which are in short supply. Most CIOs in the KPMG survey cited a lack of critical skills and the limits of existing IT systems as their biggest challenges.

There are no quick solutions to these challenges. But first, companies need to develop a strategy. Without one, it is impossible to tackle the other issues.

Final thought, the complexity of the challenges that organisations face is running far out ahead of the complexity of the thinking required to address them.

Consider the story of the consultant brought in by the CEO to help solve a specific problem: the company is too centralised in its decision making. The consultant has a solution: decentralise. Empower more people to make decisions. And so it is done, with great effort and at great expense. Two years pass, the company is still struggling, and a new CEO brings in a new consultant. We have a problem, the CEO explains. We’re too decentralised. You can guess the solution.

The primary challenge most large companies now face is disruption, the response to which requires a new strategy, new processes, and a new set of behaviors.
But if employees have long been valued and rewarded for behaviors such as practicality, consistency, self-reliance, and prudence, why wouldn’t they find it uncomfortable to suddenly embrace behaviors such as innovation, agility, collaboration, and boldness?
Einstein was right that:

“We can’t solve our problems from the same level of thinking that created them.”

Human development is about progressively seeing more. Learning to embrace our own complexity is what makes it possible to manage more complexity.

Guest-blog: Roger Phare – A Nod to the NED – the key dynamic of the modern board

We welcome back Roger Phare as our guest blogger, who is an accomplished Global Executive Director, equipped with a commanding track record over the past 37 years of bringing sound judgement and a strong commercial perspective to IT businesses, from ‘Mainframe to Mobile’.

Roger has been fortunate to have been part of the commercial computing lifespan. With a market driven approach, which he has strategically supported, a number of organisations, both at significant Board, Executive and Regional Directorship and responsibilities. An expert in corporate governance and compliance and risk management; enjoying challenging the status quo and providing independent advice to Boards whilst maintaining sound judgment, impartiality and with integrity.

In the third of this series (view Part I and Part II ), we are going to look at the role of the Non-Executive Director (“NED”), which is a highly debated subject in today’s modern board.

To provide some background, before I hand you over to Roger, as an Independent Non-Executive Director and Executive Adviser on several companies, I talk with experience across the list of attributes required of a non-executive director, which is so long, precise and contradictory that there cannot be a single board member in the world who fully fits the criteria.

They need to be: supportive, intelligent, interesting, well-rounded and mature, funny, entrepreneurial, steady, objective yet passionate, independent, curious, challenging, and more. They also need to have a financial background and real-life business experience, a strong moral compass, and be first class all-rounders with specific industry skills.

Chairmen and chief executives should use their NEDs to provide general counsel – and a different perspective – on matters of concern. They should also seek their guidance on particular issues before they are raised at board meetings.
Indeed, some of the main specialist roles of a non-executive director will be carried out in a board sub-committee (particularly the remuneration and audit committees), especially in listed companies.

The key responsibilities of NEDs can be said to include the following:
Strategic direction
As ‘an outsider’, the non-executive director may have a clearer or wider view of external factors affecting the company and its business environment than the executive directors.
The normal role of the NED in strategy formation is therefore to provide a creative and informed contribution and to act as a constructive critic in looking at the objectives and plans devised by the chief executive and the executive team.

Monitoring performance
Non-executive directors should take responsibility for monitoring the performance of executive management, especially with regard to the progress made towards achieving the determined company strategy and objectives. They have a prime role in appointing, and where necessary removing, executive directors and in succession planning.

Remuneration
Non-executive directors are also responsible for determining appropriate levels of remuneration of executive directors. In large companies this is carried out by a remuneration committee, the objective of which is to ensure there is an independent process for setting the remuneration of executive directors.

Communication
The company and its board can benefit from outside contacts and opinions. An important function for NEDs, therefore, can be to help connect the business and board with networks of potentially useful people and organisations. In some cases, an NED will be called upon to represent the company externally.

Risk
NEDs should satisfy themselves on the integrity of financial information and that financial controls and systems of risk management are robust and defensible.

Audit
It is the duty of the whole board to ensure that the company accounts properly to its shareholders by presenting a true and fair reflection of its actions and financial performance and that the necessary internal control systems are put into place and monitored regularly and rigorously.
An NED has an important part to play in fulfilling this responsibility, whether or not a formal audit committee (composed of NEDs) of the board has been constituted.

Now I would like to hand over to Roger!

Thank you Geoff, today I would like to discuss the role and ‘A Nod to the NED – the key dynamic of the modern board’.

Of all the Board positions the Non-Executive Director (NED) role is undoubtedly the most confusing. Not so much as to the expected outcomes of growth, compliance, shareholder returns and social responsibility but more as to the background and dynamics of the modern NED.

Why confusing?

Surely the NED role is the most historically formulated, culturally cultivated and legislatively defined of all board member roles.

Yet instead of being well defined and well-structured the NED requirement seems to be all over the place.

Part of the issue is that demand has rapidly increased due to factors such as legislation, compliance and business growth. This has spread the net further afield and created a demand over and above the previous norm.

The result of this demand there has seen “NED Membership” organisations springing up. I recently read as part of a membership promotion the following excerpt:

“If you have the right amount of experience to offer, you could become a Non-Executive Director. This could be an especially good option if you are approaching retirement because it can be a useful way to earn money without the pressures of being involved in the day-to-day decision making of a business.”

Whoa! This conjures up images of geriatric un-prepared old-boys rolling up for a four-hour board meeting; pontificating and story-telling before retiring to their local club for a large brandy and an afternoon nap in a dark leather padded armchair!

Nothing could be further from the truth for the modern NED. Guidance around “day to day” decision making is a critical part of the NED role. Four hours in the Boardroom can equate to four days spread pre and post meeting guiding and assisting the CEO & executive team. It is serious business.

A related problem is that somehow a “one size fits all” approach to NED requirements has become the prevailing attitude. Other than “Chair” type roles it seems that there is little demarcation in the nature of the role nor organisation in which the NED is required.

Contributing to this is the definition of organisation types. Most understand the concept of listed or private organisations and the duties, responsibilities and remuneration levels required by and from the NED’s. When community organisations are brought into the mix then things really go off the rails.

It starts with the concept of “Not for Profit”, equating with the concept that NED roles being “Volunteer”. To start with, Not for Profit organisations should be re-branded “Not for Dividend”. In other words, they need to be governed and run the same way commercial organisations operate with a view to making a surplus; the only difference is that those surpluses are distributed to beneficiaries rather than shareholders.

This topic is probably the subject of a whole new thread but the point is that community organisations need directors with the same level of skill and due diligence as those in the commercial world.
The question is when an ad appears that asks for applications for a NED “Volunteer, expenses only”, who is going to apply?
Yes, there is a small percentage of experienced and talented individuals who are prepared to provide their time on a “pro bono” basis and these people are to be commended. Simply having time on one’s hands and looking for an activity is not necessarily a qualification for a board position.
Even worse, to a degree, is the concept of applying for volunteer positions to “gain experience” as a Board member. This can lead to frustration and disappointment for all parties.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Demand for high quality Non-Executive Directors is increasing and it is generally acknowledged that the keys to success are the right recruitment, support, training and ongoing engagement. With these factors in place, NED’s can add significant value to all types and size of business.

So, here’s a nod to the new breed NED – exciting times ahead!

Roger Phare

You can contact Roger Phare via LinkedIn: Roger Phare on LinkedIn
or by email:
roger phare @ gmail .com
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