Nothing is forecastable, but as a leader, you can reinvent and create a sense of agency in 2023.
By Caroline Stokes, founder of FORWARD
Every leader needs to harness one big, seemingly impossible question heading into 2023:
“How Will You Adjust, or Disrupt-on-Purpose This Year?”
This is the moral and ethical question to create a business that can drive through and adjust productively in our new era.
This era isn’t about just keeping you or your team safe to get through the other side of this recession (though psychological safety while maintaining financial security will be expected). Neither is it about signalling that your organization is adapting to a new intersectional approach to inclusion (though this is also very important).
Instead, “How Will You Adjust or Disrupt-on-Purpose in 2023?” represents a systemic adjustment to create a sustainable mindset and business across people, product and planet, for a more discerning consumer, customer and employee.
When I talk about sustainability, I’m not talking about “green”. Green washing is a big no-no for the UN, although philanthropy, PR and marketing teams have been focused on that faux feel-good signal for decades.
What I’m talking about is systemic sustainability – and it starts with how you lead your organization, people and product in a way that answers some of today’s most fundamental issues. The Financial Times’ chief economic commentator Martin Wolf outlined those fundamentals in Michaela Tundera’s final podcast of 2022. This short episode provides 20 minutes of critical insight and a sense of the inevitable, to enable leaders to understand and address the issues with compassion, ingenuity and energy to drive strategic advancement with a lot more clarity of the road ahead.
As I write in my book Elephants Before Unicorns, “from understanding comes growth”. Since many big-name CEOs held off making seismic adjustments when inflation impacted borrowing, tech giants downsized to meet shareholder satisfaction. The silver-lining, butterfly effect of thousands of employees losing their jobs is that new start-ups will emerge to ultimately disrupt the larger companies. The organization at the 11th hour downside will be many not working for months and larger organizations scrabbling around trying to create shareholder confidence. In the meantime, we’ve experienced years of VCs demonstrating unethical recklessness and jeopardizing economic wellbeing. Today, societal and environmental impact could be a better way.
Navigate the polycrisis
Due to high-stakes global issues in 2022, we now have manifold complex layers of political, economic, energy, and environmental goals, amid rapidly evolving governance advancements and societal shifts. All of these factors impact a customer’s desire to buy and an employee’s intention to stay and commit to an organization. Businesses still need to function despite this polycrisis and it’s time for emotionally intelligent leaders to disrupt-themselves-on-purpose in sync with their unique stakeholder system.
We are now at a point where we expect to see our leaders demonstrate a rich amalgam of behaviours in order to maintain or ignite relevancy with their customers wanting to buy products or services, and with employees driving these companies forward. If customers don’t buy from you because you weren’t “on” in their time zone when they had electricity, or your product offering is out of touch with their societal or environmental needs of that time, expect your organization to lose sales, or worse become like the dodo – extinct.
The road ahead may well sound daunting. So here are some questions juxtaposed with today’s reality to help you harness your innate sense of ingenuity and collaboration to tackle the next few years:
First: Geopolitics is hurting capitalism as we know it
The FT predicts sobering events in 2023, from bankruptcies, poverty and a seismic shift in our consumer spending. The results? Constant layoffs (Stanford says you’re participating in copycat behaviour for shareholders), budget cuts (the New York Times says signals to employees don’t generate engagement), company closures, sleepless nights. Rather than this news pushing the CEO to conduct mass layoffs to protect shareholder value, it’s time instead to adapt like a stakeholder capitalist and answer:
The main question: How can you create stakeholder value while markets and economies shift over the next two years?
Before we get there though, who or what is the stakeholder? Stakeholders are your entire business ecosystem – not only your customer, your suppliers, your employees – but your impact on the planet, in other words where you get your energy from for your building through to producing your products, services or swag. Or how your product or industry has impacted the economy of poorer environments. The burning question I have for the industry I typically serve since launching the PlayStation in 1995: “Just how environmentally respectful will the new PlayStation 6 be to lead the offset of the game industry’s legacy footprint?”
Here, think about:
- What does your product really do? How does it really stand out? What will it do that your customer needs regardless of economic or climate uncertainty? Identify the opportunity for growth in the current market alongside the C-suite’s vision, objectives and market data insights across current business system and future climate, economic and customer trends.
- How will your leaders be supported so they deliver and aren’t a flight risk? Coach all leaders and their teams to collaborate effectively alongside the C-suite’s vision and objectives to ensure undeniable alignment, integration and momentum to achieve success. You will have detected who will have the appetite for this new era, so make the investment in them now to expedite results.
- How does your culture need to adapt for this new era? Determine cultural norms and identify biases that will hijack advancement so everyone is fluent in the language that will help advance the attitude towards moving the company’s product or service through uncharted and shape-shifting territory.
- HR needs overhauling and this task sits with your leaders. Are you ready to really make this kind of change? Now is a great time to revolutionize your employee experience to enable innovation and execution in the new era, which McKinsey covers very well. This requires leaders to take the driver’s seat as HR is overwhelmed with traditional work. How can you shift to prioritize this function in a way that accelerates innovation and productivity?
- How can you use collaborative mindsets more effectively? Create multiple approaches for the ideal-state business system that all parties can discuss and later commit to, to determine the best route forward. I describe this agile-state fluidity as a “flock of birds taking turns to guide everyone to their destination” in Organizational Psychology Professor Ludmila Praslova’s newsletter on collaboration.
Second: Our greatest threat to business is the one we take for granted. Are you ready?
With ties to fossil fuel, or hydro (it’s hard to get electricity to power the internet, your EV or your heating/AC system when the dams are impacted by drought), the war in Ukraine impacting traditional fuel supply brings up one of the most entrepreneurial perspectives: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.
With $2.4K trillion spent on renewable investments in 2022, the world may be on-track to use 65% renewable energy by 2030. That’s a long wait for reliable energy. As a business leader, it’s time to think ahead before first-world countries start to experience planned power restrictions or seasonal, climate-impacted power outages.
- What’s your climate catastrophe or energy restriction contingency plan?
- What efficiencies do you need to make to power product manufacturing or keep it online?
- How will you manage business communications if there are outages at different times in different time zones?
- How will you handle B2B and B2C delivery delays?
- How will your offices be powered up?
- How will you ensure your WFH or hybrid employees or critical business partners have stable power supplies?
Take time to identify your vulnerabilities. Are your employees, customers, or suppliers in climate-sensitive areas? What do you need to do to support them, or how do you need to adapt your business during the inevitable climate catastrophes most countries experience every year?
Third: We have been disrupted. How will you adapt to the disruption?
Our world, economy, and society all became destabilized through Covid and disrupted our old ways. The disruption won’t stop now. So we have to disrupt the “growth at all costs” mindset which put organizations in our present-day conundrum and rapid-change norm.
With a new outlook, we can choose to disrupt the way we approach business to reprogram organizational morals, values and ethics. According to the FT, it’s “the end of cheap money” and rapid growth is only likely if organizations disrupt their old thinking by executing transformative intentions.
It’s time to look in the mirror and disrupt ourselves to reimagine how we create products and services to be relevant to the disrupted customer, consumer and employee seeking products and services that are relevant to their needs.
- What values, ethics and morals do you need to disrupt? What doesn’t fit in the world any more?
- Do you know what your customers really, truly need these days? What value, moral and ethical expectations do they have for your organization?
- In the worst-case scenario, we experience more compounding global shock in 2023 resulting in another interest rate hike and further destabilization. Are you confident that your organization is on track to provide products or services that are relevant to market needs?
- How agile are you to adjust your product or service every time customer or market confidence takes a hit?
- How do you know your employees will get behind your products or services and do their best work with their teams?
- What vision are you forming that is morally and ethically aligned with the evolving world view? How is it demonstrated within your team and how your product is marketed?
- Cyber attacks are now commonplace business disruptors affecting your employees and customers. What’s your “always on” security plan to ensure your business stays online regardless of power outages or cybersecurity breaches?
Fourth: Is your organization toxic inside and out?
Like me, you’re probably too young to recall the “cigarettes are toxic” warnings from the US Surgeon General. However, much more recently you may recall the organizational mental health framework from the US Surgeon General in October 2022. Read about both instances via my favourite NeuroInstitute founder David Rock in Fast Company, and in the US Surgeon General’s Workplace Wellbeing framework.
The fact of the matter is, all organizations harbour and nurture their own level of unique toxicity because they haven’t done the work from the inside out. When you do the work, you focus on the people within, which impacts the outside – the product and service.
However, the amount of work organizations need to undertake to get to this point is akin to providing a car with a brand new, never-before-created engine from a designer who’s never made one until now. The designer may have some insights, pet issues, read a few books, done a course, attended a leadership program, may even have a coach – but unless there’s a dedicated, organization-wide approach to impact the system, the engine will forever be in and out of the service room. This is why I left the corporate world (Virgin, Sony, Nokia) to become a business sustainability executive coach: to fix the system to beget performance excellence across people, products and ultimately my clients’ impact on the planet.
So where to start? First, read the Wellbeing framework so that you know what good looks like, then fill out my Workplace EQ diagnostic to determine what you’re missing. Both of these tools will help you find the language, identify the elephants in the room and help you come to terms with what you need to do next.
- Other than budgetary restraints and economic distractions taking you off course, what is more important to you than fixing the system within your organization?
- What would it look like if you evolved your organization, your team, and their approach to organizational health, productivity and results “on purpose”?
- If you don’t do an overhaul, where do you see your company, organization, people and product in two years?
Please contact me if you’d like me to help with your disruption and reinvention-on-purpose activities – and good luck!
Caroline Stokes, CEC, PCC is a Business Sustainability Consultant and Leadership Development Executive Coach. She is the author of Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent Strategies To Save Your Company (Entrepreneur Press, 2019), and a contributor to Coach Me! Your Personal Board of Directors (Wiley, 2022).
Alternatives to GDP – CNBC.