Leading through disruption: Five priorities shaping today’s corporate change agenda

Leading through disruption: Five priorities shaping today’s corporate change agenda

Given the perpetual state of transformation we exist in today, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when companies routinely shelved necessary improvements because they were too burdensome or costly to implement. Remember the adage “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”?

Now the call for unprecedented change is coming from every direction, and companies are responding swiftly to survive. They’re reevaluating long-term strategies, embracing new operating models, and adopting more productive ways of working. In fact, according to CEB/Gartner, the average organization has undergone five enterprise changes in the past three years, and nearly 75 percent of business leaders polled expect this number to rise.

Clearly, organizations built to perform with change as a given hold a distinct advantage going into 2019 and beyond.

Yet the prospect of corporate reinvention is daunting: it’s hard to know where to begin, and few executives feel equipped to guide their organizations into the future given the scope, complexity, and pace of change. A Deloitte–MIT Sloan survey shows only 44 percent of executives feel their organizations are preparing adequately to manage industry disruptions.

Amid our rapidly changing corporate landscape, how can organizations build the capabilities required to analyze and respond to market developments in real time? How can they innovate faster than others in spite of disruptive change? These questions are increasingly top of mind when we meet with chief communication officers (CCOs) and their business partners.

Reflecting on developing research and what we’ve seen with our clients, there are five pivotal priorities CCOs and their teams are embracing to lead through disruption. As Warren Buffet once famously said, “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” These priorities reveal historically strong behaviors and opportunities for renewed focus.

  1. Accelerate cross-functional collaboration. Today’s most crucial change initiatives span functional units and require collaborative partnerships among Strategy & Operations, Change & Transformation, Corporate Communications, Human Resources & Organization Development, Information Technology, Innovation, and Finance. CCOs are increasingly “breaking silos” and working with C-suite partners to drive alignment around common goals and recognize opportunities to support each other’s priorities. Seizing this opportunity to accelerate collaboration requires an enterprise-wide mindset plus expanded knowledge of business operations and finance.
  2. Define, activate, and sustain the purpose. A growing body of research shows that organizations with a strong sense of purpose are able to transform and innovate better. When it’s transcendent and aspirational, a shared purpose can galvanize an organization. It also serves as the bedrock foundation when companies experience periods of radical disruption. To realize this full potential, organizations must spend the time required to properly define the purpose, connect it to the business strategy, and ensure it’s more than just a slogan on the wall.
  3. Align all aspects of employee experience. Companies are a collection of experiences: the messages we see and hear, the energy we feel, the systems we use, the values we encounter, and the behaviors and symbols we witness. Inspiring employees to drive change requires harmonizing these experiences. The stakes for getting this right couldn’t be higher. When all aspects align, employees feel more empowered to respond to the shifting landscape around them. They can better analyze, innovate, and make confident decisions on behalf of the organization.
  4. Equip leaders to lead through change. Change isn’t a straight-line progression. What helps employees pull through the change cycle is a strong network of trusted, resilient leaders who are equipped to tell the company’s change story and model desired behaviors. McKinsey research backs this up with compelling statistics: business transformations are 3.8 times more likely to succeed when leaders use a consistent change story and 5.3 times more likely to succeed when leaders model the behavior changes they are asking employees to make.
  5. Cultivate “Third Space” thinking and skills. Successful business transformation demands new competencies that USC Annenberg researchers call “Third Space Thinking.” Adaptability, cultural competence, empathy, intellectual curiosity, and 360-degree thinking are increasingly crucial skills to promote organizational agility. Together, they constitute a new way of strategic thinking for collaboration, innovation, and enhanced performance. Building these new competencies in teams will require targeted recruiting strategies and professional development/coaching.

Investing in these five priorities can make the difference between leading and lagging in an industry. Join us as we explore these and other priorities shaping today’s corporate change agenda at The Conference Board’s 16th Annual Change and Transformation Conference on June 14–15 in New York City.