The top 3 steps to rethinking your leadership purpose

By Fin Goulding

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A question for you. What is your current leadership purpose right now?

Well maybe that’s too big a question but in the time we are living through, your purpose is going to come under constant pressure. As leaders, we need to rethink and reaffirm what we believe in and why we choose to do our jobs.

Flow Academy is a leading advisory and implementation practice specialising in business transformation. Our tools help companies make best use of their existing assets while reshaping their business to meet new demands.

I believe that you would go no wrong by focusing on these three key, related things: 

  1. Managing value
  2. People and processes 
  3. The future of business

What’s that pressure you’re feeling?

By now you will have probably established your home office with an Aeron chair, a stand-up desk (which the family are obsessed with operating) and a new PC with a widescreen monitor.

Cash protection measures are in place and there’s a company-wide budget freeze coupled with a ban on recruitment. In fact, workforce reduction is now a reality and plans are in place for all departmental managers to hit their new headcount and cost-cutting targets.

The internal legal experts are pouring over 3rd party contracts looking for get-out clauses and the workforce planners are estimating the amount of commercial real estate required for a predominantly remote workforce.

Any leader out there with a decade or so of senior experience has been here before, at least once.  

But now what? We have to lift ourselves above it and make sure the company and our peers do the right things.

Here are the key constraints:

On value management

What’s happening inside many companies right now is a reflex reaction. Leaders know how to cut and downsize and protect some resources ready for a rebound. The question you will be asking yourself is: Can we be more constructive than this? And the answer is you generally have to earn the right to swim against the tide in leadership teams.

On people and processes

The daily parade of meeting attendees outside your old office has now turned into back-to-back video conference calls which are becoming just as impotent as the face-to-face variety. You’ll be asking yourself how to move beyond the meetings impasse and start getting creative with teams again.

On the future of business

Closely related to value management, the future of business concerns have been about the basics over the past two months. Some companies will take the opportunity to mop up their smaller and weaker competitors but again you’ll be asking, can’t we do more to reposition ourselves for a changing business landscape and create more opportunities?

I think the creative leader who cares about the people working with him or her will have these questions in mind, knowing that they are also in a kind of holding position. The long term represents really significant change. But the holding position is bringing out the worst in some management teams, who will always revert to past practices. Here’s how to think differently.

Step 1: Value management and your sense of leadership purpose

An important area where leaders are blindsided is the lack of oversight of their portfolio of projects or product development initiatives. There is scope here for you to make savings that are rational and valuable to your company. It can also add to your capacity to manage value.

You are likely to be running multiple projects that are of very low value. And you probably don’t know it. 

It might sound like an outrageous claim. After all, if leaders don’t know what projects are going on in their business, then are they even managing let alone leading?

But this is something Haydn and I have written about before. Lean startup and MVPs have flooded many companies with new projects and initiatives. There’s also always the pet project syndrome that lean has let run riot.

Of course, leaders are aware of the top ten projects or their current transformation portfolio but it’s at such a high-level that their role is often backwards-looking, progress in the past tense. They remember projects from when they gave the green light but have no active oversight thereafter until delivery dates are due.

The Project Management Office meanwhile is usually too busy reporting on project status rather than forensically examining the business value of every initiative. 

The result is that projects are managed but the value is not.

In Flow, we created the first-ever visual Executive Portfolio Wall and have now implemented it in a number of companies. Its primary design is not for managing projects. It is for managing value. 

Because the portfolio of work consumes the energy of a large chunk of your workforce, or impacts them in some way and is supposed to deliver value to your customers, why as a leader wouldn’t you be obsessed with it!

The best thing executives can do in this crisis is to examine the portfolio for real value and take out work that has no value rather than cutting the business back based upon a percentage basis. To do that you need to know how to run an Executive Portfolio Wall. We can help with that.

Step 2: Free your people from red tape and all forms of blockers

It’s time for leaders to face up to the cost of blockages, blockers and bureaucracy. In the current environment, they have become intolerable. 

It’s time for us leaders to renew our sense of purpose by weeding out some of our outdated manager roles and redeploy people into value additive roles. It’s also time to review all sign-off procedures and to tackle the people who are the “signer-offers” as they make a profession out of inserting themselves into a process in order to block progress.  

Talk to your people about which blockers exist or better still ask us to do it because we will deliver you a list as long as your arm. Every company we have worked in has them. But it takes a brave leader to rationalise creatively in this situation.

Step 3: Focus on the future of business with small steps

 Right now you are probably feeling the real absence of new ideas or innovation within your organisation and it’s probably more apparent than ever before.

In our third article in series one, we looked at the concept of a Lighthouse project. How to take small steps to success. 

However, you may think that your company has a great innovation agenda. But ask yourself, has it delivered anything of value that has gone on to be groundbreaking? Unfortunately, that’s what lean startup does to Companies….lots of Minimum Viable Products (aka requirement stripping) without any Maximum Valuable Propositions. 

 What you really need to learn is how to remodel a business so that it is aligned with the right opportunities. Point 1 above is about remodelling.

Introducing test and learn processes is one way to remodel. Lighthouse projects are essentially ways to test and learn about the future of business – both the market opportunities and the most appropriate operating model.

There is something very refreshing about a leader having a chance to do a Lighthouse. If you have executed on Point 1 then you’ve earned the right to propose Point 3, the Lighthouse. See our article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/three-steps-navigate-covid-change-curve-successfully-shaughnessy/

Your new purpose as a leader is to find a new way forward for your company and the Lighthouse concept is going to help. 

We specialise in creating these so get in touch if you need advice.

I know that it’s not going to be easy. Learned behaviours never are. But it is our role as leaders to break these behaviours down and turn people in the direction of some creative and constructive remodelling. The future is not just about slash and burn. It’s about opportunity and growth.  

Those of us who are leaders should be thinking, ok how do I lead my company out of this into something better?  

Well, that’s your new purpose and the three steps we’ve outlined will help.

Fin Goulding is a world-class CTO/CIO who in the past five years has transformed into a business agility expert having worked for organisations like Visa, RBS, HSBC and digital startups such as lastminute.com and paddypower.com. Fin also coaches executives through the challenges of transformation.

Haydn Shaughnessy is a business economist and innovation expert who has consulted to some of the world’s leading organisations helping senior executives to plan the next generation enterprise.

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