Many of the multi-national organizations that I work with are currently scrambling. They all know that they need to shift not only their goals and how they work, but also the cultural mindset they have inherently created. That however, is the hardest part. How do you change not only an individuals' mindset, but make it a cultural shift that the entire organization embraces?
This is a major obstacle to successful future-proofing.
Future-proofing your business is mandatory if you want to thrive in the ever shifting, chaotic, uncertain, and disruptive business environment. You will face a crisis. The question is whether it will result in catastrophe suffered or opportunity seized.
A fundamental component of future-proofing is cultural readiness and it is impossible to foster such a culture without training and empowering your employees.
Future-Proofing Goes Beyond Reducing Risk
You can’t just train your employees to reduce risk. You need to empower them to productively respond to it.
As Mary Parker Follet put in her book, The Illusion of Final Authority:
“What the Filenes, and other firms too, have done is to make their formal organisation (sic) coincide with a decided tendency in business practice. They found there was power, leadership, all along the line. They recognised (sic) the existing. They sought to take advantage of it, to make this scattered power cumulative and hence more effective.”
As you work to let go of your “authority illusion,” it’s important to be aware that common advice on future-proofing often fails to recognize that simply buffering your company against the unknown is not enough. Why?
Most Future-Proofing Advice is Surface Level
There is a pervasive future-proofing narrative circulating throughout the business world. This simple narrative recommends 1) anticipating future trends and then 2) developing strategies to mitigate them. Many of your employees may have internalized this narrative just from encountering it everywhere they look.
This standard advice assumes that you want to maintain the status quo (which you probably do), but you shouldn’t. Business leaders hate to admit to their personal and organizational complacency. They say they want to change, but such statements fail to become actionable mandates.
It's easy to become too comfortable when you're only following basic advice that doesn't require you to make changes that involve taking risks. This is reactive, whereas being proactive means dealing with risks directly instead of trying to avoid them.
Moving from Resilience to Readiness
Your company’s cultural immune system is inclined to resist and attack change. The bigger the company gets, the more effective that cultural immune system becomes.
Resilient companies don’t crack under pressure. But that’s not good enough. You need to get stronger under pressure, the very essence of being antifragile. Cultural readiness can also be defined as a culture of antifragility. It involves moving from “future-resilient” to “future-ready.”
You know change is coming, so welcome it. Train your employees to welcome it and harness it to your business advantage. They still need to be resilient in the face of shock, but they need to go beyond that. They need to embrace shock and learn how to leverage it.
I work with companies to achieve this by helping them set up “impossible scenarios.” These scenarios are ones that no one in senior leadership have experienced, or that a corporate team can imagine but can’t fathom how it would actually impact their company. Running these impossible scenarios through simulations allow leaders to immerse themselves in the context of massive disruption and see where individual and group strengths and weaknesses exist. Once they see it, they can fortify against it.
Keys to Fostering Cultural Readiness
Fortunately, fostering cultural readiness is a discipline with best practices. Let’s explore some of these more in depth.
Develop a Strong Culture That Empowers Employees
For my ally is the future proofing, and a powerful ally it is! Sure sounds nice, but slogans do not a culture make.
You must instill patterns of behavior, rituals and symbols, and shared experiences within your company. And you must get employees to buy into both creating the culture and living out the culture that they co-create.
A strong culture is intentionally anchored in your business values and goals. It inspires employees to contribute to achieving a shared mission and vision as a team. And both the individual employees and the team will grow and develop as a result of these contributions.
Invest in Innovation and Experimentation
Innovation doesn’t work with a reactive approach. It takes time, focus, and resources to develop and implement new ideas.
You cannot expect your business and your employees to begin innovating once a shock hits. You have to get started now, before the disruption comes. Tasking your employees with experimenting with new technology, sharing their ideas, and even taking calculated risks will get them in the habit of innovative thinking.
McDonalds leveraged celebrity culture and social media to, in the words of its U.S. Chief Marketing Officer, Tariq Hassan, go from “talking brand to fan to truly talking fan to fan.”
McDonalds is considered one of the most innovative companies in the global economy for a reason. By studying it and its innovative peers, we can learn clever ways to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Encourage Collaboration and Open Communication
Steve Jobs famously said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
That’s not possible unless you cultivate an organization in which people are encouraged to freely share ideas and collaborate with one another. Everyone has a different perspective and a brilliant new idea could come from anyone, so give them a chance to speak up.
Steve Jobs made sure to hire the smartest people he could and then empower them to do their thing. The result was the iphone.
Build Adaptability and Futures-fluency
When your business gets hit in the mouth, you need to have employees in place who can adapt and pivot quickly, easily, and efficiently. They need to be able to make real time decisions that align with your mission and your values. And they need to be able to rely upon and influence each other in a way that ensures your business as a whole reacts to challenges and opportunities.
All of the ways you structure your business, from obvious to subtle, will influence how your employees interact. A culture that instills and promotes “futures-fluency” will allow you to harness and enhance the abilities of your employees as they confront an unpredictable future.
You need to commit to investing in continuous learning and development, evaluate the skills and abilities that will be needed in the future, and offer training and development opportunities to enhance employees' abilities. Keeping up-to-date with industry trends is a must as well as investing in educational programs that prepare employees for an unpredictable future.
Prioritize Cultural Readiness in Your Future-Proofing Strategy
No serious future-proofing strategy is complete without an intentional and well-crafted cultural readiness component. Cultural readiness ensures your employees are empowered to get stronger and grow your business in the face of future shocks. It involves having the capabilities and cross-company relationships to actually get it done.
That way, when the future comes knocking, you don’t get knocked out of the game.
If you’re looking to make this shift but don't know where to start, we can help. Contact me and my team today to explore mindset training within your organization.