Enterprises and leaders can set the conditions to navigate disruption, says Deloitte.
The COVID-19 crisis has caused disruption and disorientation for businesses and individuals alike. We’re all facing the “fog of pandemic” that’s no different from the famous “fog of war”—the lack of certainty about one’s capabilities and environment in combat (or trying) conditions. Nonetheless, it’s times like these that bring opportunities for growth. In their classic Harvard Business Review article “Crucibles of leadership,” Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas argue that harrowing events allow great leaders to emerge and that crises “force leaders into deep self-reflection, where they examine their values, question their assumptions, and hone their judgement.”
Bennis and Thomas’s words echo the exact sentiments of our own research on technology leadership. Building on five years’ worth of research, conducted in partnership with MIT Sloan Management Review, and over 100 interviews with executives, we aimed to identify the traits of organizations and leaders that not only survive, but thrive, within disruption. In our forthcoming book, The Transformation Myth, we found that such enterprises displayed resilience—an ability to withstand events such as the pandemic. The resilient organization is one that is continually sensing, testing, and adapting to find its way forward in a turbulent business environment, requiring both technological tools and organizational capabilities to do so.
In this article, we focus on a subset of interviews with over 50 executives, conducted from March to October of 2020, to study their “deep self-reflection.” Through these interviews we found that leaders had a three-part framework at their disposal for navigating disruption—purpose, values, and mission.
In his book Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action, the inspirational speaker Simon Sinek describes how many organizations and leaders make the mistake of starting with what they want to accomplish, instead of asking whytheir organization exists and acts. Companies that are driven by a clear purpose, a clear sense of why, can more effectively create strong connections to customers, employees, and society writ large, leading to better business outcomes. Studies suggest that purpose-driven companies outperform the market 15 to one, experience higher market share gains, and grow, on average, three times faster than their competition.
In recent times, the need for organizations to answer their why has also taken on increased societal importance. In August 2019, 181 CEOs from leading organizations signed an open letter from the Business Roundtable entitled “Statement on the Purpose of an Organization.” It was a formal recognition that businesses need a purpose beyond products and services—a purpose must be aspirational, inspirational, and define the organization’s role in broader society.
Especially amidst the fog of pandemic in 2020, purpose became a beacon of light for the executives we interviewed. For example, the team of 25,000 physicians and advanced practice providers at Envision Healthcare, which cares for more than 32 million patients a year across the United States, knew their purpose clearly when they found themselves on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Kristin Darby of the medical group noted, “We knew we had to do everything we could to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our clinicians so they could continue to care for patients. Both clinicians and our clinical support staff—like myself—felt a renewed sense of purpose.”
Other organizations sought to generate that purpose when it wasn’t immediately clear. Eric Schuetzler, vice president of global research and development at Beam Suntory, helped shift the distiller’s factory lines to producing hand sanitizer for hospitals, local governments, and municipalities. “It’s the thing we’ve talked about the most,” Schuetzler said. “We weren’t creating the next vaccine, but it felt like an important thing that we could do. It was very motivating—something people could rally around to help the public good, by supporting our frontline medical workers,” he said. Identifying a purpose helped companies like Beam Suntory focus on what was important and shift their orientation to outcomes rather than activities.
In times of disruption, a clear purpose can also quell feelings of anxiety or fear among employees. Research shows that people are more able to persist through challenges when they are driven by intrinsic motivators, such as autonomy, growth, and meaning, rather than extrinsic motivators.6 Just as customers build brand loyalty based on trust and other emotional factors, employees, too, are inspired to go the extra mile when they begin with a sense of purpose. As the chief digital officer of a large, global insurer observed about their company amid disruption, “The company has been really disciplined and thoughtful around articulating our purpose and bringing it to life. And that has coincided with a moment to truly be there for our customers and help them rebuild that confidence in a really uncertain world.”
By Jonathan Copulsky, Dr. Gerald C. Kane, Rich Nanda & Anh Nguyen Phillips
Read the full article here.