What’s the view like from over there?
Could anyone sum up 2016 in any other way than for it to perfectly describe what living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world means? All of the strategic planning, long-term focus, experts predicting the future – 2016 showed us that sometimes, there will be no ‘right’ way. We will need to make decisions in the face of extreme uncertainty. I remember during my early days being introduced to leadership and management, reading Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership (a leader's effectiveness is contingent on his ability to modify his management behaviour to the level of his subordinates' maturity or sophistication). Winston Churchill is often hailed as a great example of this. He was a brilliant war time leader. During this situation, he had the skills necessary to deal with the enormous task of leading a country during such devastating circumstances.
Business is different. Our leaders are meant to ‘know’ everything, they are meant to ‘know’ exactly what to do during extremely volatile times, right? If history, including very recent history has taught us one thing, it’s that often leaders don’t know what are the best steps. Whilst we bid 2016 farewell, and embrace 2017, not much will have changed; the uncertainty of the world is still there, and somehow, leaders of organisations will need to navigate their way through this, hoping that every decision adds value in some way.
Although Theresa May at the CBI conference in Nov 2016, announced that she didn’t want to mandate companies to appoint workers to board rooms, the sentiment was clear, give workers more of a voice at the top table. The uncertainty faced throughout 2016 was borne from the general public feeling that their voice wasn’t being heard. This sentiment seemed to be reflected in the U.S. elections. With so much money being spent on employee engagement, one wonders where the voice has gone across business, representing front-line colleagues, that the Prime Minister would want to advocate such changes.
The challenge many organisations face is that we really are facing uncharted waters where we don’t know what will happen, we cannot guarantee the impact of our decisions, due to the complexity of the world of work. Can we, and should we rely upon the few, to look after the needs of the many? Communication is often cited as poor across many organisations. The deflated comms teams sit frustrated thinking ‘what else can we do for you?’. The larger the organisation, the more detached the senior leaders are likely to be from the activities of the front-line colleagues. How then can they possibly represent and meet the needs of both the customers and colleagues? I don’t know whether having workers represented in boardrooms will really make any difference, or whether this will be just another ‘token gesture’. What I do know is that the more people we involve in solving the problems we are facing today, the greater the chances of success, as someone in your organisation somewhere, will be thinking of an idea that will be just what everyone has been looking for. The challenge is in creating the culture to cultivate these unheard voices. Ultimately, every organisation is looking to improve productivity. No longer is employee engagement about ticking boxes, carrying out an annual survey with the rigmarole of action planning, distracting people from the day-job. We don’t have the luxury for this anymore (and to think we ever did!).
Whilst we are not going to be undertaking changes to leadership across organisations to respond to different situations, we need to help leaders gain access to the front-line colleagues that see what is happening both now and in the near future. This insight, combined with access to many points of view as opposed to a few, might just be the answer to ground-breaking ways to navigate through these uncertain times.
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