Our Publication

Making the impossible possible

Jul 17th

Exactly how do you go about tackling the toughest challenges of your career? This issue also includes: the private sector winners of the spending review; two essential steps to communicating change; and keeping your people engaged.

Editor’s view

Making the impossible possible

All leaders, at some stage, will be faced with seemingly impossible, yet mission-critical, issues. So how exactly do you go about tackling the toughest leadership challenges of your career?

As a consultancy we have been in a particularly privileged position recently. Asked by a client to help them ‘make the impossible possible’ was a challenge we couldn’t resist! Our forthcoming think piece book will go into the detail of the fascinating work that followed that particular request from Balfour Beatty. As an international infrastructure business, they were determined to achieve Zero Harm in their safety performance, but what is really exciting is just how relevant the link is between the issue of Zero Harm and so many other seemingly impossible challenges. It got us thinking about how leaders go about tackling their toughest challenges, those seemingly impossible, yet mission-critical, issues that hit all of us at some stage of our work. We realised that what was done in order to achieve Zero Harm was directly applicable and relevant to the work we do with many of our other clients.

Recent conversations around worklessness come into my mind; not only unemployed adults but also the rise in the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training. The impact for the individual and business is obvious, but health and crime figures show the consequences are far reaching. We have been working on the underlying psychological drivers, but the issue is still huge and seemingly impossible to crack. From our work on Zero Harm, we have seen that breakthroughs require a different approach; it can’t be solved in a strategy session or by leaders thinking up the answers. Rather, results that no-one could have predicted involve much broader, braver thinking with a strong sense of determination and purpose.

Not all tough business challenges are suitable for this approach and the leadership of organisations involved have to be determined on success and capable of tackling complex change, however, for those who take up the challenge, the prize is immense.

In the news

The private sector winners of the spending review

All eyes are on the private sector as the way forward for a strong economy. But which organisations will play their cards right and take advantage of the new opportunities the Comprehensive Spending Review presents?

The recent Comprehensive Spending Review has been big news not only for the public sector but also for the impact it is having on the private sector. Some companies are hopeful that the new imperative on government to drive efficiencies and find new ways of providing services that will offer a better quality/value combination will create new business opportunities. Indeed, the stage has already been set as there has, increasingly, been a significant shift and rebalancing in public/private dynamics. For the private sector, we are told, great opportunities lie ahead; this sector is the way we are going to re-build and grow our economy back to health. However, much will depend on organisations being able to respond to the situation, to see opportunities and build a strategy for growth.

So what exactly do they need to be mindful of?

There are going to be many opportunities; ‘which ones are right for us as an organisation?’ needs to be a question that gets asked quickly and with an open mind. The winners are going to be the ones for whom entrepreneurial spirit sits comfortably alongside effective change management and where making good decisions is done quickly and with clarity. These will be the ones who ‘get’ organisational efficiency and effectiveness. Organisations who are set up to be flexible, resourceful and responsive are the ones who are going to take advantage of the opportunities and drive the change needed; ones where the leadership can be pretty convinced they are going to be able to engage their workforce and take them with them.

This doesn’t mean it’s too late for others – these changes look set to stay long term – being honest and having a hard look at how open to change you are as an organisation, or how much you automatically close down options as ‘impossible’, could be the start of making the first steps towards building your own strategy for growth.

Tip of the month

Two essential steps for communicating change

Before a major change programme is introduced, senior teams have often had lengthy discussions to digest the changes – not so the rest of your organisation. Find out how to make your next message land better.

It’s easy for leaders to forget the time they have taken to digest and reflect on the news they are about to share with the wider organisation. Recently, we reminded a top team in a global company of their own surprise and concerns on first hearing news of a major restructure. As an effective senior team, they quickly pulled together in a positive approach – but needed to be reminded that their colleagues in the wider business would need to go through the same process.

1. Get face-to-face. You can’t over-prepare for major announcements of this kind. That doesn’t mean a process-heavy event – rather, it means open, honest, face-to-face communication from key people, supported by all senior leaders. And that means focussing preparation on making sure leaders are confident, comfortable and completely aligned with the core messages and what they want people to take from them.

2. Prepare together. The only way to achieve this is getting together in a room, sharing what they plan to say and listening to feedback from their fellow leaders. Some leaders will say they don’t need to prepare in this way. Those leaders are often the first to report after the event how much they benefited. It’s vital that leaders tell a single, consistent story, and the best way to achieve that is in open discussion with their colleagues to shape the way they will tell the story and respond to questions.

So, stick with the preparation plan. Make sure the core messages are absolutely clear and that all leaders can tell the story effectively. And get everyone together for a well-facilitated preparation, rehearsal and feedback session – including those who say they don’t need it.

Your questions answered

We are going through a period of considerable change, how can I make sure my team stay motivated and on board?

People are critical to success for all organisations – your employees and your customers. Keeping them as motivated as possible is even more important in times of change.

  • Make sure you stay true to your values and how you work with people, whatever is happening
  • Never underestimate the importance of communication and encouraging that communication to be two way
  • Ensure your people feel part of the process and encourage a good flow of ideas. Make sure you highlight the critical issues for them; keep them well informed; hold sessions where ideas can be circulated; have an open door approach and encourage emailed contributions
  • Make sure that your people know you will ‘tell them how it is’, however bad will enable them to trust you even if you and they don’t like the news. Tell them news face to face whenever possible.

This article is filed under: business capability, Change, employee motivation, , leadership, organisation, organisation design, people, strategic communication, strategy, strategy development, strategy implementation, team leadership, workforce management

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