Are Your Leaders Ready for Disruption?

While we all acknowledge the disruptions occurring today, many of us haven’t stopped to consider how these forces may put new demands on individual leaders and the groups and communities they lead.

The future is already here, and it is disruptive. Are your leaders prepared? If not, are you ready to prepare them?

Companies today face a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. This VUCA world is the result of converging forces in technology, globalization, “wicked problems,” and more. The only constant is the speed and scope of change.

It’s easy to find examples of this. There are the disruptive companies, such as Airbnb and Uber, that are harnessing the power of the sharing economy to take on traditional industries. There are wicked problems, such as climate change and population growth, that create new challenges and opportunities for business. And there is an ever-shifting sea of business models that rise (and sometimes sink) as companies seek better ways to operate.

Your organization may be facing disruption now or planning for it in the not-too-distant future. Are your leaders ready for disruption? Leadership is the mindset, skills, and behaviors that enable organizations to pursue their goals. While we all acknowledge the disruptions occurring, many of us haven’t stopped to consider how these forces may put new demands on individual leaders and the groups and communities they lead.

One company that’s been among the frontrunners engaging with change is Nestlé, a multinational company that produces everything from baby food to bottled water to coffee. One of Nestlé’s leaders, Pete Blackshaw, exemplifies how leaders are disrupting their leadership practices to better guide their organizations through this VUCA world.

As Nestlé’s global vice president of Digital Innovation and Service Models, he’s been a driving force in helping the company adapt to digital disruptions. He’s able to drive change because he is also a model of how to disrupt leadership, which includes disrupting a leader’s role, identity, and purpose.

Disrupting Your Role

As your organization changes to adapt to the competitive environment shifts, shouldn’t your role as a leader change? Blackshaw started as a pioneering interactive marketer with blue chip credentials: Harvard MBA, start-up founder, and senior roles at Procter & Gamble and Nielsen before joining Nestlé in 2011.

As he thought about the marketing opportunities and challenges Nestlé faced in the VUCA world, Blackshaw realized they went deeper than maximizing return on ad spending or pushing content over social media. He recognized that Nestlé could engage consumers more effectively if the entire company embraced digital technology, beyond just the marketing department.

Blackshaw realized he could create greater value for the company and make his agenda more sustainable if he expanded his role beyond “digital marketer,” even though it was that expertise that helped him win his role at Nestlé. One of his strategic initiatives was a series of Digital Days, where teams from multiple functions worked together to imagine ways digital tools could help solve business challenges and delight customers.

Blackshaw was still a marketer, but he partnered with the IT function and business. By disrupting his role, he acted like a chief digital officer—combining perspectives and people from across the company to help Nestlé leap forward in the way it used technology.

Disrupting Your Identity

Blackshaw also recognized Nestlé could engage consumers more sustainably, and at scale, if the entire company embraced a different metaphor.

He was inspired by the growing number of B2C companies that act more like concierges than sellers. Think about the way firms such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb rate both sellers and buyers. Consider how Amazon posts customer reviews of its products. He realized that helping people solve their problems by providing objective, relevant information, including customer reviews and feedback, was a powerful way for Nestlé to engage consumers.

By assuming the identity of a concierge, Blackshaw sparked a disruption for Nestlé to transform into a company that could thrive in the new, personalized economy, which requires working with and persuading people from across the company to approach consumers in a new way.

Disrupting Your Purpose

Leaders who want to help their companies thrive in a disrupted future need to consider how they can strengthen the sense of purpose people in their organization feel. Companies that have clear, appealing missions are better able to distinguish themselves as they compete for customers and talent. How leaders talk about that purpose—the meaning they make out of the organization’s work—is critical.

At Nestlé, Blackshaw recognized that, as a company in the food business, it could strengthen its own sense of purpose around issues related to sustainability, health, and wellness. And as one of the world’s leading collection of consumer brands, it also had an opportunity to focus on innovation—to ensure it continued to lead in its hypercompetitive, always-changing marketplaces.

To disrupt the company purpose, he helped launch HENRi, a crowdsourcing innovation platform to collaborate with entrepreneurs focused on tackling difficult health and wellness problems. That means taking on challenges such as reimagining the future of water bottles or diagnosing micronutrient deficiencies.

By partnering with innovative companies seeking to solve tough global problems, Nestlé is reframing its purpose. And by doing that, it’s creating new meaning that makes Nestlé a more compelling company to buy from and work for.

Getting Started

What does all this mean for you? Not every leader has a senior position at an innovative, multinational company. But every leader can take steps to disrupt his or her leadership. Here are four steps to get started.

  1. Be relevant. How can you make sure your organization doesn’t fall behind? How can you recognize new trends and new technologies before they disrupt your company? How can you identify potential partners outside your organization?
  2. Move ahead. Make calculated bets and do experiments with new products and services. Encourage innovation. Seek to help your company drive disruption instead of being a victim of it.
  3. Grow value. Leverage resources and partner with others to do more with less. The sharing economy especially creates opportunities to increase value across the entire value chain.
  4. Seek gigs. The gig economy creates opportunities to tap on-demand talent. This allows you to engage people in a flexible way, applying talent where your organization needs it most and increasing the span of your leadership.

The future will create new challenges and opportunities for our organizations and leaders. Are your leaders ready to embrace them? Disrupting your leaders ensures they will be ready for the future—no matter what it brings.

Joseph Press, Ph.D., is the global innovator and strategic advisor to theCenter for Creative Leadership’s president and CEO. He brings more than 16 years’ experience as an innovation and digital transformation consultant. Prior to CCL, he was director of Deloitte Digital Switzerland, and before that, he worked as an architectural designer and educator in the United States, Europe, and Israel.

Thomas Goh, Ed.D., is chief client officer and managing director for APAC, guiding CCL’s strategy, people, and businesses across Asia-Pacific. Before joining CCL, Thomas was McKinsey’s Client Services Leader for Asia-Pacific and a member of its global core team of agility service. He also has held senior roles at other leading consulting firms.



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