Organizations must accept turbulence as a given. Hyper change, new technologies, industry disruptions, and new business models are some of the elements defining these turbulent times. Let me offer the beer industry as an example since I was in Belgium, and Belgian beer is a thing.
Sitting at an outdoor café in Brussels, sampling a flight of Belgium beers, pretending to be a connoisseur knowing the difference between a Trappist and Abbey beer, I realized that this wasn’t the watered-down beer of my college days. And I guess that is the point–I enjoyed the Belgian beer. Thanks to the growing popularity of craft beer in the United States, my beer pallet has evolved. Thankfully. Perhaps West Reading played a role in this, thanks to the likes of Chatty Monks and The Barley Mow. Regardless, West Reading is a local example of how brew pubs and microbreweries have disrupted the beer industry. The question becomes, how could have the industry behemoths, such as Anheuser-Busch, anticipated this change?
The same can be asked of the major companies in hotel and taxicab industries. Many colleagues attending the ILA conference did not stay at hotels like the Hilton, but instead opted for accommodations offered through Airbnb. And they used Uber to travel to tourist destinations instead of using more traditional forms of travel, such as taxicabs or trains. These industries have encountered significant changes, so why didn’t the leading companies identify the potential of the share economy? Or in the case of the taxicab industry, why didn’t they develop the new technologies that support Uber, such as interactive apps and live tracking? These are the questions that need answers.
Two keynote speakers at the ILA conference, Patrick Sweet, the Co-Director for the Center for Creative Leadership Alliance with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, and Margaret Heffernan, a serial entrepreneur, author, and speaker, offer answers. They both believe that organizations first need to accept that turbulence is a given. And that an executive’s tallest order is developing organizations that listen and respond. Sweet stated that organizations must “listen across systems” and Heffernan detailed how organizations must be “sensitive and responsive to what is going on out there”. Jeroen van der Veer, the former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell and another keynote speaker at the ILA conference, reinforced the critical importance of organizational listening. He contends that organizations that listen will learn what they need to do differently to win in turbulent times.
I offer three general themes from the ILA conference that add insight to these answers. First, turbulence is not something to be solved or that will disappear in the near term. It is a constant, and it has been for some time now. Organizations need to accept this reality.
Second, executives need to foster organizations that can listen to the world, and when necessary, challenge the status quo. This requires organizations to encourage dialogue, debate, and conflict. As Heffernan stated, “organizational silence” is an organization’s death knell.
And thirdly, turbulence is only one of many different elements shaping an organization’s context. While turbulent times was the overarching theme of the ILA conference, many presentations explored different elements of context, such as the complexities posed by the interconnectedness of the global economy, or the unique challenges faced by public, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations. For organizational success, you need to accept turbulence as a constant, encourage dialogue, and identify the other contextual elements impacting your organization.
(Adapted from part one of the original three-part series published by the Reading Eagle Business Weekly on 11-07-17 sharing takeaways from the International Leadership Association’s Global Conference in Brussels, Belgium)