Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.
The pandemic — both the global health crisis and the resulting economic fallout — has been a sobering reminder of the importance of resilience. As individuals, as organisations, and as a society, we all need to make building resilience a priority. And we need to do so before a crisis arrives at our doorstep, not after. While we cannot anticipate when or how unexpected challenges will appear, we can anticipate the qualities that will help us meet those challenges.
A new McKinsey paper calls this set of qualities being future-ready.
The end goal, says McKinsey, is for companies to emerge from the crisis stronger than before by “making permanent the survival-mode improvements” implemented during the pandemic while avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy.
The paper’s recommendations echo my work coaching individual executives and CEOs and helping companies build overall organisational well-being. My practice’s two cornerstones are 1) working with leaders to reframe difficulty as an opportunity and 2) cultivating a growth mindset. Although we tend to think of a growth mindset as an individual quality, it can also be an organisational quality. Companies with an agile and resilient culture are hard-wired to grow and evolve, even in the most challenging circumstances.
McKinsey’s nine future-ready qualities fall into three broad categories: who we are, how we operate, and how we grow.
Know who you are as a company
1. Sharpen your organisational purpose
Everyone talks about purpose nowadays, and most business leaders can articulate their company’s reason for being. The question is: Does that purpose show up consistently in strategy and decision-making? A McKinsey survey found the vast majority of employees recognise the importance of purpose, but fewer than half say “their purpose drives impact.” Yet when people feel they are “living their purpose” at work, they are four times more likely to be engaged. The most effective business leaders have a strong sense of individual purpose and help their colleagues connect their purpose to its shared purpose.
2. Clarify how you create value
Every company has a value proposition that summarises why someone should choose their product or service. For future-ready companies, their shared purpose translates directly into that value proposition and clearly defines what sets them apart from the competition. Apple is a great example. Steve Jobs was my first boss, and I can vouch that everything the company does — from product design to packaging — is geared toward creating the best user experience.
3. Make culture your secret sauce
Business leaders talk about culture as much as they talk about purpose, but McKinsey finds only a minority are taking bold steps to improve company culture. Culture can seem nebulous and elusive, but it is quite simple. If the first two items on our list are about the why and what of organisations, culture is about the how.
What are the collective mindset and habits that define how you go about your business daily? Your collective mindset and habits are your culture. One “telltale sign of a strong culture,” McKinsey says, is a leader who practices what they preach, and this is an ongoing point of emphasis in my executive coaching. Culture starts with leaders who model company values in their own behaviour.
Simplify how you operate
4. Adopt a flatter structure
Does bureaucracy prevent people at all levels of your organisation from making decisions and showing initiative? If so, you may want to explore simplifying that bureaucracy. As a leader, you want to encourage managers and department heads to display an entrepreneurial spirit. Your company will be more agile and adaptable when it is a “team of teams” instead of a rigid top-down hierarchy.
5. Make quicker decisions
Agility and speed go hand-in-hand, but the real challenge is making good decisions as well. A McKinsey survey finds that only one in three say their organisation consistently makes fast, high-quality decisions. Simplifying structure will help, but even more crucial is leadership that delegates, trusts, and empowers. Look at how you made decisions at critical points during the pandemic. Are there lessons you can apply going forward?
The report cites the food distributor Sysco as a good case in point. Pivoting from restaurants to grocery stores required giving greater discretion to leaders at all points along its supply chain. “We are making a month’s worth of decisions every day,” said one executive. The company is now working on taking that flexibility and speed into the future.
6. Prize talent above all else
The pandemic has driven home the fact that human capital is an organisation’s greatest resource. The first key is to understand precisely what kind of talent you need, which circles back to the initial questions about identity. When you have a strong sense of the unique value you offer customers, you will know the kind of talent you need to deliver that value. The next step is to attract and keep that talent. McKinsey finds that diversity and inclusion are an important piece of the puzzle — affecting not just your public image but how current and prospective employees view your organisation. According to a recent survey, 39% of respondents said they turned down a job because they did not perceive the organisation as inclusive.
7. See your company as part of an ecosystem
I encourage business leaders to view their life and work holistically: to see all the aspects of their lives as part of a larger ecosystem in which each part complements the whole. Similarly, leaders should view their organisations as ecosystems that, in turn, are part of larger ecosystems. McKinsey points to Tesla as a good example. The company realised its growth required a strong network of charging stations and developed productive partnerships with companies in that sector.
8. Take data seriously
Information is the lifeblood of good decision-making. If you want to empower employees at all levels, you must ensure that critical information is accessible and transparent.
9. Become a learning organisation
Companies that aspire to respond quickly and effectively to crises like the pandemic must become quick learners. A culture that embraces change and constant evolution is less vulnerable to disruption and unexpected challenges. Leaders who lead with mindfulness and emotional intelligence, two big themes of my coaching, create an environment of psychological safety in which learning and risk-taking thrive. You will get your employees’ best when they feel comfortable being their authentic selves, and see their work as connected to their professional and personal growth.
All of the above qualities were increasingly important even before COVID-19 appeared on the scene. The pandemic has only accelerated a change in which these skills will be the difference between success and failure. In other words, the future has arrived early. Leaders who want their organisations to be future-ready must first be future-ready themselves: constant learners who lead mindfully and who are deeply committed to developing the talent around them. Your reward will be a resilient organisation that thrives even amidst crisis and uncertainty.