What every executive should know about storm-chasing


by Mark Peters

Fast-evolving, emerging markets mean today’s executive must exercise all the strategy and focus of a storm chaser to survive the extreme conditions global business presents.

Today’s reality is that executives must transform their organisations’ management practices and strategies if they are to have a long-term sustainable competitive advantage.

Ivory towers are a thing of the past. Like a storm chaser, senior managers must venture into the thick of things, head into the storm when others fly to safety. The storm chaser survives and outwits the planet’s most extreme weather conditions to see what others cannot, collect critical data, experience ‘ground truths’ in the face of tornadoes, floods, firestorms and the odd pitchfork-wielding farmer.

But unlike the fake and irresponsible storm chasers of reality television, the best executives are never foolhardy. They know that to be flexible and innovative does not mean taking unnecessary risks. Equipped with knowledge, strategy and best practices, they operate optimally in the dynamic and ever-changing emerging markets and complex management envrionments where normal survival rules do not apply and plans must alter to accommodate fast-paced global market developments.

Beware the eye of the storm

The most significant hazard in storm chasing is not the storm itself, but the multiple distractions competing for a chaser’s attention:

  • Driving,
  • Communicating with chase partners, and
  • Navigating and checking weather data.

Executives can hone their compasses and develop their organisation’s ability to leverage core competences and stay ahead by focusing on five key touchpoints of global leadership.

Touchpoint #1: Results

Dave Ulrich, professor of business administration at the University of Michigan School of Business challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding leadership. He argues that it is not enough to gauge leaders by personal traits like character, style and values. Effective leaders know how to connect these leadership attributes to objectives that deliver results in four specific areas: results for employees, for the organisation, its customers and investors.

Touchpoint #2: Comfort with complexity and change

Martha Maznevski, professor of organisational behaviour at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland, suggests that the leader of a complex organisation must – to minimise confusion – explain the different roles managers, teams and business units play in the inter-dependent structure.

Leadership, she says, cannot be repetitive, but should be predictable. Permanent communication is therefore the leadership survival tool in complex organisations with an emphasis on “storytelling” (interpreting context and meaning, and investing in relationships) rather than merely transferring dry facts or ultimatums.

Touchpoint #3: Broaden understanding of management

This needs to happen specifically in expanding emerging markets and complex management environments if executives are to identify, prioritise and confront the unique economic, political and business risks that organisations face in unpredictable developing markets.

Touchpoint #4: Combine systematic methods with out-of-the-box thinking

In their Harvard Business Review blog, Vijay Govindarajan, professor of international business at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and Srikanth Srinivas, retired management consultant and author of Shocking Velocity, describe how Indian company, Titan put this theory into practice:

Titan wanted to create a watch for everyday use in the tough Indian conditions: It needed to be water resistant and able to withstand heat and dust, but also elegant and ultraslim.

Even the Swiss thought this was impossible:

  • An ultraslim watch must have a miniaturised battery.
  • To be water-resistant, the back cover has to be sealed, making it difficult to replace a battery. No good because a miniaturised battery has a shorter lifespan and needs to be replaced frequently. In other words, water-resistance and ultraslimness were irreconcilable goals.

But the team at Titan applied breakthrough thinking to resolve what were thought to be design tradeoffs with “and” thinking:

  • They complemented systematic analysis with an out-of-the-box approach and the result was the Edge line of watches, just 3.35 mm thin, with a movement that is only 1.15 mm thick and weighs less than 36 g. The watch won multiple awards and Titan is now the fifth-largest watch manufacturer in the world.

Touchpoint #5: Learn to unlock the power of reputation management

This is a new skill that continues to confound many organisations that grapple with an age of instant communication in which nothing is confidential and an organisation is effectively laid bare to client and consumer.

The rate at which the world economy is evolving continues to gain pace. So do the requirements of global leadership.

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.

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