It's a precarious time for both individuals and organisations. Going forward, what do business leaders need to know and do for the best chance of success? we asked six London Business School experts what's essential to keep in mind as we cautiously look ahead.
1. Create the conditions for innovation and resilience
“One of your main imperatives as a business leader is to keep your company innovative,” says Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School (LBS). “That means putting money into innovation, but it also means creating a culture that supports innovation. Ask yourself: How can I ensure that I have as many people as possible trying out new things in order to maximise the number of different ideas that are available?” Beyond this, embed resilience. “That doesn’t just mean keeping operations moving – it also means developing a point of view on the future, adapting quickly to changing circumstances or building on your strengths. Paradoxically, the companies that are the most resilient are sometimes those that are able to double down on their existing competencies.”
2. Take advantage of the thriving investment landscape
“Consider the problems the world is facing and look for solutions,” says Luisa Alemany, Associate Professor of Management Practice in Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Academic Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at LBS. “How can you add these solutions into your business? Having an entrepreneurial mindset is key: it’s about creativity, risk-taking, innovation, looking for opportunities, resilience, and – especially – not being scared of failure, because you're going to fail when you try new things.” In addition, she says, take advantage of the current investment landscape. “The money is there ready to be deployed and investors are making decisions fast. It’s a time of opportunity for anybody who has an idea or has started a business and needs capital in order to grow,” she says.
3. Bring purpose to the fore
Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at LBS, says: “People are fatigued now. What they need more than anything from you as a leader is to have a narrative about the future. Now you don't know exactly what's going to happen, but you can build a purpose and a sense of values that can really help people imagine what the next couple of years is going to be like for them. We have an extraordinary opportunity to reinvent work, in two ways: where should we work: the home – the office – a hub? And when should we work: how do we think about time? Give people flexibility and use those two ideas, time and place, to think about what hybrid work might look like and make sure you are working to create trust and fairness in your organisation.”
4. Rethink your approach to crisis management
“Leaders of Fortune 500 companies tend to be ill-prepared for crises, yet confident that they can handle them,” says Niro Sivanathan, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at LBS. “In one survey, 89% of leaders said crises were inevitable in a business – yet only 50% had a plan in place.” Don’t focus too narrowly on structures and processes: “Many organisations use scenario planning tools without taking into account people’s deep-rooted cognitive biases. Leaders often overlook the fact that the human element is the single greatest variable in a crisis and the hardest one to control. Crises change our decisions, our judgements and our behaviour.”
5. Prioritise wellbeing beyond the pandemic
High stress levels are top of mind for leaders. This could be a silver lining, says Selin Kesebir, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at LBS. “Now, when we talk to managers and CEOs, we realise they are aware of wellbeing like never before. Think about how you can create an environment where people are happier and experience less stress. It’s about looking out for others and acting with wisdom and understanding. As individuals, we can find ways to reduce our stress levels by organising our lives and our minds in new ways. The science of positive psychology, which has been developed over the last 40 years, gives us a lot of good ideas about how to learn to be happier: it’s a skill, like learning a language or an instrument.
6 Don’t ignore how people are feeling
“As a leader it’s your responsibility to make sure real lessons have been learned and your organisation is crisis-proof for the future,” says Randall S Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Academic Director of the Leadership Institute at LBS. “This turbulence is not going to go away. When the next crisis happens – and it will – how will your organisation thrive? How can you support people more effectively and do a better job next time? Acknowledge that they are beyond exhausted, and angry at some of your decisions. Encourage them to get past that and to use it to help make sure you build back better. Focus on constructive outcomes, and make sure your people understand decisions that were taken and why things were done as they were. If you made mistakes – say so.”
Read more faculty research insights as well as interviews with LBS students and alumni who are thriving in the new working world at www.london.edu/whatcomesnext