3 Steps for Agile Leaders to Survive Unexpected Challenges

a cartoon business man is stumbling up a bumpy growth curve

Here is what Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, said about the importance of resilience in running successful organizations: “If you think of [resilience] in terms of the Gold Rush, then you’d be pretty depressed right now because the last nugget of gold would be gone. But…with innovation, there isn’t a last nugget. Every new thing creates two new questions and two new opportunities.”

There are few American technology entrepreneurs or investors who have as much experience or as much success as Bezos. He knows all about what it takes to build an innovative and sustainable business. It wasn’t easy. But he understood that, to succeed, one of the critical factors is the ability to be resilient…to change as needed and to be effectively agile in the face of unexpected challenges.

There are so many ways the market can shift abruptly and without warning. The economy can tank, the competition can come out with a new and better product and whole industries can collapse. Even small disruptions can threaten the viability of your business. Only those organizations that have figured out how to prepare for small or large calamities are the ones that will thrive. In fact, our recent organizational alignment research found that leadership’s ability to respond to relevant market and industry changes was the top-rated factor and employees’ ability to change the third-rated factor for achieving 58% faster growth and 72% higher profits than companies with less agile leaders.

Is there a way to build resilience into your organization? There are certainly some steps you can take that will help you overcome the bumps in that upward curve…

1. Spread your bets.
This is not to say that you should not focus on the strategy that is best designed to get you where you want to go. Certainly you don’t want to dilute your efforts by running in too many directions at once. But you should have a viable Plan B. Or at least you should be working on two time cycles at once…one for the short- and the other for the long-term.

2. Respect the power of middle managers.
One of the ways businesses trimmed their budgets during the latest economic downturn was to flatten their organizations and do away with many middle managers. But it is just these folks who can make the difference when change is forced upon you. They are often the frontline interpreters between leadership and employees. When they buy into necessary change, your organization is more than half-way there. In other words, middle management is your force for resilience. Keep them well prepared and fully engaged.

3. Welcome different working styles.
After two decades working with clients around strategy, culture and talent, we advocate building an intentional, uniform culture by design. But that does not mean that everyone thinks the same. They should share values and support the company mission as one. But there is enormous resilience that stems from different points of view and working styles. You want clear and compelling goals that your team has accepted and drives toward. However, if everyone thinks the same way, you lose the value of different ways of addressing problems and miss out on potentially game breaking insights that come from diverse backgrounds.

Build change resilience any way you can. But these three steps will take you in the right direction: having a Plan B, building the strength of middle management and including different styles of thinking on your employee teams.

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