When I first began leading learning and organization development for Booz Allen Hamilton, the organization was going through a sea of change. They had just revisited their core values and launched the People Strategy to deal with unusually high turnover. Just when that stabilized, Y2K happened. This was followed by the September 11 World Trade Center bombing that sent the world’s economy into a tailspin. Add to this a change in CEO, several reorganizations, changes in market and then the decision to move to India.
On arrival in India in 2005, I took up my post for Satyam Computer Services (now Tech Mahindra). The company was growing at a pace of more than 40 percent a year. We went from 22,000 at the start of 2006 to more than 50,000 by end of 2008. Then came the confession from the CEO that he had been “inflating the company’s revenues,” a scandal to that added up to more than $2.5 billion and the loss of more than 30,000 jobs. These experiences were followed by my co-authoring “Riding the Tiger: Leading Through Learning in Turbulent Times” with my partner, Pris Nelson.
I don’t know about you but for me, since the late nineties, all times have been uncertain times. So how does a learning leader develop a strategy during uncertain time? The short answer is build in flexibility and be ready to adapt quickly.
I asked Aaron Olson, chief learning officer at Aon and the author of the recently released “Leading with Strategic Thinking: Four Ways Effective Leaders Gain Insight, Drive Change, and Get Results,”and he told me: “In the face of uncertainty, strategic leaders can still be successful by applying lessons learned from the study of emergent strategy. Academics like Henry Mintzberg have popularized the concept and established practices specifically focused on defining strategy in times of disruption. These techniques involve a lesser focus on long term planning and a greater focus on short term tactics like experimenting and continuous feedback loops.”
Focusing on the short term can certainly help, as long as the short term is at least a year and satisfies your ability to develop a comprehensive budget. Even as you do prepare your budget to align to your strategy, you should consider “placing multiple bets complimented by rigorous collection of data to monitor what is (and isn’t) working,” according to Olson.
Kevin Wilde — vice president of organizational effectiveness and chief learning officer at General Mills Inc., the author of “Dancing with the Talent Stars” and an instructor in the CLO Accelerator program that will happen just prior to the 2015 Fall CLO Symposium— shared three tips for developing a strategy in uncertain times:
1. Stay relevant. Fine tune offerings based only on most critical and compelling needs now.
2. Stay connected. Increase points of contact with key stakeholder to understand how things are changing.
3. Stay balanced. While pruning learning to deliver most relevant, short-term needs, don’t give up on investments to be made for payoff down the road. This is hard, but the question is “What would be stop doing now that will regret down the road?”
So how do you begin? Think about the most critical needs of your organization. Prioritize them and identify certainty ranging from “certain” to “remote possibility.” The more uncertain needs should have multiple plans of action.
We work with clients from small organizations to giant, multinational organizations with more than 100,000 employees. Over and over, we see three challenges that are certain in these uncertain times:
1. The mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce — we are going to see more than 60 million between now and 2028 — with a much smaller Gen X population following behind and a significantly larger millennial group on their heels. Your strategy should include, with great certainty, an executive talent management focusing on leadership development, succession planning and a process for mindful leadership transitions.
2. The digital revolution will continue, so your plan should also include more individualized coaching, virtual and mobile learning opportunities and more aligned and focused individualized career paths.
3. More globalization with people living and working outside their countries of origin and significantly increased remote opportunities. Include topics such as virtual teaming and cross-cultural ways of working tied to communications, decision-making, and problem solving.
How do you go about building a strategy in uncertain times? Comment here so we can all learn from you.