What it really means to reinvent yourself

Transformation comes with a cost, says leadership consultant Erik Korsvik Ostergaard.

by Erik Korsvik Ostergaard
Last Updated: 05 Mar 2020

A vast proportion of the corporate leaders that I meet are struggling with the same problems. 

Rising uncertainty causing shorter planning horizons. New expectations of convenience and adaptability from customers. Societal expectations of sustainability. Workers who look for employers with a healthy blend of old-school guidance and new-school freedom.

An increasing number of these leaders are starting to fathom the urgency of their need to change.

But what does it really mean to reinvent yourself and your organisation to accommodate the changing world of work, and the coming of the disruptors?

Second-wave disruption

According to the Google zeitgeist, the term disruption peaked in 2015. Affected by unprecedented changes, a first wave of businesses was in turmoil. Most of these organisations had software in their core, either as a production platform or distribution channel. Banks, finance institutions, insurance companies, non-cloud IT services and newspapers were among those that faced major challenges – and they changed accordingly, either via pivoting or by fading into obsolescence. 

Now, a second wave of changes is emerging, affecting industries that have higher inertia in their production line: leaders of infrastructure, pharma, and education are among those that now face similar challenges with planning, agility and talent attraction.

Those C-suite leaders and their boards of directors also acknowledge that the global financial situation makes it difficult to take chances and adopt a higher risk profile. 

Luckily, there is much to be learned from those businesses that were affected by the first wave of changes 5-10 years ago. And it starts with the mindset of the leaders themselves. 

Reinventing your leadership

One clear learning from embracing the changed business world is that the traditional understanding of corporate collaboration as a well-oiled machine with gears and cogs must be replaced with one of small, self-managed delivery teams, supported by democratised leadership and culture.

This is the crux of reinventing the organisation: future-proofing your business with semi-autonomous teams, by creating platforms and business services that make the life cycle of those teams frictionless. This will make you better prepared for change, for experimentation, and for adapting to new business conditions. 

A long list of mechanisms is needed for that. Group functions need to see themselves as service providers. Frameworks must be in place for coordination of the teams. Decision-making must happen at the delivery team level. 

The teams need dynamic advisory boards, which can help them in their growth and maturity and facilitate coaching and mentoring. And the culture needs to develop into one that has focus on dialogue, psychological safety and a growth mindset.

This is hard. This is really hard. And it all starts with a genuine interest in the people at work in addition to the soundness of the business. 

It starts with a personal change

I have seen leaders transform. It takes months of input, influence, and reflection, and then suddenly over a short period, their thinking and prioritisation changes. They change their focus in meetings, starting with people first. They allocate resources and time for experimentation. They have new expectations for agility and collaboration. To some, it’s an epiphany. 

Many of those leaders do not – or cannot – get the necessary push inside their organisation. Instead, they seek it amongst peers in their CEO networks; both from leaders in the same situation, and leaders who went through the changes in the first wave of disruption. 

Change is hard, because you need to break and establish new habits. You need to reinvent yourself first and re-evaluate your mindset and approach to what work is – and why you go to work every day. 

The upsides are massive - adaptability, organisational learning, engagement, fewer sick-days, better dialogue, better ideas, better handling of mistakes, better solutions - but the investment can be substantial. You need to debate what it takes – and what you will accept as losses during the transformation.

Much can be learned from listening to those who have changed already. But the translation of these lessons to the context of your own business can ultimately only be done by you and your leadership team.

Erik Korsvik Ostergaard is partner and founder of Bloch&Ostergaard and author of Teal Dots in an Orange World (LID)

Image credit: Eamonn M. McCormack / Stringer / Getty Images 

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