Think about what you might do on a typical Tuesday morning at the office. Perhaps you’ll respond to an e-mail from a partner in China. Maybe you’ll share best practices with a colleague on LinkedIn. You might even update your company’s learning offerings after discovering a need for more salespeople in South America.
The way you work today is no doubt different from how you did your job one, two, five or 10 years ago — and it’s still evolving. But according to David Axson, founder and president of consulting firm Sonax Group and author of The Management Mythbuster, organizations are still relying on management strategies that were developed more than 50 years ago, when the world was a very different place.
“Things were much more predictable; it was a much less global world; [and] technology had barely made an impact in terms of communication,” Axson said. “Now, think about what’s happened in the last two or three years. At the tail end of 2008 and most of 2009, the world was changing daily. Those processes simply couldn’t keep up with the volatility and the uncertainty that was rifling through the markets.”
To succeed in the post-recession era, companies must reset their management mindsets to keep pace with an increasingly interconnected, continuously morphing landscape. To that end, Axson said there are two key management behaviors leaders today will need:
1. The ability to constantly challenge assumptions: “Always ask yourself the question: What if I’m wrong?” he said. “[When] you make an investment in a project or a new facility or any type of business investment, you do that on the basis of some assumptions about what the future is going to look like,” he said. “What you need to do is be constantly on the lookout to see if those assumptions still make sense. It may have been a great investment decision a year ago or six months ago, but are you constantly re-evaluating the wisdom of that decision in the light of what’s actually happening today?”
2. The knowledge that a plan is subject to change and the flexibility to change it: “[You can’t be so] naive [as] to think you can budget out the whole next year in excruciating detail and expect it to be right,” Axson said. “We don’t have a crystal ball that is that good. But we get lulled into a false sense of security, [telling ourselves], ‘Because it’s in the budget, it must be right,’ ‘because it’s in the plan, it must be right.’ Flexibility, agility — those types of things become key.”
Axson said CLOs play an important role in developing these management techniques among leaders. The first step is fostering an environment in which it’s OK — even encouraged — to ask questions.
“We’re measured on our having the right answer, but what determines the best managers is those who can ask the best questions,” he said. “What if our two competitors merge with each other? What if our biggest client goes bankrupt? What if our source of supply from India disappears? What if the Chinese government locks down the economy and we can no longer manufacture in that low-cost location? For leadership, it’s not the quality of the answers you give, but the quality of the questions that you ask.”
CLOs also should groom leaders to be more comfortable with uncertainty and to be able to make decisions amid ambiguity, Axson said.
“[That way], they don’t get thrown for a loop every time the unexpected happens,” he said. “They say, ‘OK, I didn’t predict this, but how should I respond with speed and confidence?’ The organizations that will be successful will equip their people with the tools, the knowledge and the confidence to make fast, [solid] decisions.”