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Strategy, Leadership and Culture need to eat breakfast together

In one of our Playing Lean expert webinars we had the pleasure of having Cris Beswick as our guest speaker, an advisor to some of the world’s most successful companies, to hear his thoughts on innovation, leadership, culture and strategy. He shared some valuable insight with us which he centred around questions he often gets asked by senior teams.

In the pre-Lehman world, Peter Drucker's quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” probably was valid, because the world then was much more linear and predictable. But now, in this time of the pandemic, he believes that culture isn't enough on its own to differentiate organisations and help them shape the future.

What Cris finds frustrating when sitting down and talking to CEO's, board members or senior teams, is the continued level of innovation theatre, and the continued self-professing by organisations that they are innovative, when really most organisations don't understand innovation and all its components, or building a culture of innovation.

He still sees big organisations, global brands we all know very well and love, creating products and providing services that are not sustainable, with brand promises that are just marketing spins, because those brand promises are all based around products that no one really needs because they don't solve genuine deep problems. And they label it as innovation.

But the reality about innovation is that we're now trying to solve really wicked problems, and Cris thinks that “wicked problems now require really wicked solutions”. The challenge around providing wicked solutions and genuine innovation (not theatre), is that wicked problems which require wicked solutions require wickedly different ways of doing it. And we do that by understanding culture, strategy and completely changing the way we do things as organisations.

Innovation really boils down to three things: the strategic overview and strategic imperative, the leadership context and leadership capability required, and the cultural component and the scaling capability and how we embed it.

Cris's thoughts on re-defining strategy

One of the biggest problems in the corporate world is that most organisations are actually brilliant at invention, and very poor at innovation because there's isn't a clear understanding of the definition of innovation.

If we look in the dictionary, creating or redesigning something that has not existed before or the introduction of something new is actually the definition of invention.

And Cris sees the definition of innovation as:

“The process of introducing something new or different in order to solve a problem, add value for the customer, and drive growth for the creator.”

When we define innovation in this way, we're able to use the definition itself to sense-check progress. At each stage of the innovation process we can validate if our solution is still genuinely interesting, does it really relieve the pain that our customer is experiencing, does it really deliver extra gains on top of that, and are we able to execute it well, is our measure of success still going to be achieved.

In order to do all of that, to sense-check, everything has to be human-centred. As organisations we have to understand people better, we have to understand design thinking and Jobs to be done, the essence of those frameworks and what they stand for: how good are we at unearthing genuine problems and genuine opportunities, and how good are we at going deeper into those problems than our competitors are. We need to build human-cantered organisations to do that.

Since Lehman brothers, despite the crash, what we actually see and all the data suggests, is that organisations that capitalized on that downturn and went really long on innovation, prospered beyond all the organisations that waited for the world to get a bit more stable to do anything. And we've seen some great organisations emerge: Airbnb, Stripe, Instagram, WeWork, Lyft, Tinder.

Now we're in 2020, Covid-19 time, and the challenge is that the typical approach to strategy doesn’t cut it anymore, and we must start moving away from Peter Drucker's quote.

The world we live in now requires a different approach to strategy. It requires us to start in the future, and be much better at building a picture of the future state that we as an organisation want, and then reverse engineer that back to our current context and current situation. Then, in a hypothesis driven way we have to push forward and project in timelines that we can confidently predict, put things into place and execute.

We need to constantly review that hypothesis, and move the organisation forward. and balance it with a human-centred approach.

Cris's thoughts on re-defining leadership

The reality is that we operate and have to build organisations in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. But as leaders, the challenge is how do we navigate that and how do we change that world and reframe it, so that it isn’t something negative.

The first step we have teach senior leaders is to help them understand why things that worked yesterday don't work today, and why things that they might have not even heard of yesterday are now relevant and are going to work for the future.

If we look at management and leadership development over the past 20-30 years, senior executives have been trained and developed in business schools and been to leadership development programs, all in the pursuit of leading as we did yesterday. Very few of those leaders have the capability to lead in the world that we are in now, and for a world that is constantly re-emerging in the future.

We have to shift the narrative away from short term gains and short term metrics, and we do that by focusing and going really long on purpose.

Purpose is one of the most underrated components of leadership.Organisations have to find and re-frame what that purpose is, and build an innovation strategy in line with delivering against that purpose.

Language is also an important component of leadership. The language that leaders use and how inspiring that language can be, is one of the most underrated and undervalued components of leadership.

One of Cris's favourite quotes is: “Our goal is to have customer service that's not just the best, but legendary.” - Sam Walton

Creativity is also a massive component of what leaders now know, and is one of the key skills of shaping the future.

What should leading for innovation then really look like then?

For Cris, the two components are purpose driven and creativity driven. And both purpose and creativity share one common thing - they share a huge component of empathy.

When you combine it, it makes people curious, and curiosity means people want to ask questions, and asking questions means people want to explore, and when they explore they experiment. All of those ingredients are needed if we want leaders to lead our organisation for innovation.

We need to get leaders to shift from volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous to visionary, unbounded, creative and authentic.

Cris's thoughts on re-defining culture

As leaders, our ambition has to match our action. We have to be sensitive about what it looks and feels like to lead for innovation.

That feeling of leading for innovation as a person and as a team is the one thing that lacks in organisations when it comes to innovation.

The challenge is that we don’t separate different behaviour well enough that innovation requires. If you're building something that nobody wants, then you are the source of failure, and not the competition.

We have to help leaders understand and unpack what it genuinely means to own the innovation agenda. When you do own it, then you understand what you need to do to help the most important layer of an organisation drive innovation on a daily basis. And when they understand how to drive innovation on a daily basis, then they make it easy for employees to contribute to innovation on a daily basis. 

The physical things that need to be in place to make ownership, driving and contribution happen are strategy, budget, tools etc., but the psychological things are is there a learning culture and is there a culture of collaboration.

As leaders, we also have to ask the right questions and Cris puts them as:

  1. Corporate innovation capability is a choice so building it must be a conscious leadership decision. So, as leaders, what are you currently choosing to do?
  2. An innovation strategy is about the pursuit of ‘better’ and so is purpose. So, do you have an innovation strategy? Have you doubled-down on purpose? Are they aligned?
  3. You can't influence results, only behaviour and processes, which in turn lead to outcomes. So, will your current leadership approach and culture enable you to shape the future?

In summary, for Cris strategy used to eat culture for breakfast, but if you really want to shape the future “Strategy, Leadership and Culture need to eat breakfast together.” 

We have to find a way of aligning all of those three components into an eco-system approach.

If you liked our summary from Katie Anderson's and Cris Beswick's webinar presentations, and don’t want to miss out on future Playing Lean webinars, sign up to our newsletter to receive invites and full webinar recordings so you can watch the webinar in your own time! 





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