In a connected world awash with wicked problems, businesses and organisations are confronted with information overload, political upheaval, fake news, disruptive competition, technology acceleration, cyber threats, ethical dilemmas and cultural change, which all seek to confuse analysis, reinforce entrenched positions, with the threat of missing opportunities and making the wrong decisions.
SixFigureGrid Leadership challenges perceived norms and attempts to establish objective facts, both current and historical, to provide reference points from which to start from. It asks the questions of where leaders think their organisations are now, how they arrived there, what is going on around them right now, what is likely to happen next, and where they want to get to. By asking such questions, leaders can develop superior situational awareness, allowing them to structure their teams and organisation effectively, to orientate to an advantage, to make the right decisions and then implement the plan. To help in this process, it is important to understand how the Information Age has changed how we should lead and how we should approach decision making.
The SixFigureGrid Information Age Principles:
Perception: The internet and specifically social media has allowed every individual, group, team or organisation around the world to have an opinion on pretty much anything. Social media plays a huge role in forming and hardening peoples’ opinion and perception of life, often through the use of unreliable information sources and targeted advertising/campaigning. The perception of what people think of any specific group, person, event, incident or action is crucially important to how any business should make decisions, manage programmes and review performance. Thus for a business, it may not matter what the truth is or what the facts are, it is just as much about what people perceive and the two may not be the same. Business leaders need to recognise this dichotomy and ensure that in any analysis, the perceptions of all stakeholders are considered and that objective views are listened to, and at all costs group think is avoided.
Scale: One of the great benefits, and also drawbacks, of the Information Age is that the world is electronically connected like never before. Information typed from a single keyboard can be distributed to billions of terminals/things around the globe. Markets are suddenly expanded exponentially and the opportunity to find customers has no real limits. Yet the same customer and user scale that delivers increased sales and profit, can also destroy a business if the wrong decisions are made. Furthermore, those decisions may not be reversible. Leaders need to be aware of the 'power of scale’ both in what it can do to maximise returns and yet also destroy hard earned capital.
Tempo: In today’s environment, the speed at which events unfold, are spread around the globe, and are reacted to, is unprecedented. Stocks and shares are traded by computers on the basis of vital information being received milliseconds before it is delivered to a competitor. Reaction to media events need, very often, to have instant responses, even perhaps before all the information is available. 'He who is first to the truth' can often be the winner. Gone are the days when it was safe to say, “Let’s play this one long”. Whilst that might be the right answer in some cases, the increased tempo of business life and the interaction of information and data means that it would be unwise not to consider the consequences of ‘doing nothing’. As vast volumes of information rapidly overwhelm analysts, managers and leaders, there is a need to rely on everything from artificial intelligence, smart software and workable techniques, tactics and procedures. Leaders need to be comfortable with the increased rate of information flow and to be able to operate in dynamic and complex situations.
Ethics: Just because you can, does not mean that you should. The digital world around us is full of opportunities to gain competitive edge and to maximise profits, yet this can often come at a longer term price for both the organisation that implemented a certain course of action and for the consumer. Technology is advancing so quickly that it is difficult for law makers and authorities to keep pace and hence it is often up to business leaders to make that judgment call. Digital ethics is a vital component of business today. For long term benefit, leaders need to understand how to make the right decisions, even if they may not immediately improve the bottom line.
Security: Physical security has always been a factor for businesses. However, the digital transformation of society, government and business has brought about the need for cyber security and the need to be ever vigilant for the next potential attack. ‘Information Warfare’ was once the preserve of the militaries, yet it is now society that must be vigilant and aware, be it falling for fake news, hacking, viruses, trojans, worms, ransomware and phishing, to name but a few. Cyber threats can destroy successful, long running and established businesses and hence the need to make leaders and boards both aware of the threats and accountable. It is no longer good enough for the CSO or CIO to hold and manage the cyber risk. All business decisions now need to factor in the cyber threats and the CEO needs to acknowledge his/her accountability and understand the risks.
Innovation: Innovation can be a strength and weakness for a business. On the one hand, innovation to do things more effectively within an organisation can increase output and realise objectives sooner and at lower cost. Yet that same innovation is being played out by competitors, perhaps in some cases they are are unknown and unheard of, yet they may steal a market and destroy an established business overnight. Innovation in the digital era is far more dangerous, given that when combined, 2 or 3 separate software applications may combine to devastate existing working practices or established products. Effective leaders need to both harness the power of innovation amongst their own people and resources, yet remain open to the fact that competitive innovation may harm their own business systems and products.
Uncertainty: Great leaders are comfortable with uncertainty and business has always had to deal with the unexpected and with change. However, in today’s global and interconnected business environment, it is difficult to provide certainty about many things. What was fit for purpose yesterday may not be for tomorrow, as ‘software continues to eat the world’ and as new products, concepts and ideas reshape how life is lived and how business is run. The strong leader of today’s era needs to consider disruptive influences, new technologies and out of the box ideas that arrive unexpectedly, so that uncertainty can be mitigated and risks stemming from them managed.