The business world has always moved fast. Now it’s in overdrive.
We’ve been talking internally about the “Great Acceleration” for a few months now, so it was fun to see McKinsey report on the concept in a recent piece. One quote dramatically summed up what is happening: “Compared with the Industrial Revolution, we estimate that this change is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale, or roughly 3,000 times the impact.”
The Great Acceleration is reshaping businesses and leadership.
The corporate model of centralised, hierarchical decision making is looking increasingly archaic in a world that is moving at blistering speed. A new model is emerging, one with more distributed decision making at the peripheries of the organisation. It’s an approach that lets companies be agile instead of reactive.
Constant innovation is another requirement in the Great Acceleration. But sustained innovation is not a top-down approach driven from above. Breakthroughs occur because managers and individuals make incremental improvements with customers in mind.
Creating a culture that promotes collaboration and communication is essential if a company is to flourish in the Great Acceleration. Consider how much time is wasted in typical businesses because people have different agendas. Because they view the goals of others as unimportant. Because they are unclear on the overarching objective. Lack of candour, fear of pointing out a problem, and resistance to brainstorming dooms untold numbers of projects that could have transformed an organisation.
Companies with dysfunctional cultures can’t compete over the long haul. Cultures where people support each other’s goals, trust each other, and communicate open-mindedly and candidly move much faster and win the race.
To thrive in the Great Acceleration, organisations must better leverage the contributions and creativity of every member of every team. But how do you help employees realise their potential—and, as Ken Blanchard says, “bring their brains to work”?
Here are five disciplines the leader of the future must demonstrate.
Adapt leadership style to every situation. A one-size-fits-all leadership approach really never worked. And it’s utterly obsolete in the Great Acceleration. Leaders must give their people the support and direction they need by adapting to the demands of the moment. In short, they must lead situationally.
Develop people so they reach peak productivity. Every employee can contribute and every employee deserves to be amazing. The Great Acceleration demands that companies help all employees unleash their potential. This means leaders must guide people to projects that build their skills, help them become successful and self-reliant in their roles, and have inspiring career development conversations.
Set goals dynamically. When conditions are stable, goals don’t need to change that often. But when conditions are changing rapidly, leaders are better served by setting shorter-term goals and revisiting them frequently. This requires leaders who are more flexible, agile, and willing to change people’s goals regularly. If leaders aren’t changing goals and cancelling projects, they are probably doing something wrong.
Run experiments continuously. Many employees adopt a wait-and-see attitude towards innovation and change. To counteract this, leaders should role model risk taking and experimentation, and encourage others to do so as well. They should involve all their people in creative problem solving and change initiatives, and they should track experiments and celebrate both successes and failures as necessary parts of the process. When all leaders encourage incremental innovation, the organisation sprints on a thousand feet.
Develop relationships built on trust and candour. Moving at the speed of the Great Acceleration is impossible if trust is absent. It rests with leaders to create a culture where people know their ideas will be heard and respected. This happens when managers care about their people, encourage their development, and help them succeed. Only then can collaboration and creativity flourish.
The changes being brought about by the Great Acceleration have just begun. Despite all the uncertainty, the critical role strong leadership will remain a constant. Consider how these five disciplines can be built into your leadership and development efforts.
Jay Campbell is SVP of Products & Content at The Ken Blanchard Companies, overseeing research and development activities. Holding degrees from Vanderbilt University and Boston College, Jay is currently pursuing a doctorate in leadership and organizational change at USC.