CEO Today - May 2022

VISION & STRATEGY There’s growing pressure to: • pursue a more sustainable path • find new partners to help overcome supply chain disruptions • ease economic anxiety stemming from rising inflation • demonstrate social justice through better DEI policies and practices • adapt to rapidly changing customer preferences favouring brands that act responsibly As leaders CEOs must make sense of the world, using those insights to develop strategies that help their organisation leverage its strengths to thrive. What lessons can be learned from the crises of the past 2+ decades, including the meltdown, the 2008 financial crisis, pandemics, war, and climate change? It’s tempting to retreat to default practices in the false belief that today’s crises shall one-day pass and life will return to normal.Whilewe can’t predict the future, there is substantial evidence to suggest that we must transform the role businesses play in the world, including how they operate, if they are to help address today’s enormous challenges. I’ve worked with leaders and their organizations in more than 40 countries and one thing is certain: the age of the hero CEO who believes they can single-handedly fix things is gone (and good riddance). Today the best CEOs seek the wisdom of others in shaping their decisions. Here is what that wisdom says: 1. Ask good questions. The most effective leaders ask questions that spark curiosity in others. What they don’t do is ask questions that make people defensive. Questions like “which area of our expertise can we harness that could create demonstrable value to help address X (name of problem)?” and “which other organizations do we admire that we would learn from and could work with to help solve X?” are far more motivating than “why didn’t you make quota?” or “how could you allow our margins to decrease?”, which are unproductive and demoralising. In doing research for my book, I was intrigued by Norrsken, a Swedish organisation founded in 2016 that helps entrepreneurs create startups to address the biggest problems in the world today. They ask a simple, profound question, “how can we positively impact a billion lives?” Imagine how that simple question galvanizes people. Norrsken has since built a €120m+ fund, two hubs (one in Stockholm and the other in Kigali, with more coming), houses several hundred entrepreneurs and supports more than 30 startups focused on addressing the UN SDGs. 2. Define how your organisation creates meaning. Consider the sense of purpose and catalyzing energy that is released when you and your colleagues believe your work has meaning; it inspires discretionary effort—that desire to do far more than is required or expected. Leaders must articulate how their organization creates meaning for employees and society. Ravi Kumar is the President of Infosys. His global responsibilities are understandably vast. Within these, he sees enormous opportunity for companies to create positive, enduring, societal change above and beyond their core business activities. Among his focus areas is revolutionizing education, especially in today’s digital world. To this end, he is leading an effort to reskill and upskill people in the US, Europe, and Australia by developing new learning centres focused on helping people gain technical skills to prepare them for a new world of opportunities as digital innovations continue to transform how we live and work. Ravi is, in effect, creating meaning by giving value back to society through these uplifting, professionally rewarding education initiatives. By clearly defining your value meaning, you provide a compass heading that helps direct where your organization is going in its effort to create an enduring, positive impact. 3. Determine how you will measure progress toward your goals. Identifyhowyouwillmeasure progress. Don’t be afraid to seek challenging measures and don’t castigate colleagues if some measures lack precision at first. Keep asking. People need time to reflect and ‘noodle’ the idea around in their heads. I found that, over time, precision improves. Despite this, I still see too many leaders let the tyranny of the urgent side-track their longterm strategy. With a crisis around every corner, it is easy to get distracted away from your organization’s longterm strategy on how to positively contribute to the world. Measuring progress can be further derailed when the Board lacks understanding and fluency in the areas you are seeking to address. This is especially true with sustainability, where unfamiliarity with the substance of the underlying drivers causes Boards and management to underinvest in helping solve it or, worse, dismiss it as someone else’s problem. Enter Helle Bank Jorgensen. As CEO of Competent Boards, she helps Boards and senior management that are well-versed in financial matters gain fluency in sustainability that then informs their strategic decisions. Why is this important? For most of the past

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