Modernize Leadership: Learn and Adjust

ML_LearnAdjust2In a previous post, I described how today’s management techniques reflect outdated assumptions of technology-enabled practices, human behavior, and the meaning of success. That’s why organizations must shift to what I’m calling Modernize Leadership.

I’m writing individual posts for each of the eight key changes required to modernize leadership. In this post, I’m examining the shift from:

Strategize and Plan to Learn and Adjust

Here’s some more information to better understand this shift:

Outdated Thinking
Here are some ways in which leaders must change how they view the world:

  • Leaders spend a lot of time with their leadership teams fine-tuning precise strategies and laying out high level plans, hoping that their Powerpoint slides will come to life throughout their organizations. Unfortunately, employees need to make adjustments in order to operationalize elements of any strategy. As a result, many strategies and plans fall apart when those adjustments don’t live up to the original plans. Sometimes leaders can force their organizations to initially come close to delivering on their strategies, but there’s no way to consistently live up to those expectations.
  • Leaders amass a lot of information to develop their strategies and plans. Unfortunately, the information they use to make those decisions can often change between the time that they make decisions and when things get rolled out. The pace of change is accelerating in most industries, which shortens the useful lifecycle of the analysis that leads to decisions.
  • The improving technology for collecting data and doing analysis is making it easier to more frequently understand what’s happening in most organizations. This makes it much easier to make decisions more frequently, instead of waiting until the annual strategy cycle.

As Winston Churchill once said:

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Modernized Leadership Actions
Here are some ways in which leaders should act based on a modernized perspective:

  • Increase strategic planning frequency. If you make most of your important strategic decisions once a year, then you’re likely losing connection with the marketplace. At least make key strategic decisions on a quarterly basis, and look to get it monthly. The shortened cycles will push you to make learn and adjust a continuous activity.
  • Test, test, test. Instead of blindly executing on a large strategic plan that defines a single direction, you need to be constantly experimenting with multiple, smaller ideas. But don’t start this process unless you are committed to actively learn from them and adjust your activities.
  • Embrace failures. As you become more nimble in your decision making, you’ll be making more decisions which will lead to a larger number of smaller failures. In most cases, there’s a lot that you can learn from things that don’t work out the way you expected. You have to create a thirst for learning from these situations, and keep from looking for blame.
  • Double-down on successes. Part of being better at learning and adjusting is the ability to invest (time, energy, capital, etc) on ideas that appear to have strong potential. You need to be prepared to more aggressively shift resources to activities that show promise, even if it means more quickly closing down some other activities.

The bottom line: You need to learn and adjust more frequently.

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile: www.linkedin.com/in/brucetemkin

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