Notion Consulting interviewed 50 successful corporate and entrepreneurial executives about their business challenges and what it takes to lead change in 2020. Their feedback revealed some compelling themes, including the need to simultaneously move fast, thoughtfully and efficiently, while building accountability, and rallying the team around a vision and a common purpose.
Here’s what leaders are saying about how they drive transformation today:
1. Race Against Pace
Winning in 2020 will require speed and agility like we have never seen before. It’s not just the volume of pressures pushing today’s leaders to change, it is the pace. They all feel that the need for speed is both overwhelming and critical to success.
41% of respondents cited pressures from consumers as the biggest drivers for change, while 24% cited technology.
Leaders said, “We need to change to address the macro changes coming our way – but we don’t even fully understand the implications yet because there is so much uncertainty.”
2. Cost Cutting Is Not Transformation
In many companies, cost-cutting efforts have been mislabeled “transformation” efforts, giving transformation a bad name. Transformation is about so much more than cost-cutting. It’s all about reinvention.
42% of leaders defined transformation as big, major and dramatic. They saw it as a critical step toward the future, and more than 50% of leaders indicated that financial investment was a crucial make-or break element of a transformation.
“Too many leaders are using the word transformation when consulting companies are working with them on cost-cutting initiatives. But that’s not what transformation is at all. Transformation is about invention – or reinvention,” leaders said.
3. Too Much Tinkering
Too many leaders waste time ‘tinkering’ instead of driving transformation. That is, they make small tweaks here and there, but ultimately fail to shift mindsets, behaviors and energy.
Leaders see the need for long-term change but they are under pressure to deliver short term financial results. As a result they back off from making major changes once the challenges become too burdensome, and lose their focus on the long -term goal.
4. The Struggle Is Real
Leaders cite resistance, lack of support, untapped potential and resource constraints as their biggest challenges. Leaders need to address these potential roadblocks head on if their transformation is to be successful.
5. Involvement = Commitment
Perhaps not surprisingly, leaders said the biggest change accelerator was employee engagement. No change can happen without people. And the three things that help change leaders best engage their people are involvement, relevance, and perspective.
6. Be In The Future And The Present At The Same Time
The most successful change leaders create the future, lift the people around them, and personify grit. In fact, the most successful leaders don’t think of themselves as change leaders at all. They see opportunities before anyone else and rally people to turn those opportunities into outcomes.
7. Make It Meaningful
Leaders also spoke to Notion about what drives them to lead change. They cited the challenge of intellectual pursuits making a difference in the lives of others, whether it is big or small.
“I am relentless about making things better,” said 43% of change leaders. “I get energy thinking about what people can do together…I truly believe you can change anything with people…and I love the power of that,” said 31%.
8. Go Slow to Go Fast
To maintain momentum, the best change leaders know when to put their foot on the gas, and when to step off. They recognize when it’s time to cut through the noise to push forward, and when it’s time to listen to the noise and slow down.
9. Humility Drives Greatness
At the heart of every great change leader is a strong sense of humility. They are comfortable accepting what they don’t know and in looking to others for challenge and insights, because they know there may be a better way to look at things.
47% of those interviewed cited the importance of listening to your people and creating a safe space for feedback. In fact, one leader noted, “the higher up you are the more you need to listen.” Encouraging a culture of open dialogue across all levels is “critical,” they noted.
Leaders noted that it’s important to nurture their people’s strengths and interests. “Find ways to align [your people’s] career aspirations with where you’re headed,” they said.
10. Real Change Requires More than Hearts and Minds
To truly transform and grow, one must capture hearts and minds – and most importantly, drive positive energy to improve outcomes.
100% of respondents noted the importance of energy as a key factor in gaining momentum toward the future. They noted that “momentum comes about if the leader is able to articulate the change in a way that resonates. That leader needs to be clear in his or her communications on what the outcome should be and how the team will work together to achieve it.”
“Change requires you to change the minds of everyone involved. And really shift their energy toward the future,” they said.
Although the global business landscape continues to evolve and the pace required to keep up continues to accelerate, successful leaders understand that there are certain enduring truths that are fundamental to driving change. They are leading true transformation by leaning into these key universal levers. They lead with a strong vision, engage hearts and minds, stay humble and flexible through challenging times, and, critically, harness and direct the positive energy of their people to drive change.