Blog Post

Welcome to 2024. 

#leadership #riskmanagement Jan 24, 2024

We believe that 2024 is going to be a tough and unpredictable year – just look at the fact that over half the world goes to the polls to elect governments this year. Based on our experience and research we listed 5 things that we thought you needed to pay particular attention to. Yes, it is about the threats, but every threat is also an opportunity.

 Number 1:  Turn your gaze outwards. The average leader spends the majority of their time focused internally. Assuming that you have reasonable internal reporting and competent teams to deal with issues then accept that your opportunities will come from outside the company. 

Run “Silver Lining” workshops to look at opportunities and risks and create plans. Remember that with very, very few exceptions big risks and opportunities grow out of small ones – most volcanoes rumble before they explode. 

Don’t just rely on strategy teams or senior people.  Talk to young people inside and outside your organisation.  Keep up to date with technology, not just in your business but in adjacent businesses.  Remember what mobile phones did to the camera, the calculator, the watch, the diary – it’s an endless list of things that became redundant. 

Watch the impact of world events on your supply chains, who knew that the Red Sea and the Panama Canal would be hit by problems at the same time?  But the Panama Canal has been a problem developing over years and it did not take a genius to predict how quickly the Red Sea situation could implode.

Read, research, and never stop thinking. As Gordon Moore so rightly said “Only the Paranoid Survive” – but he should have added “and Thrive”.

 Number 2: Review your strategy very regularly, if it looks wrong then pivot fast Do not wait because things might get better.

We tend to think about strategy as something fixed, something you present to the Board once a year and they sign it off.  Then you put it on a shelf until next year’s Strategy Day.  Strategy is not like that.  It is something that looks right for the evolution of your business at a particular point in time.  When the time changes so must the strategy.

 If you want a recent example of this a colleague of mine was involved with a very large company that bred chickens in huge numbers.  Their market was global, their business was successful and growing fast.  Their strategy was clear.  Unfortunately there was one slight flaw.  They were based in Ukraine. 

Not everyone has their strategy ripped apart in days, but the point is clear. 

 Keep your strategy living, review it very regularly.  When something changes in the world be prepared to pivot and pivot fast. Do not wait to see if things get back on track, whatever happens it will not be the same track. Don’t focus on what the threat is, focus first on what the opportunity is, then focus on how to get there.  What resources do you need, what learning do you need? Never be afraid to stop things that no longer add value.

Number 3:  Keep your team, and yourself, as fit and well as possible. This is a strategic choice, not a nice to have. Stressed people perform poorly.  The wonderful thing about human beings is you can push them to breaking point and often beyond (just look at the news if you doubt that).  It’s a risk but one that too many employers are only too happy to take.

But let’s suppose you run a manufacturing plant. Unless you are negligent or very short of money you will do regular maintenance on all your machinery.  There will be scheduled downtime, you will know what needs to be done at each maintenance point and it will happen. If the warning lights come on, then that’s a matter for action.  It will get done because you can’t take the risk of an outage (Boeing 737s come to mind).

But people are different, we don’t treat them like machines.  Leaders very rarely spend time thinking about what scheduled downtime they, and their people, need, and we tend to ignore all the warning lights.  Yet when humans fail the results can be at least as bad and often worse than machine failure. Output drops, mistakes are made, customers are let down.

Think about treating your employees like machines. How do you schedule their downtime, who is watching for the warning lights?  Do that and you will have workforce that is more engaged and more effective.

 Number 4:  Over-communicate both good news and bad. Honesty pays, people can deal with bad news, but they find no news very hard to deal with. They stop working and start on creating rumours instead.

If you want to have your customers and your people on your side, then you have to communicate with them.  You may think you are doing that, but you almost certainly are not. It’s theoretically very simple.  Communicate in as many ways as you possibly can. Tell people what is going on, be honest, and be consistent.  Every member of a leadership team must give the same message.  Oddly enough it really doesn’t matter too much whether it is bad news or good news.  Humans can deal with both, because then they can plan.  What they cannot deal with is no news or lies. 

Work on the assumption if you are a leader that the news you are trying to keep to yourself, or your senior team, is known throughout the organisation – because it will be. People are not stupid, and they talk.  Because they talk, they will always find something to talk about, and if they don’t have the truth then they will invent rumours.

There are plenty of studies into how many times you need to tell people something before they remember it.  They all come up with different numbers, some large, some small but even the small number is a lot more than 1.   How often have you heard or even said:

  •            “But we told them at the awayday.
  •             It’s on our website.
  •             We went through this at our last one to one.”

 To get anything through you have to over-over communicate.  My rule of thumb is that when I think I cannot possibly stand up and say the same thing over again then I am probably just about getting through.  It’s true about good news but even more true about bad news.  A lot of the academic research around communication looks at the effect of different types of communication by doctors on patient outcomes. The truth, well and effectively told, wins every time.  That’s true for business outcomes too.

Number 5: Be visible as a leader and create social opportunities often (not parties but pizza lunches for teams).

Humans are herd animals because that is how we learnt to survive. If you left the herd your life was short unless you managed to join another herd. We live in hierarchies, and hierarchies have leaders.  That is as true in the 21st century as it was when we were living in caves.  Leaders need to be visible.  If they are invisible then the herd loses trust.  As a leader you have to create a sense of purpose and direction because that gives people confidence in what they are doing.  Pinning a set of values on the wall has very little effect if the leader is not there to embody the values.

This is true in good times or bad.  If you want people to follow you then you have to be seen.  Not be seen locked in your office meeting with anonymous advisers but seen walking around, talking to people, being positive, being human. Virtual tools help, the weekly video (not too polished, not too scripted), the breakfasts, the pizza lunches. Answer questions with honesty and follow up on things you have promised to do.

 Remember that people follow people. Charismatic leaders are visible leaders.