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Senior Correspondent

Are the realties of the accelerated pace of change in 2017 reflected in how executive leaders run their companies?

As part of my series on key leadership competencies for 2017, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Hand, the executive director of Business Network International (BNI). BNI is a leading professional business networking organization with nearly 6,000 chapters worldwide. Steve’s role is to oversee the organization’s chapters in central North Carolina. He is also the author of the book “Building the Ultimate Network,” which provides insights from experts around the world about how to develop productive relationships for business success.

What factors contribute to the rapid change of pace in business? We know that technology is one of the biggest contributors to the massive changes that occur in business. When asked about the challenges that executive leaders will face in the new year, Hand stated “In today’s economy, the overall thing that we are seeing is pace of change. You need to have robust, solid systems that can survive the pace of change and yet have the flexibility built-in so they can adapt as well.” As technology evolves, this trend will not only continue, but it will accelerate.

An example of the failure to understand this concept was the demise of Kodak. Kodak was originally a company built on innovation, but as it grew, senior leadership became complacent. It relied on its core business and ignored the digital revolution that was taking place. Regrettably, those workers who witnessed the technological shift and tried to get the attention of the executives in charge were ignored.

It is said that management involves dealing with complexity, and leadership involves helping others deal with change. “The person who is leading an organization didn’t get there by mistake. They got there from effort and rolling up their sleeves, but the bottom line is that we just know what we know. There are so many other things that people can bring to bear if you are willing to listen. And, if you listen, they will keep coming up with more and more creative solutions. If you squelch it, good ideas may go right past to the competition.” 

There are certainly other examples of companies who found themselves drowning in the new sea change: Blockbuster Video, Borders, and retail giants Sears and J.C. Penney. The lesson for executives is that in order to stay competitive you must identify the changes and new marketplace opportunities early enough, listen to your innovators and thought leaders, identify roadblocks, formulate creative strategic initiatives nimble enough to address the changing realties, and implement them with a sense of urgency.

Ongoing urgency in reaction to the accelerated pace of change emerges as a strong competitive advantage. Utilizing strategies for change that worked in the past may not be robust enough to support the accelerated realties of 2017. According to the Harvard Business Review, the greatest challenge business leaders face today is how to stay competitive amid constant turbulence and disruption.

In order to adapt to evolving business conditions, organizations must not only implement strategic plans but also continually design new initiatives. When asked about the relationship between executive leadership characteristics and organizational effectiveness, Hand talked about leadership articulating the vision and mission of the company in order to get buy-in from the employees. “Empowering your organization and striking the right balance to help get you there. Also be willing to adjust if you find yourself off course.” To succeed, organizations must focus on both triumphs and failures. 

For a company to stay relevant, executive leaders must continually be aware of emerging trends and anticipate necessary changes. To ensure “directional correctness” there must be enough touch points along the way with customers and employees. Designing a well-formulated strategy about the future is foundational. In 2017, an organization facing critical shifts due to the realities of the accelerated pace of change can’t afford to lose sight of the horizon.

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