Several years ago, as the new CEO of my company, I knew we were a hidden jewel. For 20 years, we had gradually established our credibility by providing training to improve conversations for nearly 300 of the Fortune 500 companies. In order to position my company for the future, I took a three-pronged approach to map out a new direction, and I believe these steps can be relevant for any new CEO trying to make an impression.
1. Rally the leadership to generate ideas for the future. I knew I had to dig deep to convince my team that we needed to build on our success. I spent time with our sales team, trainers and founder. We challenged each other to go beyond accepting the status quo. We questioned each other about what was working and what wasn’t. We asked what we needed to do to change and how much we were willing to transform our methods and our culture to make that change.
What our team learned is that companies are looking for training that goes beyond theory, textbook strategies and passive learning. In the fast-paced world in which we live, corporate leaders are looking for practical and applicable solutions to help team members solve problems in real time. During this time of the Great Resignation, CEOs have an opportunity to drive culture change in their organizations; if they take the time to provide their team members with opportunities to improve their skill sets, this will enable them to advance in their careers, and better yet, transform them from good managers into great ones. That leads me to the next point.
2. Lean into disruptive change as the norm and not the exception. I’m fascinated with the late Harvard University educator and author Clayton Christiansen, whose seminal research on disruptive innovation has become a working model for me. As I’ve spent time reading his works, I’m increasingly motivated to embrace my role as a disruptive leader. That means I have accepted the notion that our business success is impressive, but the future lies in our ability to acknowledge that the competition in this industry is a huge risk. That’s why I knew the “jobs to be done” framework that Christiansen discusses as a way to understand customer behavior ultimately means that as leaders of our companies, we cannot be complacent. We must lean into disruptive leadership as our survival technique and also as the necessary anxiety to drive change at our organizations.
3. Invest in new technologies to be on the leading edge of training and development. To position a company for the future, leaders must go beyond new marketing messages and create and develop new technologies to revolutionize their methods. After my company did research, we decided to offer customized 3D/VR training, which is now referred to as the metaverse.
Even before a pandemic shut down our in-person training, we saw opportunities to augment the learner experience with different modalities since everyone learns differently. Just like some people will read a hard copy of a book, others may prefer to read it digitally on an e-reader, and yet others may prefer listening to the book or waiting for the movie. We began to reimagine the company, realizing that most companies and certainly team members at all levels, typically struggled because they were failing to communicate effectively. Just like computer networks need an application programming interface (API) for programs to talk to each other, there is sometimes a need for people to need help talking with each other.
These new services quickly became relevant tools for companies trying to address and train team members and respond to customers. We partnered with industry experts to offer special training to help managers learn how to deal with things like unconscious bias, microaggressions and gender inequities.
These customized workshops are creative ways that CEOs should consider offering training to their team members that go beyond sitting in a windowless conference room for hours on end. Overall, you should continually explore new strategies for training. For example, at my company, we are adding a chief behavioral science officer in order to help push us into exciting, new directions. Changing the traditional to a fresh, new approach is an intentional strategy that allows leaders to test, experiment and innovate. To summarize Christiansen, innovation is not a one-time shot. It’s ongoing, persistent and is required for companies to retain team members and develop future leaders within their organizations.
Any disruptive leadership approach requires all corporate heads to understand that change creates discomfort across the company. There’s fear that these new tools might replace workers, reduce revenue potential, change power dynamics and threaten the future of the company. The magic is in the dance between testing and learning and not allowing either to interrupt or distract from your core business. And you need to know how to integrate these strategies and technologies once proven effective.
Sometimes the conversation within the office focuses on how not everyone is involved or informed on new matters. As leaders, we cannot hide from these internal concerns. We must listen to our team members, address their concerns and inspire them to welcome the changes as critical elements that strengthen the company for the future.