Each year I write a manifesto (not predictions!) focused on key themes that I believe will be of particular relevance to companies, their leaders, and their boards over the year to come. For 2021, success will be defined by a company’s ability to connect (or reconnect) the dots, otherwise known as “systems thinking”.
Whether your company is large and legacy, or small and startup-y, taking an end-to-end approach to growth that includes people, process, product, culture, community, systems, and stakeholders will be the accelerator for sustainable growth.
Here are three ways to better connect in 2021:
Of the many lessons learned in 2020, one that has brought sustainability to the forefront for businesses and consumers alike is the undeniable link between human health and environmental health. The health and performance of a company is now more obviously tied to the health and wellbeing of its employees, customers, communities, and investors.
As noted in my recent article 5 steps boards can take to be ESG-ready in 2021, momentum in the investor community around ESG has been building steadily. From the global ESG standards published by the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council in September, to BlackRock’s annual call for a globally recognized ESG framework, ESG will continue to be top-of-mind.
As noted by Joel Makeower of GreenBiz in a recent post, “investors have awakened to the notion that how companies manage environmental and social issues is nearly as key to their risk profile and profitability as are financial fundamentals.”
Healthy companies build dynamic structures and systems that foster growth and transformation, including human and natural capital. These are not trade-offs, they are systems that can and must work together. Now is the time to reflect on your company strategy for growth and to use ESG as a framework to identify the “dots”, and then connect them.
In 2015 I wrote about the “Open Talent Economy” (think the Cloud for people) and invited leaders to think differently about creating collaborative, transparent, technology-enabled teams to scale and grow their businesses. Today, that economy is booming!
With a dramatic shift to a mostly-virtual workforce, companies who invest in and foster the Open Talent Economy will reap benefits (not the least of which is expanded diversity). In a geographically agnostic environment, it’s easier to build a diverse workforce, leadership team, and board. Companies that take advantage of this global talent pool—including fractional talent, like contractors, consultants, agencies, and crowd-sourced project work—can accelerate growth and performance.
This change will require a new approach to recruiting and leadership. The ever-insightful Joanna Bloor speaks and writes about the “need for talent to evolve from the linear language of the past, to the multidimensional language of the future”. She notes that today’s recruitment processes are built on a rigid and restricted view of people based upon their past rather than upon their potential. Companies who modernize their approach to “sourcing talent” will be the first to benefit from a richer, more diverse and more future-ready team of people.
Leadership also needs to adapt; improved technology solutions that keep teams connected do not always translate to better engagement. Make sure your leaders are equipped with high EQ (emotional intelligence), and keep company values and culture strong with a focus on authenticity, communication, and transparency.
Better yet, pay it forward. The debt I am speaking about is not financial, but technological and cultural—both which can be costly.
More mature technology companies are familiar with technology debt; the result of making changes, patches, and short-term fixes to software and platforms to a point when the system can no longer be scaled. This same concept exists for culture and diversity.
Quickly growing companies may not invest the time to set a company culture, and even when they do, it can be difficult to keep up with the way that culture evolves over time. What worked for the first 10-30 employees may no longer be relevant for a team of 500 employees, and the original team’s vision of culture can get diluted or misinterpreted as it passes between more and more people.
Diversity debt works the same way. While it may seem to make sense to start or scale a company with people from your existing network, it won’t take long before the team looks, dresses, speaks, acts, and thinks the same way. Lack of diversity may initially seem like a way to remove friction, but it ultimately blinds companies to solutions and innovative ideas necessary for sustainable and profitable growth.
To catch debt before it accrues, design a roadmap for culture and people (with a particular focus on diversity), and review these investments with the same attention and frequency as your technology roadmap.
The future of your business can, and will, look different in 2021. I encourage forward-thinking leaders to embrace the growth and transformation with well-connected systems, people, and purpose.
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