What makes a successful 21st century leadership team?

Today, leaders are being tested by a new set of challenges, as companies seek to grow on the back of fast-evolving purchasing patterns, new working practices and the drive to become more sustainable. In 2020 we published our first global C-suite barometer, interviewing over 500 leaders from around the world and spanning a wide range of sectors and roles, to gather their insights on the global market.

While the research was planned long before the outbreak of Covid-19, its timing opened up the opportunity to understand the challenges facing leaders in an unprecedented era. During the pandemic, leadership teams have been tested like never before, as they face new challenges relating to colleagues, customers and the entire supply chain. Not to mention sales, IT infrastructure, profitability and company culture, with many staff members migrating to working from home.

Whatever sector you are in, transformation is now part of the everyday. Over 50% of those we interviewed expected their business to go through technological transformation, 47% a performance-improvement-related transformation and 46% a transformation in new services, markets and business models. As a result, there has never been a more pertinent time to assess the skills of each member within your leadership team – and consider how talents complement one another. It is important that each individual has the right skills to help your business accomplish its goals. If this is not the case, businesses should consider investing in new, specialist skills at this critical time.

If you are planning to sell your business, you also need to view team members as value creators for future partners. Private equity companies will often buy in to individuals’ ability to deliver the value and returns they project over time. They attach a premium for the right calibre, specialisms, and motivation levels within a leadership team. As a result, having stability and the right people in key positions in the business ahead of a sale is essential

Here are some important questions to ask yourself about your leadership team:

1. Do existing members of your team have the right skill levels to lead their functions (and a potentially scaled-up team) going forward? Or would an external hire achieve this better? Making judgements about people is never easy, but being honest about whether individuals are suited to meet critical objectives can reduce business risk and demonstrate authentic leadership.

2. Are members of your leadership team currently delivering more than one role? If so, is that really beneficial to business growth? Being a department head and delivering as a sales director, for example, may dilute focus and can lead to diminished results.

3. Are members of your team strong communicators? It is essential that you have confidence in your team’s ability to communicate the changes in culture required for future strategic initiatives – which is not a natural skill set for everyone. Today’s leadership teams need to be adept at communicating business-wide change in areas as diverse as sustainability, diversity and technology.

Furthermore, your team needs to be flexible and adaptable in their communication style. Internally, to communicate with the common cause in mind, delivering consistent messaging centred around the business objectives.  Externally, to ensure that communication is clearly aligned with the pre-defined customer journey and experience.

4. Does your team bring sufficient specialist depth for the road ahead? As you scale up, the levels of knowledge that were suitable for historic growth phases may no longer be adequate – or relevant. Equally, you may now need to invest in acquiring new skills and knowledge in areas such as sustainability, change management, managing the performance of merged teams or the management of external stakeholders and shareholders.

Making an objective judgement of which members of your leadership team are aligned with the new needs and future direction of your business is no easy task. And while there is no shortage of HR consultants, more meaningful value will be achieved by employing advisers who have a depth of experience in both business strategy and HR, to facilitate the alignment of both disciplines. They will bring objectivity and pinpoint gaps in skills and training across your team. As well as the ability to define any need for replacement or additional skill sets and specialisms in line with your aspirations.

While shaping your team’s ambitions is performance-critical, maintaining their motivation over time to achieve and exceed their goals is just as important. Again, the expertise to deliver this rarely resides in-house. External consultants can combine best practice with market and sector norms to construct tailored leadership incentive programmes that reward more than the delivery of individual roles. Building a truly 21st century team solution for your business.

Wee Han Tah

Constantly evolving organisations in an ever-changing workplace environment are placing new demands on their leadership teams. Along with the fears and uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, modern leaders have to adapt quickly to weather the storm and rediscover the sweet spot to lead their organisations in an unpredictable era. It has never been more imperative to reassess the requisite skills and capabilities that will be fundamental to leading effectively.

Wee Han Tah Partner, Consulting

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Author: Wee-Han Tah 

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