managemnet company strategy managemanet How the Best Leadership Teams Navigate Uncertain Times

How the Best Leadership Teams Navigate Uncertain Times

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Although we don’t know what the rest of the year will bring, it’s reasonable to assume that the winds we’ve been experiencing will continue. It’s an environment that demands – and rewards – high-performing leadership teams. Based on his conversations with more than 100 clients across industries, PWC US Chair and Senior Partner Tim Ryan identified seven things that set these teams apart: 1) They create a “company-first” culture; 2) They think and act across the board; 3) They maintain a relentless focus on reinventing the business; 4) They free up the right people for the hard stuff; 5) They include different backgrounds and skills; 6) They encourage healthy debate, but avoid undermining fellow leaders; and 7) They try to be humble and objective.

Whether it’s inflation, interest rate hikes, supply-chain disruptions, geopolitical tensions – a lot is happening in the global economy. And on top of the forces, consumer expectations are increasing, competition is fierce and investors are raising the bar. There has never been a tougher time to be a CEO or member of senior management.

Given the complexities, it is not surprising that some companies perform very well, many do just fine and some struggle to keep up. Based on my recent discussions with more than 100 clients across industries, what I have found is that outperforming companies have leadership teams that have the following seven things in common:

They create a “company first” culture.

Senior leadership teams are often made up of individuals who are highly skilled in their domain – but what sets high-performing companies apart is that these leaders embrace a company-first culture. This means doing what is right for the business and your people, rather than being driven by individual agendas or goals. A CEO of a high-performing industrial company shared that being part of his leadership team is like being on a sports team: “The team comes first, not the star individual.”

They think and act across the board.

High-performing teams recognize that their role is more than the individual unit they manage, and they operate in silos. A CEO of a leading digital bank shared with me that his team’s business-focused thinking drove a reimagined customer experience that resulted in industry-leading efficiency ratios. They achieve this by sharing data across the enterprise and committing to a set of data management rules.

They maintain a relentless focus on reinventing the business.

Too often CEOs and senior leadership focus most of their time on running the business, while portfolio and business model innovation takes a back seat. Strong companies put bold change in their business at the top of the agenda.

Bold actions include running the business with unparalleled discipline, managing costs, simplifying wherever you can, and pulling every lever to win. Taking bold action also involves revamping portfolios while reinventing the back, middle and front offices—with a sense of urgency.

A CEO of a pharmaceutical company, looking to innovate and disrupt their industry, implements a bold new business model powered by a cutting-edge commerce platform and queuing market months. This results in a direct, better way to reach customers, increased margins, and greater trust and transparency throughout the value chain.

They put out the right people for the hard stuff.

Transforming your business is a full-time job and requires dedicated minds that aren’t also focused on managing other day jobs. High-performing leadership teams find time to focus on the hard stuff and delegate day-to-day operations to others.

A CEO of a major energy company puts one of his top business leaders in charge of their business model transformation across the enterprise to enable its success and send a clear message to all stakeholders on the importance of change. While it is difficult to take a leader away from the work they are doing to make a change effort, dedicated focus makes all the difference. The energy company’s transformation leader has since positioned the company for significant value increases and cost optimization through standardization and simplification, all while driving leadership commitment, organizational readiness and sustaining results in business.

They include a variety of backgrounds and skills.

Quality teams are inclusive in every way. This means including gender and ethnicities, but also different perspectives, backgrounds, and skill sets. It is important to have a breadth of leaders in your C-suite who bring different skills and perspectives so that an organization can innovate more robustly and accelerate changes. This is why top leadership teams have a chief technology officer, chief people officer and chief communications officer at the table.

At one point, a CEO of a major technology company shared with me that many companies lack diverse skills in the C-suite, especially when it comes to technology. As a result, senior management may not recognize what is the “art of the possible” when changing their business and how different tools, such as new technologies, can help. In these cases, leadership teams focus on creating a “faster horse and cart”‘ rather than changing what’s next.

They encourage healthy debate but refrain from undermining fellow leaders.

Good teams have healthy debates, talk clearly about the pros and cons and explore alternatives together. Before change efforts begin, they spend a lot of time agreeing on the desired outcomes and business requirements of the effort.

Getting leadership teams to engage in open, honest discussions is critical. A CEO of a major industrial company shared with me that he never imagined the amount of time he would spend helping his team “come together.” What I took from his comment is that leadership is about teaching the team to share their different points of view, challenge each other in healthy debate, and come together when a decision is made in rowing in the same direction.

They try to be humble and objective.

Humility is critical at the CEO and senior level of any company because it filters down to every level of the organization. It helps fight complacency. Most companies have a lot to be proud of, but if the focus is always on past success instead of opportunity for the future, other companies will quickly pass you by.

Similarly, some leaders struggle to objectively evaluate their current performance and where their company and results truly stand. Leading companies are constantly challenging themselves and using objectivity to both drive performance, keep competition in the rearview mirror and shareholder activists.

I recently spoke with a CEO from a consumer technology company about the importance of having the right people on your company’s board and the critical role the board plays in bringing a panan- well outside. Board members are in an advantageous position to help the C-suite look around corners, prepare for potential challenges, and uncover blind spots.

Although we don’t know what the rest of the year will bring, it’s reasonable to assume that the winds we’ve been experiencing will continue. It’s an environment that demands – and rewards – high-performing leadership teams. They will drive outsized growth, increase shareholder value, and probably have a little more fun along the way — collaborating and sharing the successes of a team that creates more value for their customers, employees, and communities.

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