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5 Practices For Leaders Of The Future

Mukesh Gupta

This post is for you if you plan to become—or already are—a leader who intends to lead their team in a world where change is the only constant, and engagement (employee/customer) is extremely difficult to build.

One of the biggest challenges all organizations will face in the future is the ability to cope with constant change and deal with the chaos that follows.

Most organizations that fail (Nokia, BlackBerry, Kodak, etc.) do so because their leaders are unable to see what the future holds and to change course.

If you are a leader who wants to lead his/her organization into the future and succeed, there are a few practices which, if built into your daily schedule, will go a long way to avoid the mistakes that lead to failure.

So what are these leadership practices? Read on:

1. Help create a shared vision

One of the most important roles a leader plays is to envision and help create a shared vision of the future. To do this, leaders need to stay in touch with the current reality and understand the trends in the marketplace.

This means they must remain constantly in touch with their customers and partners, as well as with employees who are customer- and partner-facing, and use them to identify what is happening in the marketplace.

They need to ensure that there is little or no filtering of information due to the various layers that might exist between themselves and the front-line staff.

They need to also look at what is happening in adjacent industries.

Based on what they see as the trends, they need to help their team create a shared vision of their future. Gone are the days when leaders could stand on a pedestal and announce their vision, and everyone would march toward that vision. Leaders must create a shared vision. This sense of a shared vision is what gives leaders the ability to lead their people toward the vision and help them in the next practice.

2. Instigate coordinated action

Once there is a shared vision, the leader’s job is to instigate coordinated action. The following three words are key:

  • Instigate: The primary job of a leader is to instigate change. How do great leaders instigate change? They make the status quo an uncomfortable place to be. They talk about improvement, not change. They paint a picture of what is possible and what is lacking. They inspire people to move from their current uncomfortable situation to the desired state of the future.
  • Action: Leading is all about action. There is no progress without action. The very act of leading is to drive an action. Great leaders not only instigate and move their people to take action, but they also show what the action looks like. They consistently communicate with their team which actions will move them toward the goal and which actions take them away from the goal.
  • Coordinated: The power of leaders is amplified if they are able to instigate actions that are coordinated and that move the entire team toward the vision they helped craft. The coordinated action moves the team in one direction and creates forward momentum. Once you have built momentum toward a vision, it creates its own energy and creates a positive path that helps the team realize that vision more quickly. The momentum also gives the team a feeling of progress on a daily basis.

3. Make decisions and teach others how to make decisions

What differentiates great leaders is their ability to make decisions based on the information available and the priorities of the team. In a world where everything changes so fast, the ability to make decisions is critical for survival. The speed at which a team is required to make decisions is also important. This also means that team members must often make decisions on their own, so it is critical for the leader to systematically train the team to make decisions. This will help the team move toward realizing the shared vision and ensures that everyone on the team remains coordinated.

One of the best examples of this is Herb Kelleher, founder and chairman emeritus of Southwest Airlines. He taught every employee of the organization to make decisions based on one shared vision: to be the lowest-cost airline. Whenever he was approached with an idea, a suggestion, or a request, he asked one guiding question: Will this make us the lowest-cost airline? The answer usually showed itself.

Once your team members understand the rules on which decisions are based, they can make more decisions themselves, thereby increasing the agility of your organization.

4. Coach and develop other leaders

This expectation hasn’t changed and will remain: Great leaders are the ones who are able to train/coach/mentor their team and help them become great leaders.

Every great leader has had a role model who has significantly impacted their life, and great leaders know how to impact the lives of their team members by serving as a role model.

5. Set the foundation of the culture in the team

This is probably both the easiest and the most challenging task — easiest as it is something every leader already does, with or without intention.

It is challenging because it requires the leader to be intentional about everything: how they behave, what they recognize, what they criticize, how they treat others, how they treat themselves, how they treat success and failure, and everything else. This sets the tone for the culture of the team and the larger organization, and therefore has a profound impact on the entire team and its outcome.

In a fast-paced environment, culture plays a significant role in an organization’s success or failure.

Want more insight on effective leadership practices? See How To Make Servant Leadership Work In Your Organization.

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Mukesh Gupta

About Mukesh Gupta

Mukesh Gupta previously held the role of Executive Liaison for the SAP User group in India. He worked as the bridge between the User group and SAP (Development, Consulting, Sales and product management).

How To Design Your Company’s Digital Transformation

Sam Yen

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features a cover story on design thinking’s coming of age. We have been applying design thinking within SAP for the past 10 years, and I’ve witnessed the growth of this human-centered approach to innovation first hand.

Design thinking is, as the HBR piece points out, “the best tool we have for … developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

This means businesses are doing more to learn about their customers by interacting directly with them. We’re seeing this change in our work on d.forum — a community of design thinking champions and “disruptors” from across industries.

Meanwhile, technology is making it possible to know exponentially more about a customer. Businesses can now make increasingly accurate predictions about customers’ needs well into the future. The businesses best able to access and pull insights from this growing volume of data will win. That requires a fundamental change for our own industry; it necessitates a digital transformation.

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

It starts with the customer and an application of design thinking throughout an organization – blending business, technology and human values to generate innovation. Business is already incorporating design thinking, as the HBR cover story shows. We in technology need to do the same.

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Design thinking plays an important role because it helps articulate what the end customer’s experience is going to be like. It helps focus all aspects of the business on understanding and articulating that future experience.

Once an organization is able to do that, the insights from that consumer experience need to be drawn down into the business, with the central question becoming: What does this future customer experience mean for us as an organization? What barriers do we need to remove? Do we need to organize ourselves differently? Does our process need to change – if it does, how? What kind of new technology do we need?

Then an organization must look carefully at roles within itself. What does this knowledge of the end customer’s future experience mean for an individual in human resources, for example, or finance? Those roles can then be viewed as end experiences unto themselves, with organizations applying design thinking to learn about the needs inherent to those roles. They can then change roles to better meet the end customer’s future needs. This end customer-centered approach is what drives change.

This also means design thinking is more important than ever for IT organizations.

We, in the IT industry, have been charged with being responsive to business, using technology to solve the problems business presents. Unfortunately, business sometimes views IT as the organization keeping the lights on. If we make the analogy of a store: business is responsible for the front office, focused on growing the business where consumers directly interact with products and marketing; while the perception is that IT focuses on the back office, keeping servers running and the distribution system humming. The key is to have business and IT align to meet the needs of the front office together.

Remember what I said about the growing availability of consumer data? The business best able to access and learn from that data will win. Those of us in IT organizations have the technology to make that win possible, but the way we are seen and our very nature needs to change if we want to remain relevant to business and participate in crafting the winning strategy.

We need to become more front office and less back office, proving to business that we are innovation partners in technology.

This means, in order to communicate with businesses today, we need to take a design thinking approach. We in IT need to show we have an understanding of the end consumer’s needs and experience, and we must align that knowledge and understanding with technological solutions. When this works — when the front office and back office come together in this way — it can lead to solutions that a company could otherwise never have realized.

There’s different qualities, of course, between front office and back office requirements. The back office is the foundation of a company and requires robustness, stability, and reliability. The front office, on the other hand, moves much more quickly. It is always changing with new product offerings and marketing campaigns. Technology must also show agility, flexibility, and speed. The business needs both functions to survive. This is a challenge for IT organizations, but it is not an impossible shift for us to make.

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

1. We need to better understand the real needs of the business.

This means learning more about the experience and needs of the end customer and then translating that information into technological solutions.

2. We need to be involved in more of the strategic discussions of the business.

Use the regular invitations to meetings with business as an opportunity to surface the deeper learning about the end consumer and the technology solutions that business may otherwise not know to ask for or how to implement.

The IT industry overall may not have a track record of operating in this way, but if we are not involved in the strategic direction of companies and shedding light on the future path, we risk not being considered innovation partners for the business.

We must collaborate with business, understand the strategic direction and highlight the technical challenges and opportunities. When we do, IT will become a hybrid organization – able to maintain the back office while capitalizing on the front office’s growing technical needs. We will highlight solutions that business could otherwise have missed, ushering in a digital transformation.

Digital transformation goes beyond just technology; it requires a mindset. See What It Really Means To Be A Digital Organization.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

How Productive Could You Be With 45 Minutes More Per Day?

Michael Rander

Chances are that you are already feeling your fair share of organizational complexity when navigating your current company, but have you ever considered just how much time is spent across all companies on managing complexity? According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the global impact of complexity is mind-blowing – and not in a good way.

The study revealed that 38% of respondents spent 16%-25% of their time just dealing with organizational complexity, and 17% spent a staggering 26%-50% of their time doing so. To put that into more concrete numbers, in the US alone, if executives could cut their time spent managing complexity in half, an estimated 8.6 million hours could be saved a week. That corresponds to 45 minutes per executive per day.

The potential productivity impact of every executive having 45 minutes more to work every single day is clearly significant, and considering that 55% say that their organization is either very or extremely complex, why are we then not making the reduction of complexity one or our top of mind issues?

The problem is that identifying the sources of complexity is complex in of itself. Key sources of complexity include organizational size, executive priorities, pace of innovation, decision-making processes, vastly increasing amounts of data to manage, organizational structures, and the pure culture of the company. As a consequence, answers are not universal by any means.

That being said, the negative productivity impact of complexity, regardless of the specific source, is felt similarly across a very large segment of the respondents, with 55% stating that complexity has taken a direct toll on profitability over the past three years.  This is such a serious problem that 8% of respondents actually slowed down their company growth in order to deal with complexity.

So, if complexity oftentimes impacts productivity and subsequently profitability, what are some of the more successful initiatives that companies are taking to combat these effects? Among the answers from the EIU survey, the following were highlighted among the most likely initiatives to reduce complexity and ultimately increase productivity:

  • Making it a company-wide goal to reduce complexity means that the executive level has to live and breathe simplification in order for the rest of the organization to get behind it. Changing behaviors across the organization requires strong leadership, commitment, and change management, and these initiatives ultimately lead to improved decision-making processes, which was reported by respondents as the top benefit of reducing complexity. From a leadership perspective this also requires setting appropriate metrics for measuring outcomes, and for metrics, productivity and efficiency were by far the most popular choices amongst respondents though strangely collaboration related metrics where not ranking high in spite of collaboration being a high level priority.
  • Promoting a culture of collaboration means enabling employees and management alike to collaborate not only within their teams but also across the organization, with partners, and with customers. Creating cross-functional roles to facilitate collaboration was cited by 56% as the most helpful strategy in achieving this goal.
  • More than half (54%) of respondents found the implementation of new technology and tools to be a successful step towards reducing complexity and improving productivity. Enabling collaboration, reducing information overload, building scenarios and prognoses, and enabling real-time decision-making are all key issues that technology can help to reduce complexity at all levels of the organization.

While these initiatives won’t help everyone, it is interesting to see that more than half of companies believe that if they could cut complexity in half they could be at least 11%-25% more productive. That nearly one in five respondents indicated that they could be 26%-50% more productive is a massive improvement.

The question then becomes whether we can make complexity and its impact on productivity not only more visible as a key issue for companies to address, but (even more importantly) also something that every company and every employee should be actively working to reduce. The potential productivity gains listed by respondents certainly provide food for thought, and few other corporate activities are likely to gain that level of ROI.

Just imagine having 45 minutes each and every day for actively pursuing new projects, getting innovative, collaborating, mentoring, learning, reducing stress, etc. What would you do? The vision is certainly compelling, and the question is are we as companies, leaders, and employees going to do something about it?

To read more about the EIU study, please see:

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @michaelrander

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Michael Rander

About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur. Share your thoughts with Michael on Twitter @michaelrander.

Robots: Job Destroyers or Human Partners? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Christopher Koch

Robots: Job Destroyers or Human Partners? [INFOGRAPHIC]

To learn more about how humans and robots will co-evolve, read the in-depth report Bring Your Robot to Work.

Download the PDF (91KB)

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Christopher Koch

About Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch is the Editorial Director of the SAP Center for Business Insight. He is an experienced publishing professional, researcher, editor, and writer in business, technology, and B2B marketing. Share your thoughts with Chris on Twitter @Ckochster.

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Building A Business Case For Financial Transformation

Nilly Essaides

There’s constant pressure on the CFO from the CEO to do better—to innovate, and to transform the finance organization into both a leaner and a more forward-looking analytics hub that provides insight and foresight to the enterprise. CFOs today must:

  • Interpret numbers instead of reporting them
  • Deploy enabling technology to automate low-value work
  • Scout for business and growth opportunities
  • Work effectively with Big Data to turn their teams into the brains of the organization
  • Act as true partners to the CEO, business leaders, and board of directors

Defining the ROI for transformation

Transformation sounds great in theory, but to get finance to literally go beyond its form—not an easy feat—executives need to see a strong business case and a tangible payback. After all, finance is all about the ROI.

Here are some solutions CFOs can wrap their heads around to help drive change:

  • Manage competitive disruption. Today’s business environment is rife with competitive threats. My last post listed five ways financial planning and analysis (FP&A) in its future form can help companies battle these threats. The cost of not transforming the finance function into the fast-thinking, forward-looking brains of the enterprise is the opportunity cost of falling behind. It’s the risk of becoming irrelevant through the inability to foresee competitive threats, or of lacking an action plan for dealing with the potential impact of such pressures on the financial health of the corporation.
  • Streamline processes. Obviously, there’s the dollars-and-cents savings that come from streamlining processes, using new technologies, and breaking down internal silos. For example, in many organizations, forecasting processes occur in different departments. Merging these disparate processes into one and using a single technology platform can save enormous resources in terms of systems and time. It eliminates duplicate entries of data and the need to reconcile discordant information, or the need to later argue about which number is right. It creates a single version of the truth.

Even within finance, things can be improved. Often the processes of budgeting, forecasting, and planning happen in isolation in different time frames. And operational and financial planning occur in different cycles and levels. By syncing up these processes, companies can get rid of redundancies. What’s more important, they can discover efficiencies and improve the quality of the end product.

  • Eliminate waste and free up strategic time. New technologies are enabling the finance function to automate low-value work and free up executives’ time to focus on strategic thinking, developing partnerships with the business, and advising management on how to drive growth. The payback is smarter decisions (faster growth, higher investment returns) while lowering operating expenses.
  • Look forward. Finance and FP&A today are shifting their focus from yesterday to tomorrow, from what happened to what’s going to happen. Transforming their mindset is key to helping the business move forward. Using techniques and technologies like driver-based modeling and predictive analytics, finance is remaking itself and producing faster, more frequent and—most importantly—more accurate forecasts. It’s giving management the one thing that matters most: time to pull business levers to affect future financial results. The payback is higher sales, wider margins, and lower cost of operations.
  • Change the mindset. There’s no transformation of the financial organization without a transformation of the financial skill set of executives. The first-quarter Deloitte CFO Signal Survey indicated that CFOs expect to embark on a wide range of efforts to improve the performance of their teams before the end of 2016. While foundational finance skills remain a must, to transform finance into the “A-team” of the future, executives must possess business acumen, diplomacy skills, intellectual curiosity, technology savvy, and a degree of comfort with ambivalence. They have to be okay with making decisions without 100% of the information. One can argue that the return on soft skills is soft. But it also means being able to move fast and grab windows of opportunity. Not all business cases are based on cost savings.
  • Build an analytics hub. The biggest challenge for CFOs today is to transform finance into the analytical hub of the organization and leverage Big Data to drive smarter business decisions—both in terms of cost cutting and in giving the business units advice on how to market, sell, develop, and grow their operations. That’s how finance fits within the digital enterprise. Finance needs to funnel Big Data from all corners of the organization—and outside it—to leverage its unique central viewpoint. It must bring the information together and run it through advanced analytics models to come up with causal relationships that explain what business initiatives are really moving the needle, what steps the company can take to improve results, and what its customers are doing and are likely to do. Digitizing finance has a huge payback: It allows companies to stay competitive in a digital economy.

Is finance transformation worth the effort? That may be the wrong question. The question is, can companies afford not to transform their finance function and remain relevant now and going forward?

Learn how the FP&A team at CF Industries Holdings Inc. prioritized business partnering options and transformed the organization to optimally support strategic goals by establishing an integrated business planning process at the AFP Annual Conference session, Driving Finance Transformation Through Integrated Business Planning.

For more of my insights on FP&A, subscribe to the monthly FP&A e-newsletter from my company, the Association for Financial Professionals. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter.

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Nilly Essaides

About Nilly Essaides

Nilly Essaides is the director of the FP&A Practice at the Association for Financial Professionals. She has over 25 years of experience in the finance field. Nilly has written multiple in-depth research reports on FP&A and Treasury topics, as well as countless articles. She also speaks at conferences and moderates financial executives' roundtables across the country. Nilly has published a book on best-practice transfer and process excellence with the APQC, "If We Only Knew What We Know."