There comes a point in the life of every organization when it becomes necessary to modernize and steer a new course to survive in the face of significant internal and external change.
Arguably, that time has now come for the British monarchy as King Charles officially takes the reins from his mother Queen Elizabeth on Saturday 6 May at his Coronation in Westminster Abbey in London. Should he opt to revamp ‘The Firm’, the challenges he faces will not be dissimilar to the leaders of other organizations going down a similar route.
Here are some of key issues he is likely to come up against and how he might best address them.
Challenge 1 – Working out what you stand for as leader
Taking over from any incumbent but particularly one who has been in post for a long time - whether we are talking about Queen Elizabeth and the monarchy or Steve Jobs and Apple - poses potential problems for the incoming leader.
On the one hand, it can be difficult to move out of the shadow of a high-profile predecessor, who may have become synonymous with the organization. On the other, it can be tricky for incomers to stamp their own mark on the business in the face of resistance from employees and managers, especially if they have been there a long time and take an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude – even if it is ‘broke’.
How to address the challenge
Decide the type of leader you would like to be. As Michael Queenan, Co-founder and Chief Executive of data services integrator Nephos Technologies, says:
You can never be someone else. You can only be the best version of yourself, and it won’t work if you try to mimic or copy or be a duplicate of someone else. It’s very easy to slip into someone else’s shoes and do things the same way but it’ll only lead to failure. You can’t get into modernizing any business unless people understand who the person at the top is, where they stand and what for, as well as the culture they wish to represent. That way you can ensure everyone’s going in the same direction.
Pitfalls and how to avoid them
A key pitfall here is being swayed by the crowd and taking a populist approach rather than the stance you believe to be right. Alex Arundale, Chief People Officer at business software vendor Advanced, explains:
People often think they can please everyone but it’s not possible. So you have to hold to your core values to move forward, knowing there will be dissenters but being able to authentically answer why you’re doing something and continuing to steer a course. If you stick to your values and purpose, you won’t go far wrong.
People want to be a beloved CEO, but generally if you run a successful company and stay true to what you believe in, you will be loved. For example, most people who work for [CEO of Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX] Elon Musk speak highly of him, even though he works them insanely hard. He does what he says and backs you if he believes in what you’re saying, so in that way, he’s a good boss. He cares for the people who are loyal to him and everyone else can jump.
Challenge 2 – Ensuring you have the right team around you
A second challenge is to create an effective advisory team that supports your goals and values as failing to do so can make or break your modernization programme, and potentially the business. While King Charles will inevitably be surrounded by his traditional, long-term advisors, an important consideration here is to include fresh diverse voices to help challenge the status quo and bring in new ideas. Another is to identify which team members will be critical in helping him achieve his aims.
How to address it
Establishing the right team involves undertaking a review of existing roles. Arundale explains:
Once you’ve established your goals and purpose, you may find you don’t need the same roles to get to ‘B’ that were required to get to ‘A’. So work out whether the people you currently have represent that and can take things forward, and what experience is needed if not. It’s also important to pick people who represent your values and who you trust to be on message. But you need to be willing to take the hard decisions if people aren’t right for the role or not willing to go down a new path too.
As for how to get critical team members on side and collaborating with you, Queenan says:
You have to use people and processes in the best way to run the best business, and to modernise the monarchy, William and Kate are the most critical members of staff. King Charles is the leader and has to pilot the course, but William and Kate need to be involved more too. They’re the face of the modern monarchy with a foot in both past and future camps. So one of the first things I’d do is sit down with them and ask ‘what’s important to you and how do you think we should do this?’ So you find the things you have in common, what you agree on and are passionate about, and take steps forward from there.
Pitfalls and how to avoid them
There are two big pitfalls when trying to obtain diverse perspectives, which are two sides of the same coin. The first is surrounding yourself with ‘yes’ people who simply agree with everything you say. The second is garnering too much input from too many people. John Turley, Head of Organizational Transformation at consultancy The Adaptavist Group, explains:
If you’re too connected and have too many networks, it can become a bottleneck to decision-making. You become more at risk of burnout but also nothing functions as everyone relies on their relationship with you to get things done. So if you’re too big a node on the network, you lock information up and slow the information flow down. This means if you don’t need to be involved in a conversation, don’t be. If someone phones you for a decision, say ‘you do it. You have the information you need so just tell me the outcome.’ You need to be self-aware and deal with any insecurities that may be triggered, but taking yourself out of the situation can be done.
Challenge 3 – Changing the organizational culture
When starting a modernization initiative, all too many organizations either hire in consultancies to tell them what a transformation program should look like or buy in technology to digitize often outdated processes. But they often forget about the all-important cultural change, which includes working practices, that is imperative if success is to be sustainable.
How to address it
Changing organizational culture takes time and requires planning, the introduction of milestones and finding ways to measure success. But establishing a clear purpose and mission is a good starting point. As Arundale says:
It gives direction, guard rails and structure, and your messaging flows from that. Internal comms is one of the most strategic areas of the business here as the focus is on providing clear messaging about what you’re doing and why. It’s also about ensuring the messaging is appropriate for the audience, who it goes to and through which communication channels. This is important because if you don’t explain to people what to do with the information they receive, it’ll be ignored or misunderstood and won’t contribute to evolving the culture of the business. So it’s about small steps building to big yards.
Pitfalls and how to avoid them
A major pitfall when trying to shift organizational culture is failing to create an environment that encourages feelings of psychological safety. But without it, people, particularly in traditionally hierarchical institutions, such as the Monarchy, are unlikely to provide honest input or even make their voices heard at all. This, in turn, stifles experimentation and innovation, which helps people learn from their mistakes. Turley explains:
Organizations need to embrace complexity and if they don’t, they’re modernising on shaky foundations as the world today is so complex and unpredictable. So the idea of experimenting to learn and not being too wedded to certain outcomes in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity is an important one.
What is clear is just how vital people and culture change are when attempting to modernize an organisation. While tech has an important role to play in automating and digitising processes to boost efficiency, creating sustainable change involves shifting ways of working, behaving and being.