Leadership, Organisational Change

What Bridges to the Future are you Building?

By Mark Withers


30 June 2020

A number of words or phrases are being used to capture our current season. Transition, emergence, fog are some words we have heard used. New normal, next normal, better normal are other phrases. You may have heard others. 

A number of words or phrases are being used to capture our current season. Transitionemergencefog are some words we have heard used. New normalnext normalbetter normal are other phrases. You may have heard others. 

A common thread running through each is a recognition of reaching a watershed – the C-19 lockdown marked the ending of something – and a sense of movement – we are heading somewhere different. We aren’t yet clear where we’ll land, or how far we need to travel. But we do know that the work we do now will determine how robust our bridge will be to the future. 

In recent articles, we have encouraged you to take stock of what’s happened since lockdown. To draw out learning. To identify what is likely to endure and what was a temporary mechanism. 

Over the next few weeks, we will explore some bridges to the future, looking at the implications of this current season for leadership, teams and people. 

In this article, we want to highlight five areas we have been working on recently with clients on work that build bridges to the future. They will also give you a flavour of the breadth and depth of our work.

  1. Shaping the Future Organisation 

Most of our clients are thinking about their future organisation. The choices made now will have significant consequences down the line. We have worked with a number of clients on the future organisation. 

One client needed to re-set its software business. Our work helped to design an organisation that could scale at speed and identify the underlying behaviours that would enable the team to work more collaboratively and effectively. 

One client needed to move its business from a ‘build’ to ‘deploy’ model. We facilitated thinking on the future organisational model and the capabilities that will need to be deployed. 

Another client has invested in enhancing the work of its consulting business with digital applications. Our work has been to support rapid organisational development in four ways: to facilitate thinking on shaping a scalable organisation; develop the capability of the executive team to lead a fast-growing business; refresh the organisation’s values and re-set the people and talent management strategy.

2. Leading Complex Change  

Our work with this client was global; involved the integration of 13 businesses into a single business; there were legacy issues internally – culturally, work processes and leadership – and change needed to happen quickly. It was complex! 

Our initial work with the new MD, CFO and HRD expanded to include the executive team to shape the high level organisation and non-negotiable ways of working. A wide engagement then took place with around 250 leaders globally to decide how the organisation would work and, most importantly, to invest in working through legacy cultural issues. We shaped and facilitated this process, integrating organisational design, culture and leadership interventions to accelerate ownership and implementation. 

3. Developing the Executive Team

We have worked with the executive team of a large UK transportation business for a while now. The focus has been to facilitate the development of the executive team through a period of substantial organisational growth and development. Our work has supported the development of a single UK strategy; new operating model and single leadership framework. Most importantly, our work has helped this executive team to work in a collaborative and cohesive way to shape and deliver the strategic development of the business. 

Another leadership team we have worked with for a while serves the education sector. When we initially engaged with the team the business was coming out of a turnaround and the leadership were struggling to lead effectively. Our work facilitated the development and execution of a business strategy; shaped purposeful engagement with people throughout the organisation and with external stakeholders and built the leadership capability of the team individually and collectively. It’s now a thriving business. 

4. Aligning the Board and the Executive Team

It is critical that Boards and Executive teams work well together shape the future and ensure good organisational governance. 

One of our clients is an NHS Trust that is in special measures for finance and performance – which poses quite a challenge for the leadership! When we started working with the Board (comprised of NEDs and the Executive Team) there wasn’t alignment. Part of our work has been to explore Board effectiveness, particularly developing effective ways of working and shaping a strategic narrative that articulates consistently the future direction. We are delighted that the Trust has come through the C-19 disruption in fantastic shape! 

Another Board (again comprised of NEDs and the Executive Team) we have worked with provides the infrastructure to develop our Olympians and Paralympians to perform at peak potential at the Olympic Games. Our work was to help them review ways of working and governance in preparation for the Paris Olympic cycle. 

You can read more about our approach to Board evaluation through downloading a short paper here.

5. Including others in shaping the future

We provide high-end facilitation to include diverse voices in shaping future direction. Facilitating in a virtual world is something that actually opens up possibilities to include and hear diverse voices and we are excited that organisations are now ready to embrace the opportunities technology gives us. There isn’t much that would daunt us on the facilitation front. Recently we have facilitated strategic/future thinking in a wide range of organisations on themes as varied as business strategy; sector strategies; people strategy; employee experience; value based pricing;  digital strategy and talent management. 

Building the right bridges to the future is an urgent task for leaders. The five areas we have highlighted above may have resonated with your current opportunities and challenges. If so, we’d love to hear from you

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