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Leading Off
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With this year’s Super Bowl viewership reaching more than 112 million people—an all-time high—one can imagine the National Football League (NFL) spiking the football in celebration. But “the danger of complacency is real,” says the NFL’s head of marketing, noting the urgency of future-proofing the NFL so that it holds onto everyone in its fan base and also entices future fans. The football league is not alone in its fight for attention in a fiercely competitive environment. One of the fundamental roles of leaders in any industry is to not only navigate the present but also create stronger organizations that can withstand future challenges. This week, let’s explore how you can future-proof your organization and flex the skills that are crucial in a world of flux.
Illustration of salmon going upstream
Develop skills to strengthen adaptability
Coping with uncertainty is not an easy undertaking. Yet, adaptability is a critical factor to move forward successfully, especially in times of great change or transformation. Organizations must be proactive in preparing their leaders to manage complex and pressure-filled situations. Future-proofing your organization involves countering the “adaptability paradox”—the tendency to default to familiar patterns and behaviors in times of stress, a propensity that prevents the learning and innovation necessary to navigate stressful situations in the future. Rather than merely bouncing back from difficult events, develop the skills to “bounce forward.” What skills are needed to deliver on your strategy, and how will your people, processes, and technology interact as they work toward developing those skills? Companies that organize successfully for the future examine and define their purpose, form distinctive cultures, nurture diversity, and use data and technology creatively.
That’s the number of key organizational imperatives on which future-ready organizations take action, according to McKinsey research. These characteristics—centered on “who we are,” “how we operate,” and “how we grow”—make up an organization’s core identity, and the approaches to each category must change as the old operating conditions transform. Leaders can seize this time of change and uncertainty to unlock new and improved operating models that prioritize flexibility, speed, and innovation, as well as to address employees’ needs for connection, purpose, and strong organizational culture.
“I think the fundamental role of a leader is to look for ways to shape the decades ahead, not just react to the present, and to help others accept the discomfort of disruptions to the status quo.”
That’s just one “Aha!” moment in this interview with Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo and author of My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future. Nooyi, the first woman of color and immigrant to take the helm at a Fortune 50 company, describes the lessons she has learned from her experiences navigating demanding leadership roles and how today’s leaders can create a better future. From the broken leadership pipeline for women to the daily trade-offs that can only be addressed by strengthening support structures, Nooyi identifies several priorities that should be central to the leadership agenda.
A illustration of a dna helix
Where is the sweet spot between flexibility and stability when you structure an organization for the future? The answer may be elusive, but Julian Fieres, the head of transformation, strategy, and sustainability at German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen, offers some insights in this interview with McKinsey. Fieres has led the rollout of the company’s “helix” model, where people leadership and product lines run on separate axes. The model has led to streamlined and centralized operations and opportunities to optimize resource allocation, focusing on leaders’ strengths and the skills that will be needed in the future. Fieres says that the new structure has required a culture shift, but one that may be a boon for employees: “Suddenly their fates, their futures, their livelihoods are no longer inherently linked to a product that might be at the end of its life cycle. Their livelihoods are linked to the success of the overall organization.”
Illustration of people in a tower
Last year, the ever-evolving pandemic continued to have powerful effects on organizations and the economy. This interactive feature captures 12 significant shifts that occurred in 2021, highlighted by McKinsey research and explored through data visualizations. Topics range from the economic benefits of prioritizing health to the productivity and growth driven by investment in intangibles such as research and human capital. These trends, while not exhaustive, put into focus some of the long-term changes set in motion by the pandemic and how they have and will continue to affect our work and personal lives.
Lead foresightedly.
— Edited by Dana Sand, an editorial production manager in McKinsey’s Cleveland office
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