In today’s complex and interdependent environment where the individual is overwhelmed or needs others to help achieve their goals, it is the team that takes the baton. In this context, a new management approach is necessary, allowing the organisation to confront potential risks and take advantage of potential opportunities and synergies.
Organisations should confront permanent change and uncertainty collectively from a team perspective with distributed leadership.
We are in a more difficult and complex environment
The appearance of coronavirus is a tipping point in the way management responds to challenges and difficulties in the environment. The pandemic crisis means that, in the first instance, we must focus our decisions on survival. Longing for stability or waiting for a return to normality will not help. On the contrary, survival depends on rapidly overcoming the sense of loss and acting with speed.
With the first phase of the crisis behind us, we must expect to experience a much more complex environment than we were used to in the past. We can understand this complexity in terms of the number of tasks and issues we need to attend to (variables), by the number of interdependencies and interrelationships that interconnectivity facilitates (relationships).
We need a simpler solution
The solution to this problem cannot come from anything other than reducing the number of variables since interrelationships will be much harder to avoid; doing so would impoverish our proposals in the market and reduce their value to our clients or consumers. There is no way to reduce the number of variables other than to simplify our offer and focus on our basic proposal, what we do best, what contributes the most value, why we are different, and what best connects us to our clients.
As a consequence, we will need to reflect on how we communicate, with whom we communicate and what we offer:
- Communication. Our audience will have less time available and be under more pressure to achieve results, so capturing attention in seconds will be essential because we will not have another chance to do so.
- Target. A customer-focused policy is essential, knowing who customers are, how they behave and what their needs are; ultimately, knowing how to connect and have an open exchange channel will allow us to adapt our proposals and shape our message.
- Simplicity. In a society overwhelmed by oversupply, the fight for the market will go hand-in-hand with the simplicity that makes buying easier for the customer. Having a clear proposal will force customers to renounce complicated portfolios, which may make sense from the proposal perspective but do not offer sufficient perceived value from the client’s perspective to warrant the effort needed to understand them.
Uncertainty is here to stay
There are two forms of uncertainty. The simplest is a consequence of a lack of information or knowledge. Uncertainty is more problematic when it is the consequence of the existence of so many options that it becomes difficult to feel confident when making decisions. Both cases produce confusion and insecurity. They also generate anxiety, which is a dangerous companion as it induces us to make decisions that reduce the feeling, rather than make the decisions we need to make. As human beings, perception is everything and reducing the feeling of anxiety can temporarily alleviate but not solve the underlying problem.
Systems thinking allows us to know what to do
Managing uncertainty is something that can only be done from the same plane that generates an understanding of what uncertainty is or how it occurs. Many people, when making individual decisions, end up following common behaviour patterns that occur naturally then consolidate spontaneously and evolve or disappear as quickly as they emerged. This multiplicity of possible behaviours and the impossibility of predicting their evolution are what produce uncertainty.
Emergent behaviour defines demand
Understanding complexity requires training. It depends on having the ability to read behaviours in the form of the emergent response to many individual decisions. Living systems do not plan and are not governed by the decisions of someone or something. We must forget about the possibility of directly influencing the response of our customers and consumers.
Evolution generates new opportunities
Behaviour evolves because of the interaction dynamics themselves. New realities are continually being generated, derived from individuals or collective decisions that together create opportunities.
We must know how to discriminate – there are no universal solutions
All that diversity, all that wealth, are difficult to classify and to face. There are so many possibilities, so many options. The efforts of groups of individuals with common perspectives but differentiated from each other make it difficult to identify what to do. It is essential to avoid falling for simplistic solutions that might resolve the anguish caused by the uncertainty of ignorance but do not end in the right answer.
Structures influence behaviour
How can we influence events? Although the behaviour of people (collaborators or clients) cannot be directly modified in a world of free will, limits on action can be established. These limits allow freedom of internal action while providing a degree of order and control. Finding the right balance between stimulating proactive behaviour and discouraging unwanted behaviours is the central challenge in deciding whether to expand or constrain these limits.
It is necessary to have criteria - there are no manuals of the future
Finally, it is necessary to exercise humility and recognise the inability of individuals to manage so much complexity. Indeed, it is impossible to define precisely, and in detail, all the options that might be available, all the possibilities that may appear. It is more practical to establish guidelines for those who are close to each set of circumstances to help them make the right choices. No one has gone into the future and come back to explain what to do.
We have all made an effort to digitise
The efforts that companies have made during the period of confinement has improved digitisation as never before. The technological leap, in many cases, involves the rapid digitisation of work, procedures, and internal and external communication. The qualitative and quantitative differences compared to the previous period are considerable. The pressure caused by the crisis has shaped a new society where technology is fully integrated into personal and professional relationships as well as in goods and services, not only digital but even physical.
Hyperconnectivity, together with the speed and variability of information, will lead to rapid changes in the business context, where the importance of information as the basis for decision-making will be closely linked to immediate use. Nevertheless, the use of information will depend on a reasonable judgment on its application and the ability of those who receive it to make decisions. Decentralised business formats, flexible planning, and non-hierarchical leadership will further enhance the ability to adapt.
Distributed leadership makes responding easier
In this puzzle, collaborators have a fundamental role; these are people who are capable of committing, collaborating, taking the initiative and being proactive – talented, knowledgeable people, but more importantly, people who are eager to learn as the world evolves.
Collaboration is impossible without the right context
For its part, an organisation will need the necessary structures and policies to stimulate talented people, pay attention to them and recognise their efforts and results. Talented people will seek the diversity that provides multiple perspectives, enriches the analysis, increases the creative capacity, and generates solutions.
The culture of the organisation will promote respectful treatment based on a positive relationship that is driven by emotional intelligence. Company values must be a true reflection of this way of acting.
Intelligence, and responsiveness to risks and opportunities, must be distributed to be effective. Collaborators will be able to apply their knowledge, and they must have the ability to select and understand relevant information appropriately.
Thus, we come to distributed leadership as a way of transforming modern organisations into competitive and sustainable workplaces and as a catalyst for developing talent and wellbeing for professionals.
The economic outlook has worsened
The economic crisis resulting from the efforts made to tackle the health crisis, the associated debt, and the sacrifices people have been forced to make will leave a mark that will take time to heal. In this challenging global economic environment, the weakening of clients and the reduction in purchasing options will result in a short-term, cost-sensitive approach to purchases and investments. The offer must adapt to these needs if it wants to have a place.
Again, being able to engage our collaborators, inspire and motivate, unite our teams, and create a culture of collaboration will be essential to responding quickly enough to evolve with the changing circumstances.
Purpose inspires and motivates
Strength and fear achieve obedience, but only motivation and inspiration deliver commitment. For employees, clients and consumers to support an organisation, there must be a shared purpose and common project.
No one commits to something they do not choose
A feeling of belonging and sense of community are powerful engines, but they are voluntary. For them to emerge, people must be able to identify with each other, share underlying values, be excited, and connect.
But, connection will be impossible to achieve without sharing benefits, without having an objective that, to some extent, depends on the service of others. An objective that is clear and tangible, with a social impact, that creates value for its environment and has an exciting narrative will make others want to join and contribute their effort. Cohesion is achieved when the project is common to all those involved. It is essential to understand that the project is only common if it is really common; that is, if people share the objective, participate in the diagnosis, contribute, evaluate the impact of their contribution, rectify, learn and win or lose according to the results.
Only in this way will we gain people’s trust, something that is so difficult to gain and so easy to lose. Trust will be the result of consistency and a real sense of purpose.
We face an environment that I propose to describe with the acronym C U D E:
Complex - Uncertain - Digital - Enfeebled
It is an extremely complex situation that goes beyond individual capacity and requires the collaboration of all. This much-needed collaboration is voluntary, and pursuing it depends on each of us. It will be necessary to answer a simple question; how do we share the effort and the benefit? Depending on the answer, we will know the potential for success and the sustainability of the project.
Unlike personalistic leadership, distributed leadership does not depend on an individual as the protagonist. On the contrary, distributed leadership is a collective effort, capable of generating initiatives in a complementary manner, naturally and spontaneously, focused on a common goal. Distributed leadership is not easy to achieve, there is a long way to go, but it is possible. Achieving distributed leadership is the result of a journey with six main stages:
- Learning. Trust yourself, be tolerant of error and exceed your limits by being proactive.
- Interacting. Get other’s trust, interact, connect, and try to value different positions through active listening.
- Integrating. Trust the project, define a common purpose and generate enthusiasm.
- Trusting. Trust in the purpose, be consistent with values and principles and build trust.
- Respecting. Trust in the difference, legitimise disparity, respect other positions, and appreciate the decisions of others.
- Decentralising. Trust the system, provide resources, and delegate the ability to make decisions following defined criteria.
Zamora Enciso, R. (2020). COOPERATION IN COMPLEXITY. Cooplexity, a model for collaboration in complexity in times of uncertainty and change. (Fourth edition). Link