“Not just surviving but thriving” during periods of disruption

When was the last time you paused and took time to think about your organisation and what it might look like 30 years from now?  A group of eighty business leaders who met last week at an event hosted by BDO Christchurch were challenged to do exactly that by innovation and strategy expert Professor Ian Williamson from Victoria University of Wellington.  Professor Williamson who is the Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Commerce at Victoria University, spent the day in Christchurch meeting with local business people, including a breakfast presentation with the Institute of Directors.  His thought-provoking and inspiring presentation challenged leaders to consider their role in driving the performance of their organisation during periods of disruption.

“This is all about relevance” says Williamson who went on to explain that disruptions are shifts in your external environment that render your organisation ineffective or irrelevant.  He stressed the point that this is not about competency, but rather your organisation’s relevance.  Examples of disruptions that your organisation may face include changes in technology, customer preferences, demographics or regulations, actions taken by your competitors or social issues that exist in the community.  These disruptions do not need to be considered “negative” but they do create a new set of rules and require a new way of doing things.  If your organisation has an awareness of the disruption, the capability to innovate and a culture that can support transformational change then your organisation will be well placed to turn these disruptions into opportunities. 

Awareness of disruption is not effective without action

Williamson pointed out that very few leaders are likely to be surprised by the disruptions threatening their organisations.  He believes that they know what they are and have the information that they need to consider what options are open to their organisations.  It is not awareness then that is the key, but what action is taken.  The likely effectiveness of your response will depend on whether you consider the disruption a serious enough threat to be worthy of investing resources into and therefore converting the threat into an opportunity.  Williamson recommends staggering your changes, taking incremental steps so that you can move in another direction if needed.

How do we perceive the disruptions that are impacting our business?  Do we take the threats seriously?  When are we going to change?  What if we don’t change?  At what point will we not go back to the way that it was?

The answer to disruption is the capability to innovate through leadership

Williamson uncovered for his audience the difference between human capital which is the ability of the people in your organisation and social capital which is the opportunity that those people have to use their ability.  This was an important point as innovation comes from the combination of complementary expertise.  It is a high density of interactions across the organisation that will build the trust and reciprocity required for effective exchanges of information to occur that are likely to result in innovation.  Williamson encouraged those present to not leave this “up to chance” and presented a number of examples from the legal and education professions of the effectiveness of high density interactions.

How is information exchanged in our organisation?  What opportunities do we have to engage with each other at all levels?

Building a culture that supports innovation

Recent research from the Melbourne University supports that while front-line employees are best placed to make incremental innovations it is the managers and leaders who are required to drive change with radical innovations.  It is the decision-makers who can make the radical decisions about the resources available and take the radical actions required to make those big changes.  The audience was challenged to consider whether they were transactional leaders, offering direction, feedback and rewards or transformational leaders, removing barriers, coaching, supporting knowledge exchanges and innovation. 

What is our strategy for the future?  What are our needs?  Do we need a transactional leader or a transformational one?

It is not a “one size fits all” deal

Leaders at the event were challenged to be prepared for that moment when they would have to decide that change is required.  For some organisations all they might be able to do is plan to respond and change rapidly as required.  Other organisations may have to develop expertise in another product or package their products together in a different way. 

Key steps for leaders:

  1. Bring attention to disruptions
  2. Decide what your organisation will respond to
  3. Consider whether what you are facing is a disruption or just a “blip”
  4. Prioritise innovation
  5. Continue to offer value and stay relevant. 

Andrew Grace and Phillip Roth, partners at BDO Christchurch felt the audience at the event appreciated Williamson’s forty five minute presentation reflecting that the engagement level was high judging by the number of questions at the end and the very positive feedback received following the event.  “Ian’s answers were considered and he drew heavily from his own experiences” said Grace who as a specialist in Corporate Finance knows first-hand of the high disruption organisations are facing today.  Grace went on to say, “transactional leaders will find it hard to seize the opportunities that are available because they are so busy running the day-to-day operations, creating an environment and culture that promotes high density interaction at all levels of an organisation is critical to a business thriving in a disruptive environment”.

From Accountants to Advisers

BDO Christchurch is not immune from the challenges of disruption.  “Technology is taking over a large amount of the compliance function of our jobs, which we consider as a huge opportunity to free us up to find new ways of adding value to businesses,” says Phillip Roth, Head of the Strategic Advisory Services, “we are changing the role of accounting and what Ian has spoken about tonight really fits with how we are thinking about our future.”  The new Strategic Advisory service offered at BDO supports your organisation and provides a framework from which you can innovate and build opportunities, and not just survive but thrive in the fast-paced disruptive business environment that we are all now operating in.  BDO can provide you with the opportunity to build your organisational strategy and make sure you have the vision, capability and focus to continue to operate successfully.

BDO Strategic Advisory Services 

At BDO we are committed to delivering exceptional value to our clients, so we know that organisations need strategies that are clear, engage your team can be both executed and tracked effectively. We have built our Strategic Advisory services around the needs of our clients and actively support organisations to understand where they are going in the future, what they need to do to get there, and how they are going to plan and measure success along the way. Identifying the role that disruption might play in your organisation can be a distinct challenge when leaders are deeply embedded in the organisation, however our Strategic Advisory team support organisations to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and truly identify how they can foster they right awareness, capability and culture for success.