This post is my exposition of a keynote address at a conference for finance professionals I attended earlier this year. The context was interesting because the audience was made up of municipal finance leaders, many of whom have spent much of their careers in the context of local government. The speaker is a very successful corporate entrepreneur and leader whose keynote was aimed at addressing the challenges of bringing about the best within an organization during times of great change, limited resources and all subsequent challenges. The challenge was, how do we reach our aspirations? From one professional to another, here are what I considered to be some excellent points along with my thoughts:
What Matters Now in the Era of Post-Revolution – We have experienced the industrial, information, and now the vocational revolution (so to speak). This creates a radical and essentially different set of challenges that are particular to today’s leader. Some things (such as human nature) have not changed, but among those that have are fragility in the financial markets, globalism, technology, sociology and now most particularly, the rapidity of change. Change management has always been a struggle, but what has intensified is the speed at which things occur. We have to be mindful of this, ahead of the curve and ready to respond.
We Need CREATIVITY to Solve Problems – Every leader must provide a certain level of inspiration to bring about this creativity. My takeaway: every person (position) needs to be inspired. This is OUR job as leaders. Some years ago I was watching an interview regarding getting accepted into a business related doctoral program at Stanford. I was surprised to hear that one of the things they look for in a candidate is creativity. But this makes perfect sense and it is no different in the daily grind of business. Creativity in financial or business operations does not mean a lack of compliance with laws, guidelines or other controls. But it does mean viewing operations considerably different, then applying innovation, sometimes within the scope of the same resources already available.
All Roads Lead to Change Management – We NEED disruptive innovation, this is where progress is made. This is a required flexibility that does not have a shelf life; it is ongoing and continuous. Speed, efficiencies and breaking down orthodoxies – these are the requisite skill sets. Failed organizations fail by change outstripping their strengths (which then becomes their liabilities).
Think Lean – Distributed leadership means ownership and FORWARD contributions by every employee, not simply a dictate by the hierarchy. We want employees to think, not just do! Those in leadership need to accept ideas, respectful input and feedback. Organizations will move forward with a creative, rule-breaking mindset, not the construction of hierarchies, which is how our systems worked in the past.
Pursue Greatness, Whatever Your Interests – Encourage your team to pursue personal greatness in terms of learning, interests and what motivates THEM. This motivates greatness as an organization. We need to believe the extraordinary is possible. The trick is understanding how a support function (such as operations in a finance department) may not directly experience radical innovation (versus incremental service innovation since accounting rules must be obeyed, for example), but how we may contribute. Leadership is about defining our organizational culture for this type of greatness and the ability to be adaptive. The obvious hesitancy is that an employee will pursue education and training, then apply it somewhere else. Are we sure about this? It may inspire creativity, problem solving and innovation. We can only know for sure if we try it out.