Many businesses will transform in radical ways into forms that would have been unrecognisable at the beginning of 2020. Leaders will be taking agonisingly difficult decisions about people and business models. Digital transformation agendas have been dusted off and massively accelerated in response to the crisis[i]. But how sustainable will these changes be? Effective, long term transformation means bringing along the people who are left to carry out the changes. This takes ongoing dedication, because an organisation is an organic, living entity. It requires resourcefulness and agility.
Often the leaders who best handled the crisis are not those able to build and sustain an organisation. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have been and continue to be devasting and traumatic for billions across the globe. Dealing with severe illness and loss of life has an inestimable impact. There is so much that cannot be changed, yet in every crisis we are presented with an opportunity and sometimes an imperative, to do things differently. It may seem counter-intuitive to press pause and reflect, particularly when the working norm is to go at relentless speed in a stretched business environment, yet it is the best, if not only way to tap into the creative potential organisations need to uncover for sustained, inspired performance.
We believe some of the fundamental challenges thrown up by the coronavirus crisis are tackled head on by collectively working through key questions. To this end, we offer our thinking and approach in the form of the Discovery Prism Framework. Working through this framework provides a conscious way of creating cultural belonging, harnessing learning as an organisation, deepening connections to all stakeholders and fostering creativity and innovation. Moreover, it is work that can be undertaken by both intact and dispersed teams in any organisation.
The Discovery Prism©– a fresh lens on 21st century leadership
The Discovery Prism©framework gives structure and focus to the discussions that need to happen for people to thrive in organisations. Each lens of the Prism represents a different theme that needs consideration in itself as well as how it connects to the other lenses. The Prism is chosen as a metaphor because it concentrates all the component colours (diverse and individual contributions) into a powerful white light (the aligned energy of the collective). The energy that is produced when all lenses have had focused attention and shine at their brightest represents a tangible force that is greater than the sum of the parts.
Figure 1 The Discovery Prism
The Discovery Prism©promotes an emergent discovery process that centres around the key questions: who are we here to serve and why? Arguably, the question of purpose has become of greater importance as the isolation of lockdowns around the globe has brought home the realisation that the “I” cannot exist without the “we”. In our isolation, our need for connectedness is heightened.
The framework is question based; it provides no prescriptions. Answering the questions helps leaders and their teams define what is present and what needs to be preserved or changed to serve all stakeholders. It brings together the hard and the soft, the tangibles and the intangibles, the head, heart and soul2 of individuals in their team and organisation. When people discuss the things that matter, a shared understanding and meaning emerges. By using consistent language greater clarity is possible, reducing the misunderstandings that damage relationships and undermine performance. In this way, the discovery work (the collaborative undertaking of exploring the lenses) supports the connections across that organisation and to its stakeholders, since the answers cannot be arrived at alone.
The framework acknowledges the dynamic influence of time. It helps individuals and teams to enquire into where they are now, what they are leaving behind and where they want to go in the future. The past is where what has served well is acknowledged alongside what should be preserved and what is no longer needed (especially in legacy, core values and strategy). The present is where the lenses will reflect the individual and collective experience of work in the current context. The future, especially purpose, promises and core values, will draw on aspects of aspiration, development and realisable potential.
What the Prism at the centre illuminates will be different for each organisation. We believe it will give new insights to enable the organisation to view the future with greater clarity and certainty. As organisations engage with the Discovery Prism© they become more self-aware, purposeful and connected – a conscious whole.
“A recent Bain survey of IT buyers shows that more than 80% of companies are accelerating their automation initiatives in response to covid-19”
Our immense thanks to Anne Stenbom and her fellow author Helen Battersby for sharing this excerpt from their book Leadership Through Covid-19 and Beyond which was published in 2020 by GBL Books and is available via Amazon and all good bookshops.