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problems before they develop and thus also identify new opportunities.

 Learning from experience – and make the necessary changes to strat- egy, tactics, processes and capabilities.

 Resources and assets – well diver- sifi ed resources off er fl exibility to respond to changing circumstances, either positive or negative.

well and can be replicated or adapted. Pharmaceutical group GlaxoSmith- Kline has moved to a much more fl exible planning approach, with shorter review periods in response to new entrants who can radically change the market. R&D decision-making has been decentralised, involving more people with authority to review and take appropriate and speedy decisions.

Key questions:  How do we review the direction and eff ectiveness of our organisation?

 Who do we involve?  What is the frequency?  How do we communicate the results?  How eff ectively does review get translated into action?

 Does the frequency, content and style need to change?

The role of L&D professionals in uncertainty and complexity

L&D professionals have a substantial role to play in helping leaders prepare for the future.

Leadership and talent development Developing leadership skills as well as nurturing talent becomes vital in times of uncertainty. Leaders have a pivotal role in encouraging willingness to take on board new ideas, for example by promoting collaboration to share information and innovation. T ey need to concentrate on their exemplar roles at multiple levels: the level of the individual, the organisation, and across cultures. Setting direction in times of

24 | June 2017 |

uncertainty and complexity requires the ability to articulate clearly, in their own terms, vision, values and purpose and to communicate a shared under- standing of the changing situation. Tesco, for example, has introduced new leadership skills focused on collaboration, empathy, responsiveness, resilience and innovation.

Develop economic, technological, social and political antennae Leaders need to have wide-ranging sensitive antennae to pick up trends and this goes well beyond industry analysis to look at economic, political, technological and social trends. In the words of the group head of HR for Tesco, writing in 2014: “For us this means leaders who have their eyes wide open – not waiting to be told what to do. T is is a big cultural change for traditional management hierarchies like ours. It will take years, not months, and starts with us as leaders.” 2 T e principles of stimulating

innovative ideas and new thinking involves encouraging diff erent perspectives; this might mean listening to futurologists and specialists, customers and consumers, managers and front-line staff , for example.

Strengthen resilience In a Cranfi eld research study3


leading companies who adopted resilient-strengthening capabilities, the following principles emerged as common factors in building

resilience to uncertainty and change:  Risk radar – the ability to anticipate

Reinforce capabilities A one-size-fi ts-all will no longer work in organisations. For example, on the one hand, at the ideas end, the culture has to be relaxed and willing to tolerate some failure and, at the implementation/ customer delivery part of a business, you have got to be much more disciplined and intolerant of customer failure. Some commentators call this the ambidextrous organisation4

– both

managing the detail and the past while also looking ahead at the future. Often well-established and large organisa- tions fi nd this a hard task to achieve.


T e organisational implications of living in an age of uncertainty mean L&D professionals and HR specialists need to take a lead in promoting fresh approaches, skills and ideas. By adopting the STAR framework and encouraging experimentation and innovation in a collaborative manner, leaders can engage others in shaping eff ective strategic change.

Sarah Cook is MD of The Stairway Consultancy and can be contacted at

Steve Macaulay is an associate at Cran�ield School of Management’s Centre for Customised Executive Development and can be contacted at s.macaulay@cran�

References 1 The idea of uncertainty categorisati on was inspired by the arti cle Strategy under Uncertainty by Courtney HG, Kirkland J and Viguerie SP, McKinsey Quarterly 2010

2 Horner A, People and Strategy, Volume 36, issue 4-2014,

3 Franken A et al Roads to Resilience report, Airmic and Cranfi eld School of Management, 2014

4 See O’Reilly III CA, Tushman ML, The ambidextrous organizati on, Harvard Business Review, April 2004


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