Catalyst for creative and sustainable enterprise has been our tag line from the beginning. Catalyst is readily defined: an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action. Creative and sustainable enterprise is somewhat more complex. This model is a blueprint, synthesizing years of applied research with a myriad of clients.
All businesses, including our clients, want to innovate. But … can the leaders have difficult conversations? Can they even talk to each other? Does the culture support feedback and dialogue? Without these fundamentals, innovation will be difficult, often painful, and systematically ineffective.
So the stratification in this blueprint is deliberate. There is a progression that takes time – building foundation, breaking away, leading the field. To pursue breaking away before building foundation is to build a castle in the sky – missing its foundation, the castle floats away. Often a client’s presenting issue comes from somewhere up the pyramid. We engage in that conversation, as we assess the current state of leadership development. Then we introduce these ideas.
A creative and sustainable enterprise is built from right talent. Success begins with the right people on the bus, in the right seats. This has been extensively researched and convincingly argued. Most organizations are clear about this reality, although some are better than others at executing accordingly. Companies that do this well, and systematically, far outperform companies that can’t or won’t. There must be a continuous process for attracting, developing, and culling talent.
Building foundation is a place of purposeful leader development. Are enterprise leaders equipped and skilled with the fundamentals? How well do they coach talent, hold people to account, have difficult conversations, and continuously create new value? To put it another way, what is the leadership operating system? A willing, committed enterprise will recognize the need for all its pivotal leaders to get good at these essentials.
As the fundamentals take shape, through development and deliberate practice, individual leaders become more impactful. Teams of leaders become more cohesive, productive, and focused on what’s best for the organization. The enterprise experiences new momentum and escalating results. At this point, the ground is fertile for systematic collaboration and innovation.
Breaking away is where those cohesive leadership teams begin moving the enterprise toward the exceptional. This phase requires a higher order of thinking, doing, and being from leaders, seeded by the development of new leadership skills and enterprise practices. Collaboration empowers multiple subject matter experts to solve challenging problems and create new value. Innovation is the gold standard sought by every enterprise, and the lifeblood of continuous renewal. There is art and science in both collaboration and innovation. Success relies on strong process, systematically applied, and on leaders skilled in the fundamentals.
Companies that get good at collaboration and innovation deliver new practices, services, and products, pulling away from other companies in their space. These become systematic and habitual business practices, and are driven further down into the organization. The capacity to collaborate and innovate becomes requisite for new leaders. As the enterprise moves up the pyramid, it gets better at choosing right talent, launching a virtuous loop and more momentum.
Leading the field is the place where the enterprise has become deeply creative and therefore truly sustainable. A creative and sustainable enterprise will outlast all others; this is the long game. The art and science here is mastering complexity – see it, understand it, chart a course, and navigate accordingly. The enterprise culture is comfortable with paradox, and movement in conflicting directions. The enterprise has not become trapped by size, structure, or success – it has found a way to stay nimble. Leaders know how to hold the tension, allowing for the emergence of new ideas and perspectives. That emergence brings high gain, big lift, the high-hanging fruit. Creativity has become a lead attribute of the organization.
In an evolutionary sense, the enterprise has moved from reactive to adaptive. This is a significant, long-term shift, incorporating many iterations of the business model along the way. Adaptive is the peak outcome, the promise of survival no matter what the environment brings. Inevitably, as the enterprise builds proficiency up the pyramid, it shifts from reacting to what’s happening in the market to authoring its own future. This is aspirational, rare air – and a worthy journey.