With all of the escalating challenges confronting business leaders today, it’s not surprising that some established businesses are choosing to retrench and trying to operate in ways that have worked for them in the past. Everyone back in the office. Top-down management. A singular focus on the bottom line and hitting those quarterly targets.
The way to maintain equilibrium while moving forward through turbulence is not to stand fixed and rigid but to adapt and adjust while keeping sight of and rallying the team around the organization’s greater purpose. Leading today is more challenging, more nuanced, and more rewarding than ever.
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Organizational structure is one area that is ripe for adaptation. In “Rethinking Hierarchy,” Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein argue that managerial authority and hierarchy are still necessary for large organizations to operate effectively but they must be aligned to each company’s specific needs. It’s not about dictating what people do but creating the frameworks within which they make decisions, operate, and work together — “designing and enforcing the rules of the game rather than making everyone play it in a certain way.” Foss and Klein offer guidance on how to approach this design challenge based on your own organization’s needs.
Employee well-being has become an urgent priority for many business leaders, as illness and burnout from stress reach epidemic proportions. One area of organizational structure that is getting in the way is the historical division between talent and benefits groups within human resources. In “Reimagining HR for Better Well-Being and Performance,” authors Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin Seligman show how these two teams can together provide effective interventions to support employee mental health so that workers can thrive.
For organizations as a whole to thrive now and in the years ahead, they need to innovate. The importance of psychological safety is well established as a precondition to high job performance and innovation. But unless psychological safety is balanced by an openness to intellectual honesty and debate, a company will struggle to achieve breakthrough innovation, argue Jeff Dyer, Nathan Furr, Curtis Lefrandt, and Taeya Howell in “Why Innovation Depends on Intellectual Honesty.” The authors define four innovation cultures based on the degree to which these two conditions exist. Overemphasize intellectual honesty without regard to psychological safety, and you might achieve breakthroughs, but you’ll also create an anxious culture, exacerbating stress and burnout. Overemphasize psychological safety at the expense of intellectual honesty, and the culture will be comfortable but breakthroughs unlikely. Companies that bring the two together benefit from both incremental and breakthrough innovations and create a culture where people are more likely to thrive and learn.
Leading an organization through today’s turbulence isn’t easy, at any level of management. But these are just the kinds of challenges readers of MIT Sloan Management Review relish. Columnist Sanyin Siang leaves us with a final heartening thought: Whatever issues you tackle during your tenure, you have the opportunity to cultivate a legacy that transcends discrete initiatives and the current balance sheet. You can shape the culture of your team or organization into something wonderful that endures.