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How To Thrive Through Disruption

Having the ability to execute well with agility

Steve Mullinjer, regional leader at Heidrick & Struggles in Asia Pacific and the Middle East

A recent survey of 558 senior executives from the Asia Pacific region found that 80 per cent of respondents felt that their organisations are facing more disruption today than 18 months ago. 

Unfortunately, only 44 per cent felt that their companies were well-prepared to survive and thrive in the face of marketplace disruption, despite the expectation that there will an increase in this pressure. 

Respondents to the survey cited “increasing customer expectations for service, convenience or cost” as the most frequent source of disruption. Other significant concerns were “new, tech-enabled business models” and “the speed of technological change”.  

The study was released by Heidrick & Struggles in June this year, itself a premier provider of executive search, leadership consulting and culture shaping worldwide. 

“These findings suggest that many executives in the Asia Pacific region feel their companies may lack the organisational capabilities and talent to adapt and respond to disruption,” says Steve Mullinjer, Regional Leader for Heidrick & Struggles in Asia Pacific and the Middle East. 

“Competitive advantage will be gained by those companies that bring together leadership, talent and an ability to accelerate performance even in uncertain times.” 

Suffice to say, preparing for what lies ahead will be an uphill task. Companies in Asia Pacific tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to managing disruption. This despite the evidence stating that the converse is the way to go. 

“The world’s most successful companies such as Baidu, Tesla, Amazon and Alibaba are always thinking ahead to disrupt before being disrupted,” points out Mullinjer. 

The million-dollar question though, is how to do it. According to the survey by Heidrick & Struggles, the ability to execute well with agility is cited as the most important factor for companies to prepare for disruption. 

Against that backdrop, it highlights three areas that corporate leaders should focus on: 

1. Simplicity – Nearly one-third of the executives surveyed indicated that the structure of their organisation is difficult to understand and navigate. The ability to manage complexity is cited as one of the top five factors for companies to weather disruption. 

2. Talent – The calibre of people was considered the number one factor for companies to be well-prepared to face marketplace disruptions. Do the leaders spend time on 

thinking about new skills, and the new roles required for business to navigate to the future? 

3. Future-ready – Does the organisation equip itself with the hardware and software to succeed in a sustainable manner? How much “future tense” thinking is there in a management conversation? 

“Preparing for the future is about having near-term and long-term vision, instead of just focusing on the now. Leaders who are agile, open to new ideas, able to cultivate an innovative culture, and attract and retain high-calibre people, tend to be better prepared for the future,” says Mullinjer. 

If you’re not any of the above, it is time to change. Start by understanding the different forces that are driving the future. For example, watch how technology and changing demographics are reshaping society and the workforce. 

Globalisation has changed the rules across all markets. Client expectations have increased dramatically, and they expect everything faster, better, more differentiated and personalised than before. 

“Therefore, in anticipation of these new expectations, business leaders should spend time thinking about the role their companies should play.” 

Internally, it means relooking leadership structures, ideally by evolving from hierarchical to networks of highly empowered teams driven by a new model of management, and led by a breed of newer, more globally diverse leaders. 

Don’t ignore the benefits of data analytics in this area, which can predict and recruit the right leaders who drive the best behaviour, and develop the best leadership mix. 

Adds Mullinjer, “Leaders should also allocate considerable resources to building a team that focuses on the ‘what-if’, and defining and delivering a future-focused leadership strategy to get themselves one step ahead and outperform their competitors.”