The past 12 months brought an incredible amount of change, and we can confidently assume the rate of change won’t slow in 2024. Continued geo-political conflict, a fast-evolving economic context, the increasing impact of AI and elections in countries representing half the world’s population create a significant potential for disruption. For leaders looking to set direction and organizational priorities, this uncertainty means determining “how” to execute effectively will be as important as “what” to focus on.
What can leaders do to position themselves and their organizations for success in 2024?
Establishing a strategic plan at the start of the year and executing against it without changes is no longer viable. Even small changes in the underlying assumptions can get amplified over time, leading to strategic failure. By explicitly articulating the assumptions that underpin the strategy, leaders can be proactive in highlighting when these assumptions shift and in adjusting their plans accordingly.
Planning for different scenarios can help create more agile strategies. For example, rather than trying to determine the most likely outcome in a political election, leaders should consider what might change based on the outcome of said election.
Another example would be strategies that rely on forecasting the economic environment. Capital investment decisions are being made based on expectations of forward-looking interest rates—a forecast that has changed significantly in the last few weeks. Leaders can build in agility by accepting that whatever prediction one makes now is likely to be wrong—and they should plan for different scenarios by establishing criteria for revisiting decisions as the economy evolves.
Align on an aspiration and clarify the vision
Alignment on where you are headed is always important, but it’s even more critical when it is hard to determine what specific actions will achieve results. When employees have clarity on the organizational objectives and vision, they can change how they are operating to better align with achieving those aspirations.
For leaders, this means repeatedly communicating not only the vision and strategy but also the “why” or the purpose. The shifting expectations of the workforce toward a greater desire for autonomy, combined with the unpredictability of strategic plans, make it more appealing than ever to have a workforce that takes ownership of their organization’s vision.
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Prioritize learning and development
One enduring trend from the pandemic is the shift in workplace practices. Companies continue to experiment with work-from-home arrangements and new ways of organizing work, such as shorter work weeks. With long-term trends pointing to a continued tight labor market, creating fulfilling work opportunities will be essential to attracting and retaining talent.
In addition to flexible work arrangements, a major lever for employee satisfaction is learning and development. The need for new skills in the workplace, combined with this desire for continued learning, makes investments in employee development an essential priority for 2024. New technologies and the advent of AI are only going to accelerate this need. The productivity enhancements from skills development and the impact on retention will ensure a high return on the investment in employee training and development.
Encourage experimentation and delegated decision-making
Success in 2024 will require businesses to make rapid decisions in response to external changes and to experiment with incomplete information. This will require more people to identify and act on opportunities and challenges.
Fortunately, emerging leaders are aligned with this more dispersed view of leadership. More are recognizing that a top-down hierarchical way of operating does not lend itself to the agility and innovation needed to be successful. A priority for leaders should be enabling those closest to the problems or opportunities to make decisions autonomously in alignment with overall business aspirations. Experimentation requires establishing mechanisms to learn and creating ways to minimize harm from expected failures.
Another benefit of this leadership style is that the more control people feel, the less anxiety uncertainty causes. Helping employees feel like they are a part of creating positive change helps reduce the change fatigue associated with a lack of control.
Environmental and other regulatory shifts
While not new, the pressure from employees, shareholders and governments to address climate change and other ESG topics will continue to increase in 2024. With stakeholders getting better at spotting greenwashing, businesses must truly emphasize their commitment to meaningful operational changes. Leaders who can identify the areas where their business is uniquely positioned to make a difference, rather than copying what others are doing to satisfy the status quo, will be most successful.
The last few years have highlighted our inability to predict what will take center stage for businesses in any given year. Advancements in artificial intelligence, a volatile economic environment and continued pressure on ESG are some of the trends that are sure to continue in 2024, but what new challenges will appear is unknown. By considering the macro trends and recognizing the need for agility, leaders can position their companies to better take advantage of emerging opportunities and address new threats.
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