The CEO Of The Future Is A “Designer-In-Chief”

A TRENDS REPORT FROM WOLFF OLINS SAYS CEOS ARE STARTING TO HARNESS THE GOOD IDEAS OF OTHERS RATHER THAN CRACKING A WHIP.

A century ago, the CEO was a fearsome whip-cracker. Fifty years ago, he was motivator dangling corporate incentives. And now, according to the 2015 Wolff Olins Leadership Report, the CEO has evolved into something new: The designer-in-chief of corporate culture, a mentoring figurehead who gets into the trenches with his employees and inspires them to create the next great innovation. How? By instilling them with the qualities that designers have: the ability to recognize problems or opportunities, propose fixes, and iterate those fixes until they’ve found the one right solution.

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“I make sure I design the mission for the company,” explained Jeremy Doutte, CEO of Nigeria’s top online retailer, Jumia.

Douette is just one of many CEOs saying more or less the same thing. The global brand consultancyWolff Olins interviewed 43 CEOs from companies like AOL and the agency Huge, and surveyed 10 leadership experts on emerging trends. Wolff Olinspublished its results for anyone to read, but to sum it up, the firm postulates that the new CEO is almost like some sort of rebel general, inspiring small guerilla-style teams to dream up new products or experiences. They rally the troops rather than outright command them. They empower their employees to think and work like designers, observing problems or scouting trends, and developing coordinating solutions that don’t get lost to bureaucracy. In essence, they need to design a culture like Apple’s, in which everyone is a designer.

From the report:

Mindset seems to sit at the heart of this new approach. If the company is to be ‘uncorporate,’ so must its leaders. Lunch is no longer for wimps, but for confident leaders wanting to share a sandwich with colleagues and get to the heart of things. Even at Coca-Cola things are changing: “I’m more eager now to hear from the people who are closest to the action” (Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola). Although unfamiliar territory, some CEOs are finding it empowering.

It’s a mindset Wolff Olins says forces CEOs to think about “inputs over outputs.” Outputs are sales figures and other corporate-designed metrics. Inputs are less tangible pieces of corporate culture; things like creating an environment where employees feel both safe and motivated enough to fail when trying something new. And in fact, 86% of CEOs Wolff Olins spoke to were focusing their energy on driving “numerous yet agile small teams,” projects that remind us of Adobe’s Red Box initiative, where employees are given $1,000 and carte blanche to develop and test new products. As Adobe’s Chief Strategist and Vice President of Creativity Mark Randall told us, only one in 1,000 of those projects needs to be a hit for the entire Red Box project to pay for itself.

Wolff Olins does caution that a CEO who approaches her employees with questions rather than answers is in an inherently precarious position, but the fact of the matter is, this sort of approach may not be optional when it comes to the younger generation of worker entering the market today. Wolff Olins polled 480 twenty-somethings about their work preferences, and almost half said two key things: 1.) they’d rather work for their own company and 2.) the company where they are employed would be better if they were in charge. Is an employee who is so self-assured ever going to respond well to top-down edicts? As Wolff Olins writes in the report, it’s a tricky tightrope to walk: “Leaders, in response, are learning to be less the visionary, less the sage, less the objective-setter, and more the shaper, the connector, the questioner. And yet at times, they also need to intervene, to insist, to control. It’s a fluid role, its shape not yet clear.”

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What a Bit of Executive History Shows Us, an excerpt from CEO Point Blank

CEO Point Blank

The 2000s, in my opinion, have been the most trying and difficult times C-suite executives have ever faced in American history—even tougher than the Great Depression.  Not only do we have a tougher business climate, we are faced with bigger competitors—global competitors that do not operate under the same set of rules as we do in the United States.  The idea that globally things are “fair and even” and “may the best-managed company win” are concepts and beliefs shared by no one I know.

The global economy and unfair competitive practices aside, we continue to legislate and regulate ourselves internally to the point where we spend the majority of time wallowing around trying to create some kind of competitive advantage out of thin air.  I spend a lot of time thinking about exactly what happened to us as a country post World War II when we were filled with hope and confidence that when all else failed, we could outwork you.  I see great companies struggle with trying to find production efficiencies while their foreign competitors are allowed to flow products into the American market unchecked and unregulated.

I must admit to being part of the problem.  Here’s why.

Post World War II, our economy was made up primarily of family businesses that covered the range of our needs from food to clothing, transportation, and manufacturing craftsmanship.  Family businesses were passed down from generation to generation with the “secret sauce” that made the products or services unique to the region or geography they served.  You knew where your food came from, where your clothes were made, and you even knew the name of the family that made your car.

Our returning hero’s average age was twenty-six and many were returning to the family business, or turning to trades they had learned while in the military.  They were received into the workplace with open arms and the country was ready to step on the gas, fueling the largest generation of consumers the United States was ever to see.

The returning veterans were schooled in the family businesses and the discipline it took to operate them. They were charged with learning the tasks and craftsmanship of their trade because their mission was to protect the family homestead and their families relied on them.  Those that had new talents put them to use, still with the idea of making America stronger and their lives better.

The results speak for themselves.  Some of the strongest financial years in America were from 1945 through 1965.

And then things got tweaked.  Our foreign policy became unpopular.  The average age of an infantryman in Vietnam was twenty-two. Our youth (I was one of them) rebelled against everything that even resembled someone telling us what to do.  Belonging to anything was frowned upon.  I remember being at college one fall and seeing a group of guys spray painting a sign over a fraternity house door that said, “It’s wrong to belong.”  We had begun to question everything, believe in nothing but freedom—whatever that was—and reject the foundational pillars that had given us the best economic conditions in the history of the world with the highest standard of living yet to be experienced.

It took a few years for the rebellious students of the 1960s and 1970s to get around to work, as most of us went to college, and many on the six-year plan.  As we began to assume positions of authority, we slowly began to bring our rebellious nature to the workplace:  We threw out tradition. We didn’t need to wear a stinking tie–we worked better in flip-flops.  We worked in cubicles because offices created “silos.”  I remember listening with rapt attention to one of the long-haired business gurus of the time with a primetime audience tell us to break down the silos, that big oil was making too much money, and the banks were ripping us off.  He had all the answers.  Get your people a meditation room–that’s what attracts the real talent.

We all drank that Kool-Aid and we changed the face of American business just as we had changed the face of American culture fifteen years prior.  The results speak for themselves.

Please understand that I am not accusing, because I was part of that movement and I was a leader at the C-suite level.  As I look back at my career, I always felt like something was missing.  No matter my success, I always felt a bit hollow.  I think back on my college days and wonder why I didn’t buck the trend and rush that fraternity.

We had all lost our business discipline.  I could make money; that was the easy part.  But I couldn’t control my attitude and approach to anything that resembled authority and control, and believe me, I wasn’t alone.  Everyone was stupid, no one could keep up with me, and I wanted to run ahead of them and demand they keep up with me.  Rules were for other people, not for me.  I was so good at the money-making part that most of the time, people would leave me alone because they knew inherently that they were better off for me running off like a mad man and putting money in their pockets.

I am sixty years old, and though I’ve lived life well I am still discovering and facing the truth about myself and looking to be better for it.  I want to be the person who finds a way to get through to other C-suite executives and prove to them that silos work, we can be competitive globally, it is okay to be a leader, and that the single greatest gift you can bring to an organization is discipline: order overlaid with a huge dose of forgiveness.  If we are to bring our economy back to any level of dominance, we must be disciplined in our approach and willing to subjugate ourselves to our mission.

– Ed Jenks is Senior Consultant and Chief Strategist of The Jenks Group, Inc. is a well-known and nationally recognized business professional with more than twenty-five years as a C-Suite Executive.

 

Strategic Operations Skills Training (S.O.S.T.) Fast Roping

US Navy SEALs teach executives

 

 

 

Behind the scenes in our S.O.S.T. program, participants are learning new skills that will apply to their Mission. Taught by US Navy SEALs, each of these skills are transferable to the workplace. The only way you can learn how is to experience it yourself. An experience you will never forget, as you push yourself out of your comfort zone.

In this quick clip, Alpha and Bravo Teams are readying for Game Changing Skill #6 – “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”

 

Find out how your team can experience this game changing program at http://www.sosttraining.com

 

Executives Learn from Navy SEALs – Game Changing Skill 3: Subjugation of Self to Mission

Safety trainingCould your executive team explain the corporate mission to a complete stranger? How do you deal with team members who are willing but unable? What about those who are able but unwilling?

The idea of “subjugation of self to mission” requires some definition of terms.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, subjugation strictly translates as “to gain control of by use of force; to gain obedience.”  Mission is defined as a “goal or activity given to an individual or group to accomplish.”

For the purposes of our work, we are defining “subjugation of self to mission” as the understanding and agreement that the goal we want to achieve is of greater importance than the individual team members who are charged with the task of  executing the strategy it takes to achieve the goal.

One should not assume that the individual is not important in this arena; quite the contrary.  The value proposition of the team is based on the collective contribution made by all members.  We often toss around the axiom that the “sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts,” and particularly in Military Special Ops such as our US Navy SEALs, the axiom becomes a foundational pillar of the strategic approach to mission.  All team members have a role that is strictly defined within the mission, a responsibility that is non-transferable, the authority necessary to complete their specific task, and the training and support necessary to be successful.  In this scenario, if an individual is incapable of completing their piece of the assignment, it does not mean the mission fails; instead, it means another teammate must complete their task as well as yours. -Ed Jenks, Sr Strategist for The Jenks Group, Inc.