As we approach the close of 2021, you’re probably being questioned about whether you’re ready for the new year. It may be more appropriate to ask: Is 2022 ready for you? Rather than brace yourself for the uncertainty of what’s next, it’s time to be proactive. To start, reflect on what you’re grateful for, take stock of your assets, set your agenda, and consider the one advantage that will serve as your organization’s secret weapon in 2022 – a peer-powered culture of agility. Wait. What?
Yes, a peer-powered culture of agility. Likely, you’ve never thought about using these words together or viewing them as a singular pursuit, so let’s take a minute to consider it. It’s rare in life that you can try something new and proven simultaneously. Yet here we are. To explain, let’s look at culture, peer-power, and agility one at a time.
Ever since Peter Drucker uttered the words, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” you’ve come to understand the power of “how things are done around here” and what it means to how any organization functions. Most companies who pivoted effectively during COVID didn’t do so because they had a prepared strategy; in fact, most companies were caught flat-footed. On the other hand, employees who transitioned well did so because they enjoyed a can-do culture, where people relied on one other. As a result, they employed cat-like agility skills to help them adapt to a changing world.
Countless CEOs shared their stories with me about how their people stepped up, became closer over the past two years, and used their imagination to help them adapt to any situation. They tapped into their shared humanity and diverse perspectives, which allowed them to become more cooperative, collaborative, and creative. What’s more, they did this all while facing personal challenges of their own, whether it involved homeschooling their children or meeting the physical and emotional needs of elderly parents.
As you get ready to write your story for 2022, ask yourself these questions about your culture:
- What has the pandemic taught me about my team?
- What values/behaviors emerged that would I like to see continue?
- What did I learn about myself as a leader?
Leaders certainly have a role in setting the tone for the organization’s culture, but culture is the shared responsibility of teams at all levels and each of the employees who comprise those teams. Unless you’re all in it together, the culture will only be as strong as its weakest individual.
Peer influence, the impact the people around us can have in shaping our behavior, has been a pervasive force in our lives for as long as we can remember. In times of uncertainty, we look to one another (a person like yourself) to create clarity. Why? According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, we do so because we trust each other more than the CEO or Board of Directors and certainly more than media and government. Yet, CEOs often emphasize the vertical structure of their organizations – SVPs, VPs, directors, managers, etc.- and pay too little attention to what goes on horizontally. You don’t have to be an architect to understand that what runs horizontally across your company provides its vertical structure strength and stability.
Ask any group of CEOs if their organization has employees who may not have the fanciest or most senior-level titles yet are hugely influential among their co-workers. Every hand in the room will go up. Now consider the next time you want to implement a new policy or another change initiative. How about identifying the key influencers, asking for their input, and equipping them with the information necessary to serve as positive ambassadors for change? During the inevitable sense-making exercises that will take place, employees will engage one another to sort out their alignment and level of engagement. McKinsey points out that most change efforts don’t fail or underperform because the change was so bad; it’s more likely that the employees were not aligned behind it to the degree necessary for it to succeed.
If you want to strengthen the bonds of your culture and make it more adaptive to change, peer power is the glue.
In the United States, our secondary education system teaches students to learn the material and take tests. In Math, for example, students memorize formulas and apply those formulas to solve problems during the exams. This approach makes sense until students encounter equations they’ve never seen before. Then, they are left to guess the answer because they do not know what else to do.
Every three years, 15 year-olds across the globe take the PISA (Programme of International Student Assessment) test to show us what they know and what they can do, primarily in the subjects of math, reading, and science. The difference between PISA and other standardized tests is that it assesses how well students can apply what they’ve learned by challenging them to answer open-ended questions and solve problems they’ve never seen before. It’s among the reasons two-dozen or more other countries tend to score higher than the U.S. students.
We don’t become agile by learning formulas or studying best practices. Instead, we build agility muscles by sharing ideas, getting diverse perspectives, and asking our peers the kind of “what if?” questions that will help us handle anything life throws our way.
As leaders, take a close look at your culture and whether your organization is committed to excellence and positively aligned by a common purpose. Examine what runs horizontally through your organization and be sure you are leveraging everyone to build and live a healthy culture. Finally, help your employees be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Provide them with the tools, training, and internal peer-to-peer groups that will equip them to meet any challenge in 2022!
I look forward to hearing how it goes. Happy New Year to you and yours.
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