Capitalize on Historical Trends – 4 Questions for CEOs

image: plan to navigate the changing business environment

Charting the Course in a Changing Business Environment

Late in 2020, I published a post that focused on how history informs business strategy. It provided a primer on insights introduced in The Fourth Turning, a book authored by William Strauss and Neil Howe. In short, the authors comprehensively examined events and tides that have unfolded across United States history and found four sequential and repeating seasons, or “Turnings.” Each Turning (High, Awakening, Unraveling, Crisis) was shown to exhibit distinct characteristics and lasts roughly 20-25 years, or collectively, the approximate average lifespan of a person.

Just as each Turning has a profound effect on our personal lives and the institutions that we interact with and often depend on, so too do they profoundly affect businesses and the choices that leaders within them make and need to make. The critical challenge for these business leaders is to ensure they and their teams possess what is needed to navigate these Turnings successfully and put themselves and their business in positions for the best possible outcomes. In a series of webinars and additional posts in the coming weeks, we will be exploring these Turnings and the important questions they raise for businesses – questions like those below.

Preparing Today for Tomorrow’s Turns

The extent to which leaders will set themselves, their teams, and their businesses up for success as we move forward will in large part depend on the extent to which they can answer and address key questions. If you are a business leader, assess your answers to and confidence surrounding the following questions:

How well do you understand the full context in which your business operates today and how it is expected to change moving forward?
If you haven’t read our previous post on the four Turnings or already observed this for yourself, we are presently in the Turning categorized as Crisis. This does not mean that every business is in crisis right now, although many are. In fact, some businesses are thriving in this tumultuous environment. Why are some succeeding while others are struggling to survive? The answers may be obvious in some instances (e.g., COVID—19), but there are many variables at play beyond the pandemic, including growing political polarity, technological advances, and the deterioration of long-standing institutions.

How well do you and others on your team recognize and respond to patterns that present themselves and persist across your business environment?
Gartner defines business pattern recognition as the aim to “understand how elements (activities, events, objects, and information) may form new patterns that represent an opportunity for innovation or the threat of disruption to business operations or strategies.” The four Turnings represent macro-level patterns that affect us all. These affect businesses as well, but so do many other layers of patterns. Companies that proactively identify and capitalize on these patterns are deliberate about compiling data, synthesizing it, and acting on it. Jetset Magazine highlights Uber as an excellent example of this, noting the company’s ability to recognize inconsistent experiences and repeated negative aspects of hailing a taxi and introduce a wholly new approach to personal public transit that completely disrupted the space and now has them operating extensively around the world.

View our on-demand webinar on navigating the evolving crisis for your business

What are the emerging qualities that will take on heightened importance for you and your employees as we cross into a new turning?
Positioning our businesses and ourselves for success in a new era will require us to elevate existing qualities and call on new ones. We’ve talked about a couple of these already – the ability to see the bigger picture and your company’s connections to it and the ability to recognize and respond to patterns in your market and operational environments. Other qualities take on added importance too as we make our way through the crisis turning. These include the need to be nimble, to effectively evaluate and innovate processes, to possess data literacy, and to demonstrate a high emotional IQ to help others find their stride in a post-crisis world. All of these factors will weigh mightily when it comes to talent acquisition, onboarding, and employee development.

What tools will businesses, leaders, and employees need to call on to get through turbulence and realize available opportunities?
In addition to possessing the right qualities to navigate crisis and find success, leaders and their teams will need to apply the right tools to help activate these qualities. PESTEL (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal) analysis is one such tool that helps to identify the different overarching forces that are affecting an organization. Our previous point about identifying and unlocking the qualities needed in individuals and organizations will elevate the importance of tools such as Personalysis, which helps individuals and teams “discover, honor and leverage their individual and collective strengths, develop new ways of communicating, make better decisions and stay aligned and in sync with one another.”

Increasing Capability and Reducing Uncertainty

One thing is for certain. The Fourth Turnings shows us that the current crisis we are traversing will, and in fairly short order, resolve itself into a new “High” (an Era of Building). Where will we, our employees, and our businesses be as that happens? Leaders have a clear opportunity now to shape their companies’ trajectories as we all transition to the next Turning. Realizing these opportunities will require a new level of awareness; tapping into new tools, calling on and cultivating specific qualities in staff, and recognizing and acting on patterns that identify issues and paths for innovation. Again, we’ll be exploring all of these issues and diving deeper into each area across a series of webinars and additional posts in the coming weeks. I hope that you will join us, share your perspectives, and begin to unlock new and bigger opportunities for yourself, your employees, and your business.

Need new strategic perspectives and insights to help your business navigate the current Turning while preparing for the next? Request a complimentary consultation from a proven vcfo expert who can help you identify how to better adapt to the current environment and optimize your opportunities ahead as we enter the next Turning.