Building breakthrough organisations by upgrading leadership and governance


New challenges, demands, and dynamics in our surroundings are calling for new organisational ideals and qualities. We need to develop adaptive leadership and governance, capable of handling both incremental and radical change, by strengthening our ability to navigate key drivers and dynamics in different contexts and applying granular leadership and governance qualities based on the needs present. By doing so we can move forward more deliberately and develop resilient and high-performing organisations.

How might we upgrade leadership and governance to build resilient and high-performing organisations; capable of successfully navigating a turbulent world, unleashing the power of people and modern technologies, and creating outstanding value and impact?

This insight is an excerpt of a longer article, including illustrations, published on LinkedIn

Why do we need to upgrade our organisations? 

Organisations are our primary platforms for human collaboration, development, and value creation. They have served us well for a long time, but new challenges, demands, and dynamics are calling for new organisational ideals and qualities, especially in the fields of leadership and governance

Important drivers of renewal include: 

  • Accelerating VUCA conditions (increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) that our human navigation and development capabilities struggle to keep up with. 

  • An evolving and transformative sustainability agenda that is pushing us to redefine challenges and set higher ambitions for ourselves. 

How can we think about organisational development? 

We clearly need to think differently about organisational development, and it can be helpful to look at the need for renewal and progress through the lenses of innovation and in relation to our human nature

While we historically could come a long way by innovating on existing business and through stepwise innovation, what we can call incremental innovation, we will increasingly need to also work on platform- and breakthrough innovations, what we can call radical innovation or transformation given that such renewal will more fundamentally change the nature of our business. 

A key challenge with innovation, and change at large, is that there is a strong gravity towards more of the same in our frameworks and human nature. We therefore need to create attraction towards renewal and progress through deliberate efforts and support such as attractive stretch goals, inspiring cases and role models, and smarter collaboration. 

To meet the needs for both incremental and radical innovation, organisations need to develop “both and” mindsets, -efforts, and -capabilities

  • Granular and adaptive mindsets: Being able to identify different development needs – such as incremental vs. radical – and approach them with suitable mindsets, efforts, and ways of working and making decisions. 

  • Strategic portfolio of efforts: Balancing ambitions, resource allocation, and efforts across different development needs along dimensions such as time horizons and value-creation drivers. 

  • Deliberate and deeper capabilities: Building capabilities in line with current and future development needs, including ability to deal with gravity towards more of the same and stimulate renewal and progress. 

On a fundamental level, our thinking and behaviours are shaped by our primal emotions and instincts also referred to as our human drives. We therefore need to team up with our human drives and organise accordingly: 

  • Observe them and respond more deliberately. 

  • Nudge them through framing and facilitation. 

  • Cultivate them through personal, group, and organisational development. 

What can we do to develop breakthrough organisations? 

A natural and pragmatic entrance point for building organisations fit for future is to explore what solutions will be needed to successfully create value and positive impact, be it in the form of new offerings, customer experiences, or configurations of how to deliver the offerings and experiences. 

Having identified concrete development opportunities and desired solutions, we can define the broader picture of what we want to create and become by working on relevant dimensions including strategy design and deployment, organisational design, leadership development, innovation and design, transformation initiatives, as well as other know-how and operational excellence. 

While most organisations are optimised for and well capable of navigating incremental change along these dimensions, they typically need to strengthen their ability to handle and drive radical change. To successfully navigate new territories and radical change, we need to develop our ability to sense, identify, evaluate, and handle key drivers and dynamics in our external and internal systems such as: 

  • Turbulence in surroundings: To what extent is and will the surroundings be characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA)? 

  • Dominant mindsets: Which mindset are currently dominant, and which will be needed, on dimensions such as how we look at the world, people, organisations, and resources? 

  • Learning modes: How do and should we approach and stimulate learning, such as how we seek and inform new understanding, and how we scaffold learning? 

  • Human nature: Which aspects of our human nature are and need to be present and cultivated or not? 

Based on a better understanding of key drivers and dynamics, today and ahead, we can develop and apply corresponding leadership and governance qualities – which in the context of radical change will require fundamentally different intentions, ideals, and design criteria. Important dimensions and topics to consider include: 

  • Goal setting: How do we balance different development horizons, goal orientations, and needs for constraints? 

  • Governance: What types of organisational design, decision-making, and cooperation will be most effective? 

  • Culture: What types of cultural orientation, relations, and communication should be cultivated? 

  • Leadership: How do we approach leadership, what qualities do we embrace, and how do we face important aspects of being human such as our struggles and emotions? 

In the same way as key drivers and dynamics change from situation to situation, so does the need for different leadership and governance qualities vary – hence the importance of what we can refer to as granular leadership and governance qualities

Building on the previous perspectives, adaptive leadership and governance combines our ability to navigate key drivers and dynamics in different contexts with our ability to apply granular leadership and governance qualities based on the needs present

By broadening our perspectives on organisational development, in particular leadership and governance, we have a better foundation for moving forward more deliberately and developing resilient and high-performing organisations. 

Four key development dimensions to consider and ideally work on in parallel are: 

  1. Navigating the new agendas: Getting a better grip on the evolving sustainability and business agendas, and how to handle the challenges and development opportunities – in essence navigating new realities in tune with our outer and inner systems

  1. Developing solutions and skills: Creating insights, products, services, customer experiences, know-how, practices, and ways of working that drive business and sustainability – in essence discovering and designing our way forward from where we are now

  1. Embracing the deeper shifts: Cultivating transformative capabilities and redefining business for long-term value creation, positive sustainability impact, and ultimately regeneration – in essence upgrading leadership, governance, and business for a better future

  1. Utilising collective intelligence: Collaborating smarter to enhance knowledge integration, problem-solving capacity, creativity, and continuous learning and improvement – in essence unleashing capabilities needed to take on the most pressing and complex challenges

"Are you wondering how to navigate the future of sustainability, business and organisational development?"