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Leading in an age of disruption

By Julie Gebauer and Suzanne McAndrew | April 4, 2023

Change accelerators, a group of organizations that outperform amid disruption, have something to teach tomorrow’s leaders.
Work Transformation|Employee Experience|Ukupne nagrade |Benessere integrato

While “the only constant is change” is time-tested truth, the pace and degree of change these last few years stretch the limits of that adage. We are in an era of disruption.

And disruption demands response.

Through our research, we have identified a group of organizations that not only respond to disruption but also thrive – outperforming across a range of dimensions, including financial results. We think these organizations, the change accelerators, have something to teach tomorrow’s leaders.

Change accelerators thrive amid disruption

Change accelerators dampen the noise of volatility by anticipating market needs, striking the right pace of movement and instilling confidence in their stakeholders.

What else do they do well?

First, the leaders of these organizations present a clear vision that inspires employees. More than four in five employees (85%) working for change accelerator companies report that their senior leadership has offered them an understandable picture of their future. That’s a significant 15-point edge over the lower-performing “disrupted organizations.”

Next, respect as a cultural value features centrally (86% for change accelerators versus 60% for disrupted organizations). Respect and workplace dignity create the psychological safety needed for open idea sharing and collaboration – the very seeds of innovation and growth. And we see this flow through to another distinguishing characteristic: More employees from the change accelerators say they have a voice in decision making and can challenge the status quo (77% versus 46%).

Alongside these internal measures, change accelerators know their customers. They are more likely, according to their employees, to anticipate needs for new products and services their customers will value (83% versus 59%) and they move rapidly from concept to implementation (74% versus 53%).

Ultimately, their bottom lines tell the story. Our research reveals that over a three-year period, change accelerators delivered 264% greater revenue growth than organizations with below-average change effectiveness.

That's quite the argument for accelerating change.

Meeting the moment

Shifts in industry, the workplace and even the world can be unnerving. And so employees expect senior leaders will help them navigate the ripples and turbulence of change. They depend on clear strategy and a clear path forward. They want leaders who speak their language, foster inclusive environments and open opportunities for success.

Yet many employees question if their leaders will do this.

In fact, employee confidence in executive leaders’ ability to stay on top of change declined by 16 percentage points in just one quarter during the second half of 2022. It’s a startling statistic that comes alongside our trend data showing weakening employee confidence in senior leaders’ ability to formulate business strategy and shape an inclusive culture.

This is where the lessons of the change accelerators can help.

Our research shows that great change leaders focus on communication. They listen well to all stakeholders, showing empathy and demonstrating that they really understand what others are thinking and feeling. Through their communication, they build employee trust, inspire and connect teams to the vision.

And just as they are prepared to drive the organization forward, they also stay attentive to the employee experience in three particular ways:

  • Listening strategy: Knowing that the issues and sentiments of last quarter (or even last month) may not be today’s concerns, they routinely take the pulse of the organization.
  • Wellbeing: Change wears on employees in ways that are visible and unseen, so ensuring managers, programs and the work environment foster employee wellbeing is an essential step in supporting strong, long-term performance.
  • Total rewards: Just as leaders review business strategies periodically, the total rewards program also needs a check to assess if it is meeting employees’ evolving needs and the company’s goals.

While change is a constant, an age of disruption creates new opportunities, invites a reimagined future and makes room for the leaders who know how to harness that change for success.


Global Head, Health, Wealth & Career

Global Head, Employee Experience Business
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