Lessons in Leadership: Dr. Simon Hayward, founder and CEO of Cirrus, part of Accenture

The Agile Leader

“The last two years have demonstrated the need for leaders who can adapt to ever-changing social and economic circumstances,” said Sarah Skinner, Grace Blue’s CEO EMEA, as she introduced the speakers at our latest Lesson in Leadership event. “They have been driving organisational change whilst remaining connected to their purpose, teams and customers.”

Insights from CMOs

Clare Tasker, Director at Accenture, shared insights from 2021 research conducted amongst 1,000 senior marketers in 19 markets. Key findings revealed that, despite ongoing disruption and change, marketers were facing the challenge of owning and acting on their brand purpose, navigating changes in customer behaviour, and managing exhaustion. Over 70% of respondents suggested the pandemic had overwhelmed and exhausted their teams.

By contrast, 17% of respondents had flourished, adapting to the pace of change and enabling their teams, customers and partners to do the same.  So why did some marketing leaders thrive while others felt overwhelmed? Dr Simon Hayward, founder and CEO of Cirrus (Accenture) and author of “The Agile Leader”, suggests the latter group may have lacked agility. He explained this is the ability to move quickly and easily (with pace and nimbleness), allowing organisations and the individuals that lead them to respond at pace to increasing competition and ever-changing market dynamics.

The agile framework

Accenture’s research revealed that cultures of risk aversion, a lack of clarity and direction, distance from customers and a lack of collaboration and teamwork all acted as barriers to agility for marketing leaders. Dr Hayward pointed to ways in which those barriers could be dismantled.

Purpose and direction is fundamental to agile working: what does the organisation and team stand for? Leaders need to make sure the purpose is clear. It needs to be part of organisational day-to-day storytelling: it’s how a company describes what they do and it’s the basis for action.  Building on that purpose and direction, Dr Hayward proposed leaders:

Reduce a culture of risk aversion and encourage learning by building one of the foundations of agility, psychological safety – creating a climate in which employees feel safe to express themselves fully, are willing to learn, experiment and fail if necessary.

Remove the lack of clarity with ruthless prioritisation: making difficult choices and focusing resource on what’s truly necessary, ranking tasks in order of priority based on customer and organisational values.

Reduce the distance from customers: get customer obsession back into sharp focus. Customers’ needs and behaviours have changed rapidly and in ways we can’t predict. Disruptive thinking, customer vision, and agile decision making are all necessary to respond to, and anticipate, their needs.

Break the lack of collaboration in two ways: an intense focus on team working and alignment to team objectives and focus across the organisation on processes that enable cross-team collaboration and working.

The power of agile working is apparent when managers at all levels take these principles on board. They think and behave collaboratively, engage with people in a way that is meaningful, transparent and full of respect; they give their teams the safety to operate and experiment, and individuals the space to learn and grow.

We will continue to discuss the qualities that help the very best leaders thrive and transform businesses in our next Lesson in Leadership – follow us on LinkedIn to find out about our next talks.

In the meantime, you can watch back this and any of the previous sessions on Grace Blue’s Vimeo’s channel.