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What your employees can teach you.

Keeping track of all the twists and turns happening in 2020 is not easy for anyone, let alone leaders. How does one make sure the right decisions are made and that the strategy chosen is the right one?

An interview with Karin from Purac about why listening to your team is more important than ever.

We, at Whyser, had the pleasure of interviewing Karin Öhgren Gredegård, market area manager at Purac, a Swedish water management company. With several years of experience as a manager in a high-tech heavy industry, Karin has seen first hand how the need for agile strategies is growing.

“Having a long term strategy running over several years is necessary to set the direction, but the strategy will quickly grow obsolete if it doesn’t get updated according to how the world changes.”

As a manager in a company with high complexity, Karin’s way to stay in tune with the market is to be very close to the organization and the customers, constantly making sure that she gets the information from the source.

“My team are the experts and receive information or signals daily on what is happening in the market. One example can be that a new customer group is turning up in the market that wasn’t expected to fit the product.”

When Karin and her team have a closer look at the observation, they try to determine if it is a true business opportunity. They validate the observation using data or other tools at their disposal.

“By validating an observation we get the proof that allows us to act quickly and update our assumptions about the world and change our behaviour.”

These small, incremental course-corrections are creating a feedback loop that adapts the strategy to the real world. Karin has been able to, in a safe way, work face to face with most of her team during 2020, which makes the communication very natural.

She believes strongly in a present leadership that involves as many parts of the organisation as possible both in setting the strategy and delivering on it.

“The most important thing you can do as a leader is to listen to your team and the organization, or else you will miss out on new opportunities.”

How to adapt learning into your plans

Some leaders have felt at a loss in this crisis, where others have successfully managed to navigate 2020. Why is that? One thing is market conditions, the other being that these leaders often have an organization with strong situational awareness, where trends are captured and implemented quickly.

In a recent article in HBR by Cassie Korzyrkov, Chief Decision Scientist at Google, the importance of using analytics to inform decisions is highlighted. Data, AI or statistics should be used for validation of hypotheses, but analytics make sure the right hypotheses and questions are asked. To navigate your way through a crisis, asking the right questions is essential, and neither your strategy nor your machine learning algorithms will do that for you.

The ones that can ask the right questions are the people with the finger on the pulse that get fresh information from the outside world. Those people are, that’s right, your employees.

A feedback learning loop that tests your observations can be implemented by any company who is operating in a changing environment. The main elements of a strategy feedback loop are:

  1. Receiving a signal (or a hypothesis)

  2. Validating the signal

  3. Concluding and updating the strategy.

Signals can be external or internal, related to new technology, workflow improvements and customer behaviour. If you are a leader, and you want an agile business, this is where you can make a difference. Even though it can be challenging, depending on how open your company culture is, listening more to your team will be essential. The employees are the ones who see the trends first, and will most likely also appreciate giving their input.

Validating a signal can be done in many ways. If you have a big data set or some statistical tool you can use, that is great, but in many cases, the way to validate the signal will be to run a small experiment and see what the outcome is. It can be to test some new marketing channels, try a new sales message or find a way to test new technology. Validation should be simple as the point is to make the learning loop fast and cost-effective.

When you have seen the results from your validation, you should quickly conclude and either reject the hypothesis or accept it and update your strategy accordingly. Make sure to share the learnings in your organisation. A healthy company should keep these processes transparent to get inspired across functions.

How can a remote team get the feedback loop going?

As most of us have experienced since March, one of the things that easily is lost when working remotely is the small-talk with your colleagues. These water-cooler conversations not only build stronger relations in the team, but they also contain information that you might not have received otherwise. The “hey, I forgot to tell you”-moments.

So how do you, as a leader, get this important information?

Having regular online meetings with your team seems obvious, but having time for informal and creative conversation is less common. A way to structure the signals you receive and manage the feedback loops is to use a strategy management platform. Just make sure to pick one where everyone can contribute and it is easy to involve employees!

Read more: The full HBR article by Cassie Kozyrkov

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