QBU Q3 Excerpt: John Brennan on Operations

John Brennan

Every quarter, we present insights from top executives from different backgrounds and functions. For Q3, we gathered insights from three business leaders — experts in operations, human resources, and finance — to help you succeed in Q3. Here are insights on operations from interim executive John Brennan.

As businesses advance into Q3 and the second half of 2021, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing business leaders? How are things evolving?

I look far beyond 2021 and far beyond the pandemic. Today’s businesses operate amid a hothouse of evolutionary pressures: collapsing industries, distrust of institutions, automation, artificial intelligence, rising inequality, climate change and resource depletion. Not surprisingly, many leaders and organizations find it difficult to respond to this unprecedented degree

of change. However, a small but growing number are exhibiting new leadership reflexes and organizational adaptations to ensure their business impact is conducive to life in the 21st century and beyond.

Here in the U.S., citizens are acutely aware of the disparate treatment and inconsistent access to career opportunities, essential services and support, and general life benefits for individuals and families in America. The COVID-19 era and extreme divisiveness

propelled by the U.S. political environment in recent years has undoubtedly contributed to our collective intolerance of the status quo.

We stand at a fork in the road. Over the next few years, both leaders and organizations will face two choices: rapidly evolve toward an equitable and sustainable relationship with our planet’s life support systems while positively affecting social change, or delay and face the wrath of angry citizens and alienated customers.

What are a few best practices to help leaders overcome the current challenges? What do you see working well?

The leaders with “new reflexes” realize that in an era of accelerating change, organizations need to innovate rapidly. There is no roadmap and the stakes have never been higher. Leaders with a genuine purpose demonstrate the following communications techniques consistently:

5 Techniques that Manifest Purpose:

  • TRANSLATE Reduce complexity of “purpose.” Break it down into everyday language and actions, for example, via concrete case studies.
  • EMOTIONALIZE Let affected people from inside and outside the organization speak and share their experiences in visual, verbal and written form.
  • STORYTELLING Start with the story of authentic experiences, including all facets of actual events, then deduce the learnings.
  • SPREAD THE WORD Let value ambassadors endorse purpose throughout the organization.
  • DEDICATE TIME Talk personally with people, integrate situations or events that allow discussions to manifest purpose and related values.

Are there any strategies you view to be ineffective?

Too often, companies are thrown completely off course by extreme reaction to current challenges without revisiting their overall direction toward the end game. COVID-19 has certainly caused companies to analyze shifts in the marketplace while revising how work gets done and customer deliverables are achieved. I believe leaders should ensure they don’t lose sight of their over-arching strategy.

Ineffective strategies ignore social injustice and the needs of stakeholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate.

Profit and purpose are converging, and capital markets are moving in this direction. Can business leaders really accomplish their business goals while also advancing society’s goals? The pressing question isn’t whether leaders should care about advancing society’s goals, but how they do so most effectively. For businesses

to survive and succeed in today’s globalized, hyper- connected world, business leaders must be willing to embrace collaboration as a guiding principle, more so than competition.

Over 80% of millennials report that making a positive difference in the world is more important to them
than professional recognition. They no longer believe the primary purpose of business should be to make profit, but rather to create social value. Customers overwhelmingly prefer products tied to a social cause. A significant majority of citizens want changes to how society governs itself—and therefore how problems get solved—and also changes to the corporate status quo.

Capital markets are also moving in this direction. In recent years, socially responsible investing made up more than one out of every four invested dollars under professional management. The world’s largest asset managers are calling on companies to explain how their businesses make “a positive contribution to society” beyond just financial performance.

What skillsets do leaders need to navigate through these challenges?

Empathy, authenticity and the ability to motivate and inspire with an unwavering commitment to foster innovation. Setting clear cross-functional collaboration and accountabilities. And always, the ability to communicate the importance of each team member’s role while they focus on providing genuine value to customers in ways customers are requesting, not dampened by your company’s current capabilities.

About John Brennan

John Brennan built several companies from inception to $300 million revenue in as short as 3 years. He’s an inspired leader with a true passion for transforming organizations, developing cultures rooted in urgency and execution. He passionately leads by setting a high standard of performance while developing and supporting a team that can keep pace. He instills in others a contagious level of confidence, competitiveness, and relentless improvement that amplifies the performance DNA of any company.

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