Market Leadership in the 21st Century

by | March 2020


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During the 20th century Levi’s® was a market leading, iconic global brand. Yet by the 21st century, revenue had declined by nearly 65% from the 1990’s and remained static at this diminished level for the first decade of the new century. In 2011 a new CEO joined the former icon to turn things around. When talking to people inside the organisation he was shocked that so many thought Levi’s® was performing well. Let's discuss market leadership in the 21st century.

Market dominance like Levi’s® often leads to an inward focus and a loss of organisational purpose that drove its creation. Think Enron, Ansett Airlines, HIH Insurance, Dick Smith Electronics or OneTel. At their peak no one considered that they would collapse. There are myriad reasons for these collapses, but an inward focus and lack of attention to purpose is consistent in all of these.

The 21st century requires organisations to drive an outward focus on customers, competitors, the marketplace, its changes and data-driven decision making.

This requires nimble, innovative and change-ready cultures to react quickly. To achieve this, it’s vital that the organisation’s purpose is clearly articulated and embraced by its workforce, according to Robert E Quinn and Anjan V Thakor in Creating a Purpose Driven Organisation.

Leaders and teams don't have to wait for their organisation to drive this cultural shift. At a local level, teams can engage in conversations about the organisational purpose and share their perspectives of how this is demonstrated. They can consider how their own team is contributing to that purpose.

A closed-group social media platform can kick-start and maintain conversations or thought bubbles. Comments relate to the organisational purpose, the team’s contribution to it and how colleagues can enhance that contribution. Group curatorship of the content eliminates destructive or disrespectful content, but not views that may be perceived as alternative.

Keep social dialogue open and work towards consensus to connecting and aligning the team’s performance and contribution with the organisation's purpose.

It may be that there’s lack of clarity about the organisation’s purpose. Many may consider that profit and shareholder value is the purpose. These may be the commercial drivers, but they won’t be the purpose of the organisation. If the organisation’s purpose is not clear or doesn’t engage people, it’s useful to share opinions about how to make the organisational purpose resonate.

Once there’s understanding of the organisation’s purpose and the team’s contribution to it, attention can shift to each team member’s contribution. If at any stage a team is stuck on how to begin the purpose review, or as an ice breaker, the previously cited article by Quinn and Thakor may be analysed to trigger discussion. Alternatively, a discussion about the ground rules of the process may be established.

Throughout the process, attention is given to collaboration, rather than teamwork. Collaboration is increasingly required as cross functional and geographically diverse teams grow.

Collaboration doesn’t require hierarchical leadership to direct and engage; instead requiring individuals with varying drivers to work together to achieve an agreed outcome.

When a team embraces and enunciates the organisational purpose and can visualise the group’s and each individual’s contribution to this purpose, broadcast this message across the business unit and organisation.

This can influence other teams to do the same. Team momentum is maintained by reminders in group meetings and communications of how the team is living the purpose of the organisation. Engaged teams may use this momentum to analyse the organisational values. They can discuss what the values mean and how important they are to the team and to individuals and their success. Rank them by collective importance. Describe behaviours that demonstrate these values in day-to-day work and those that don’t. A highly engaged team may discuss how to applaud daily examples of the values being lived. Equally, they may identify respectful and assertive ways to call out behaviours that aren’t emblematic of these values.

Organisational values support the enablement of the organisation’s purpose. By bringing the purpose and values to life, workforce engagement grows, and cultures can be effectively shaped to respond to 21st century demands.

By driving this engagement and culture shift, simply and affordably from the ground, another 21st century essential is brought to life: bottom up change!

Bottom up change guarantees successful organisational transformation. According to Ernst & Young’s 2015 report, the type of transformation required of organisations in the 21st century is significant:

  • Being fluid and nimble
  • Driving speed and efficiency through internal social collaboration
  • Flattening organisation structure and bolstering employee engagement via formation of cross functional teams
  • Structuring the organisation around value delivered to the market, not functional departments and competencies
  • Driving employee engagement through transparency and candour

By adopting these strategies and tactics within teams, leaders can drive bottom up change and create cultures that become industry-disruptive, enabling its organisations to maintain or achieve leadership in a marketplace being reinterpreted every day by digital transformation.

By 2018 this kind of cultural and structural change has enabled Levi’s® to improve revenue, profitability, market share and segment share. Its people now focus on customers, winning and teamwork. They appreciate that individual and team performance really matters.

Written by Greg Smith

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