Leadership imperatives for an agile business
Read the report.

In the first post of my series on the traits that agile, high-performance insurers need in their top executives as they face uncertain times, I focused on the ability to maintain a vision of the future while putting out fires today. This time, I address how successful leaders draw on the talents of executives and managers at all levels of the organization.

A key to that is using an ensemble approach when building management teams, according to new Accenture research on business agility.

As explained in our report, Leadership Imperatives for an Agile Workforce, leaders build effective teams by deploying executives and managers in a network that can flexibly shift and re-form to address challenges and opportunities as they arise. This is critical, because companies no longer can rely on lone individuals at the top to handle all of the complexities and uncertainties in the global environment.  With an ensemble approach, executives can be brought together in combinations that draw on their experiences and perspectives for specific situations.

Our research finds that 44 percent of top-performing companies—those with at least 10 percent sales gains in the past fiscal year— use this approach to tackle problems. Only 20 percent of low performers—those with declining sales—do.  In addition, 45 percent of top performers say they can deploy these teams very quickly, compared to 21 percent of low performers.

Another significant distinction between top and low performers is the amount of “fresh air” they pump into their leadership teams. Our research found that 48 percent of top performers say their teams have changed over time to incorporate a broader range of perspectives and skills. Only 25 percent of low performers do so. Additionally, to broaden perspectives and help identify opportunities presented by industry convergence, 41 percent of the top-performing companies bring in executives from other industries. Only 20 percent of low performers do that.

Strong leaders also trust others and empower them to make decisions, which is important for avoiding bottlenecks. Of course, empowering others risks unintended consequences at times. But even those can be opportunities to learn and adapt.

Learning to adapt does not have to be a baptism by fire, however. Accenture believes that the insurers that will be most adept at managing through uncertainty and volatility are developing leaders at every level. That goes beyond succession planning to involving junior staff in big decisions. As with all areas of learning, experience is the best teacher for leaders.

Next time: Driving results.

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