In adaptive media workplaces, the only constant is change

By Amit Das

Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. (The Times Group)

Mumbai, India


In a disruptive world of constant change, we must ponder the different elements of the current business ecosystem changing faster than ever before. The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment in which we’ve been working has morphed into super VUCA. It is a world increasingly interconnected and digital.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed moment and created a scenario that gave birth to a new acronym: BANI (brittle, anxious, non- linear, and incomprehensible). In a VUCA world we had ambiguity and instability, but with BANI we have chaos and misunderstandings on a different level. This has been an acid test for organisational leadership across the world.

The VUCA world has given way to one that is BANI: brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible.
The VUCA world has given way to one that is BANI: brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible.

In most progressive global organisations across sectors, the change strategy anticipated three different scenarios: a healthy present, short-term economic volatility, and an uncertain future.

The effort employees are willing to expend, and the anxiety they suffer, are shaped by the gap between what they expect and what they get. That’s where we needed bold, authentic, and transparent leadership. This leadership helped make the tough times less traumatic, and earned loyalty and commitment from the workforce for the future when conditions improve.

The challenges required navigating a delicate and sensitive terrain of being compassionately ruthless in making difficult people decisions, managing the cost structure, and ensuring business sustainability and profitable growth.

Transparent communication, empathy, and authenticity were the key features that helped leaders sail through such a tough crisis. The key lesson during this phase has been that an individual who is adaptable, open-minded, and flexible will eventually emerge a winner — not only within the organisation, but beyond it.

Moving ahead with accelerated globalisation and distributed, inter-dependent, networked, and flatter organisation structures, when we have to deal with multi-generational workforces at our workplaces, we need to have more innovative, agile, and authentic leadership.

As the economy recovers from the pandemic-led crisis, it is certain that things won’t return to normal. Whether we call it the new normal, or the new abnormal, a different mode of leadership is required to manage an environment of urgency, high stakes, and uncertainty.

We need to foster adaptation. We need to help people develop practices for a new world of business while they continue using the best practices necessary for current success.

The post pandemic transition looks like:

  • Hierarchies becoming networks of teams.
  • Employees becoming talent.
  • Competitors becoming ecosystem collaborators.
  • Companies creating more human-centred experiences.

We need to embrace disequilibrium. This will keep people in a state that creates enough discomfort to induce change but not so much that they give up. We need to encourage creative disruption by allowing employees at all levels to experiment and develop the culture to celebrate failures if that offers useful lessons and insights.

Future leaders will be acknowledged for demonstrating tenacity during volatility, virtual empowerment, decisional agility, and emotional resilience.

Leaders across organisations need to have robust and transparent communication, drive alignment of purpose, and demonstrate bold and authentic leadership able to connect with the larger organisation transparently and in real time.

However, the leadership attribute that remains relevant regardless of the changing times is adaptability. The leadership quality that differentiates true leaders from others is their ability to adapt with situations while driving change.

At The Times of India Group, which re-affirms the merits of adaptive leadership, is our journey to transform the organisation into a content-first sunrise sector in order to remain successful in the evolving media landscape. Empowering people and allowing them to feel the anxiety around the challenge at hand enables them to make decisions and allows change to happen.

Leaders must remember the best ideas do not reside only at the top. We take constant inspiration from the S-curve for any change or innovation — holding the speed, take off, and maturity discontinuity at the swirl of the “s.” It enables and activates our entire workforce to constantly thrive to create change, adapt to the change faster, and learn to create new change yet again as a team.

The global crisis HR as a function has evolved to the onset of HR 5.0. Within this, empathy, gratitude, collaboration, and shared success are some of the key features everyone agrees with. The biggest challenge business leaders face is the need to balance competing demands while keeping up with a seemingly ever-faster pace of change. In my experience, every disruption also offers an opportunity, as long as we are agile enough to spot it and adapt it for the better.

New challenges are a constant, and the quest to attain dynamic equilibrium never ends. My advice to young, emerging leaders would be to lead with yourself. Leaders need to model their own adaptive capacity and ability to deal with an ever-changing nature of work before wanting to mobilise others.

About Amit Das

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