Performance through disruption – our reflections


The conversation has led me to reflect on who I am.”

Graham Abbey

“In reflecting on what I learned at the launch, a couple of questions in the chat about the constant nature of disruption and the idea of an emerging time of ‘no normal’ came to mind.

I do think there is a difference between change that is disruptive – that is it causes us to call into question ideas or beliefs that we have held tightly – and change that can mostly be accommodated within our existing worldview.

We often seek to accommodate new situations first and only see the aspects of the context that allow us to do so. We have a lot vested in our current understanding, much of which remains hidden in our unconscious. This is why in spite of dramatic transformations in one domain, little changes elsewhere. We have had good quality virtual communication tools for the best part of a decade, but have mostly stuck to the habit of the daily commute to work. We know we are irrevocably damaging our planet, yet continue with lifestyles that are unsustainable. Maybe both of these might now be disrupted.

Performance through disruption means developing the capability to see more of the things we take for granted as conventions, and to reframe them as choices. We heard Lynne describe how her early experiences in the oppressive management culture of 1980’s journalism shaped what strong leadership meant, and how it has taken a radical shift in her working context to see a different set of choices. This is in essence what it is to grow, to see the world in more complex terms and to recognise the wider choices truly have when faced with the unexpected.

We heard all of the panel also describe, with great humility, key moments that have shaped them as leaders and have had an enduring impact on their way of being. We won’t be quick to forget the image of a young Hooper carrying milk to the end of the farmer’s lane – whatever the obstacle! These stories felt as if they pointed to deeper truths, rather than conventions learnt. Scenario planning for multiple possible outcomes had a quality of something more than a management technique for Stuart.

Maybe in here there is a lesson for leading through disruption. One that requires us to discern our deeper truths from our conventional habits, so that we can continually learn and grow while staying true to our essence. This was the kind of thinking being prompted by Stuart’s question to the Bath Rugby squad after poor opening game of the season – what makes us Bath? It was a posing questions of identity.

So, the conversation has led me to reflect on who I am. What are the few profound things that these times are telling me that I need to draw on in managing myself and others? While simultaneously, what beliefs and habits can I disrupt, see differently and let go of – so that something new can emerge and flourish? This is surely what these times are asking of our organisations too – what is really important to who we are and what we want to become?”

“A big takeaway for me from the panel conversation was the interplay between the individual and collective.”

Juliet Daye

“I found myself drawn to a question in the chat about how we avoid disruption fatigue and keep people motivated to perform.

At our core is the basic need for some sense of control, so it’s understandable that disruption can induce fear in us. However not all of our systems are broken or disrupted. Discerning what can be controlled and what can’t can be a source of calm, easing us into a state that’s more likely to help us see patterns, hear different perspectives and step towards the uncontrollable.

A big takeaway for me from the panel conversation was the interplay between the individual and collective. We know autonomy is a vital, motivating force and the panel shared stories of experimenting with more distributed leadership, letting go of hierarchy and giving greater responsibility to others – tapping into a deep well of commitment and performance. However what’s also came through strongly is we’re wired for connection.

Creating spaces for people to stop and hold intimate conversations builds a deeper trust, a more human connection, a safe space for us individually and collectively to experiment with new ways of being, of creating and stepping towards a future that we consciously shape – even if it is unpredictable and unknowable.”

“The takeaway for me therefore isn’t necessarily about risk mitigation. It’s about an organisation’s ability to move with pace and urgency if a risk is identified.”

Ben Eason

“For me, this session made me reflect on how organisations, like Bath Rugby and The Foundation, tactically change mindset in order to thrive during times of disruption and uncertainty!

Stuart spoke about his time working on the farm in deepest darkest Devon. His objective on a Saturday morning was clear: ensure the milk is available at the end of the lane. Following a failure, he instinctively developed risk scenarios and contingency plans should the ‘norm’ become disrupted.

We see this in businesses and many well-known advisory firm’s provide support and insight regarding how organisations need to assess and plan to ensure their client’s ‘milk can always be delivered to the end of the lane’.

The takeaway for me therefore isn’t necessarily about risk mitigation. It’s about an organisation’s ability to move with pace and urgency if a risk is identified – as this is how success will be measured.

Looking back over 2020 there have been winners and losers when it comes to performing through disruption. The ones which impress me are not necessarily those which have developed a ‘kick ass’ reactive strategy which takes opportunist advantage of the economic conditions, but it’s the leadership teams which has engaged their teams, delivered clear guidance and focus and then trusted their people to respond swiftly.

So, for me, when discussing how our clients perform through disruption, my focus will be less on the scenario planning processes but more on how leaders anticipate their people, act positively and thrive in during times of uncertainty.”

“The more questions I acknowledge I can’t answer the more grown up I feel.”

Sammy Burt

“Tarquin and Stuart spoke to promoting learning from failure – so, how do we understand what it is that just happened. I like that we can instil some process around the unpredictable. As Juliet said, let’s identify what we can control and what is uncontrollable and then act or hold.

The controllable – how we choose to react to what happened, how we choose to understand what just happened. What of it was within our control and what were we witnesses to. What can we learn from what it was that happened. What triggers or tells did we miss that we need to be more aware of next time. What are the impacts of it, what are the risks or opportunities should it happen again. Do we want to it happen again and therefore how do we more forward from here.

The uncontrollable – some of this may fall out of our understanding of the controllable – what I mean by that is how often do we blame ourselves for something and then in time realise it was beyond us. Then sit and hold the uncontrollable – put parameters where you can i.e. what are the values that we will hold dear no matter what may happen, what are our hard stops, what is flexible or up for grabs. Understand where discomfort becomes pain, or where discomfort becomes excitement.

As with many reflections I have on many conversations – the panel highlighted as many new questions for me as answers. And I love this because unanswered questions are disruption in themselves and therefore I am challenged to decide which ones I can or should try to answer and which I need to sit with, hold and be comfortable in their unanswerableness.

It’s strange because you spend so much of your life imagining that by knowing stuff you are less of a child and more of an adult but the more questions in life that I realise I cannot answer, and become ok with, the more grown up I feel.”