“We can only know where we’re going if we know where we’ve been,” Maya Angelou once proclaimed. These words are especially true today for aspirational leaders across industries and the globe. The challenge is real— 40% of new leaders fail within 18 months— and the tension between growth and profitability generally peaks at the very points that new leaders are hired.
Pivoting a business is hard, but the leader’s role must fundamentally shift along with the company’s emphasis when it undergoes what Executive onboarding expert George Bradt calls an “inflection point”— a significant event that requires a rapid shift in strategy, organization, and operations all at once. The true balancing act comes from the fact that while marketing, sales approach, and investor relations may need to shift, the organization’s foundation— its purpose— must remain the same. At these inflection points, CEOs must end their reign as Chief Enforcers to become Chief Experience Officers, the “race to the bottom”— slashing costs, prices and quality must become a “race to the top”— doubling down on Purpose and alignment with market needs.
Chief Experience Offers need to focus on why the company does what it does and the ways that it benefits clients or customers. How are Chief Experience Officers born? The first step is to shift focus from internal efficiency to internal experience, as the employee experience impacts the customer experience, which generates greater sales and the ability to scale. If you compete on discounts and prices, you can win customers for a day, but if you compete on experience, you can gain consumers for a lifetime.
One of the primary reasons leaders fail to rise to the challenge of inflection points is not even related to the inflection point itself. It’s because they aren’t hired properly or don’t implement necessary change effectively. Hiring, onboarding, assimilation, understanding, and gradual change are critical to any new leader’s success. To paraphrase George’s words on the Drive Profit with Purpose Podcast, “Don’t shock an organization, or it will shock you.”
Even if an organization has a leader that realizes the critical importance of Purpose, the business won’t thrive unless there’s a purposeful team. During points of inflection and outside of them, leaders and employees alike should be hired for motivation, strengths, and fit. A great way to start is to use George Bradt’s top 3 interview questions: Will you be able to do the job? Will we be able to tolerate you? And will you be able to love what you do? The greater the need for change, the more essential these questions become. This purpose-oriented line of questioning shouldn’t be limited to hiring.
Ask “Why?” before every decision you make and every action you take. Explore the brand’s purpose and values, help the company gradually evolve, and be sure that your new actions reflect your brand’s identity and consumer demands.
It takes intention and alignment to overcome obstacles, elevate performances, and scale businesses. The challenge is that once a business hits an inflection point, it’s often too late, and the race to the bottom is inevitable. Now is the time to take stock of where your company stands in the world of Purpose and Values. Set those foundations firmly today, and you will be poised to purposefully navigate tomorrow’s inflection points and reap the benefits and profits of a truly purposeful company.