What are the most pressing global catastrophic risks that businesses currently face?
Right now, we are confronted by a number of urgent, interconnected crises. We can describe the current business environment as VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous).
Firstly, global heating and the climate emergency. With temperatures reported to have increased by 1.02°C since 1880 , the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that we now have less than a decade to act . Building on this, the second risk to address is biodiversity loss. The UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that ‘around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.’ The consequences of these losses are grave and will have implications for all of us. Finally, we face rapidly increasing levels of social inequality. Between March and December 2020, global billionaire wealth increased by $3.9 trillion , whilst global workers’ combined earnings fell by $3.7 trillion, as millions lost their jobs and livelihoods during the pandemic .
Doing nothing is no longer a viable option for any business wanting to survive beyond the next few years. Change is urgently required in our reliance on fossil fuels, the conservation of our ecosystems, and inequality’s economic and social impacts. But unless these changes are rolled out at pace, our efforts just won’t be sufficient to stop irreparable damage. The speed with which vaccines were developed in response to Covid-19 demonstrates that human innovation can happen at speed and scale when a global threat is perceived. We need to harness the same sense of urgency to tackle the other catastrophic risks we face as a global community.
What factors do you see that risk worsens the pandemic’s impacts and complicates the coordination needed to tackle key challenges?
Traditionally, organisations have focused on strict hierarchies and chains of command. But this outdated model is no longer fit for purpose, as the scale of the threats currently facing businesses shows that, now more than ever, a highly flexible and agile approach is what is needed. To respond to the relentlessly volatile landscape that businesses currently face, agility is critical – agility is the ability to react quickly and positively to rapid change. Leaders need to trust their people to work under their initiative and drive innovative solutions to new challenges to achieve this. Leaders can foster this by ensuring teams are made up of diverse individuals who can work together across multiple departments to tackle emerging business challenges and future-proof the business through innovation.
How can we effectively navigate the volatility and uncertainty of the current business context?
No one has been left unaffected by the impact of Covid-19, so businesses must prioritise being ‘human-centred’. Ongoing, rapid periods of change are where a human-centred approach comes into its own. People rarely like change, so, unsurprisingly, around 70% of change initiatives fail. However, when the pandemic struck, businesses of all kinds managed to make significant changes almost overnight, proving that it was possible. Considering the current risk climate, businesses can’t afford to wait to hit the crisis point again before taking action. Human-centred organisations acknowledge that meaningful organisational change means a change to the work or how the job is done. Changing anything else – the colour of the walls, who gets the new corner office – is not meaningful.
Further, the people who are currently doing the work that is the focus of the change initiative should be the ones that lead the process of changing it. Finally, it’s essential to remember that learning something new is at the heart of any organisational change. No learning, no change.