In business, “legacy thinking” and the ability to distinguish between elements of a legacy that add – or do not add – value for the future, is critical.
I have deliberately avoided the phrase “legacy process”. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming it’s the process that holds us back, when the culprit is often our own thinking and mindset.
A legacy of any type – whether a process, culture or business model – represents the status quo, and change is always challenging. But not all elements of a legacy require abandoning or altering; some elements, such as basic leadership skills, form a solid and ongoing foundation.
The secret to achieving growth and continuing success is distinguishing between elements that should stay, and those that must go. One organisation might hold onto its legacy in its entirety and remain stuck in the past; another will throw out all aspects of the past, disposing of valuable legacy elements.
The nations and organisations of the Middle East are in a different position to those of the more established economies, in which organisational thinking, over the course of 150 years, has created substantial process and thinking legacy. Parts of this legacy will, of course, be positive and beneficial, but other aspects will restrict adaptability and the ability to innovate.
In the Middle East, a hybrid legacy is being created, comprising process and organisational elements from the West and cultural elements from the region. However, the former are not embedded as deeply in the Middle East as they are in the West.
This leaves the region in a position of strength in terms of adopting entrepreneurial thinking, innovative approaches and digital integration, but short of leaders capable of implementing these strategies. There is a cultural legacy in the region of directive, rather than consultative, leadership, which might facilitate rapid, but not necessarily effective, change. In other words: we might be able to move quickly, but are we certain that we are going in the right direction?
Organisations in the Middle East must develop leaders who are able to move quickly once a decision has been made, but use consultative leadership to determine direction. Staff must be engaged because they want to be, not because they have been told to be.
Getting engagement right could result in up to 60% of employees putting in a third more effort.
Legacy also relates to the position of women in organisations and wider society. It makes little sense to restrict the involvement in business to half your population. The leadership style of women may be particularly suited to developing today’s flexible, and inspiring organisations.
The role of HR
The HR community will be vital in helping CEOs escape restrictive legacy thinking, while retaining valuable elements. If HR can achieve this, it will become a catalyst for organisational change and nation building.
This assumes that HR has sufficient credibility to gain the ear of the CEO. HR needs to be better at presenting a compelling organisational case for change, rather than simply a compelling HR case for change. This is not just about HR helping the CEO to be better. As UAE vice president and prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said in Flashes of Thought:
“A true leader is one who creates a favourable environment to bring out the energy and ability of his team. A great leader creates more great leaders, and does not reduce the institution to a single person.”
Organisations across the Middle East have the opportunity to “leapfrog” the 150 years of leadership trial and error Western economies have endured, and produce leaders fit for the 21st century. Their success will be determined by their ability to escape restrictive legacy factors and build on positive elements, with support from HR.