Leading significant change in 2021

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

"When you change your thoughts, remember to change your world"

How to Operationalise Your Growth Strategy in 2021 & Beyond

“When you change your thoughts, remember to also change your world”. These are the words of Norman Vincent Peale, in his 1952 best-seller, The Power of Positive Thinking. As we hurtle into 2021, now is the time to provoke your thinking and focus on how exactly you will lead these changes.

Our personal worlds have shifted in 2020 and it’s clear that the world of work will never be the same either. Some businesses have experienced an exceptional year of growth and are budgeting gingerly. For some businesses this year has been disastrous and strategy is focused on survival and relaunch. All of our clients have transformed in one way or another and their 2021 strategy represents even more significant change. One thing is certain, the role of the leader has never been more critical.

This blog is not about how to write a growth strategy, if you and your senior team do need strategic inspiration, or our recent Covid Recovery Blog Series is a ‘must read”.

Nor is the focus here going to be on how to lead teams remotely. This is now a critical competency, and our last blog, Avoiding The isolation of Remote Working, introduced you to our Uspire Virtual Care CREDO.

In their 2020 Sales Enablement Survey, Hubspot highlight that the quality of the Customer Experience will make or break results more than anything else in 2021. Our challenge to you is to put your customer at the heart of your business vision, strategy and actions.


The aim of this blog, is to share our key commercial leadership models, processes and principles to provoke you to focus on the ’how” of leading your business, yes every part of it, to focus externally – on your customers’ growth.


So how do you make sure that your customer-centric growth strategy will succeed? We know that it is a mistake to assume that your people will miraculously understand the strategic intent perfectly and know exactly what change to deliver. In fact, 80% of our coaching conversations with leaders are around how to influence stakeholders to deliver strategy. Here’s a simple process that works for thousands of leaders all over the world.

The Uspire Leadership Model is adapted from the work of Dr Derek Biddle and Ali Stewart in the 1990s. Dr Biddle is actually an engineer by trade. He researched the processes and behaviours of leaders across all functions to understand what made them successful. His conclusion was that great leaders are not born, nor are they all highly charismatic or of a certain personality style. What they do is adhere to a set of principles and processes, executed consistently, that can be learned. Good news for all.

We have worked closely with Ali Stewart for the last fifteen years. She has become a valued Uspire Leadership Partner and our team were some of her first globally accredited practitioners.

We’ve adapted the 4 step model to create 8 Commercial Leadership Competencies. These are your behavioural essentials for the change intended.


I remember it clearly. It was 1995 and I was an account manager at a multi-national foodbusiness. One Monday I came into the office to find a series of statements had appeared, in huge font, on the wall in front of my desk. They said things like “Customer First”, “Trust” and “Integrity”, all in branded colours. We pondered the walls that day, it sparked debate, weweren’t sure what we were supposed to do yet and looked forward to hearing more. A few days later our MD walked across the office, let’s just say he was “old school” in style. I intercepted him on the way back from the coffee machine and plucked up the courage to ask him what the wall statements were about. ”Oh that”, he replied, his eyes rolling, “we spent a fortune on it” and with that, he continued back to the lift to the Directors’ floor. We saw the statements at a conference or two and they appeared at the bottom of a slide master, but that was it. For a much better approach to creating and living by your personal & business brand vision, read Anchoring Your Core Ideology & Learning From The Unexpected and The Three Ds Of Personal Branding.

Business Visioning is not something that happens once a year at a board awayday, though it’s an ideal place to start. It isn’t a series of trite statements on a wall, though it is essential that it is written. The art of Visioning is an everyday competence that is essential at every stage of operationalising a strategy. It is about setting direction, being clear about why its important and what the expectation is of every person in the organisation.

Our Vision at Uspire is ‘’The Finest Commercial Leaders In The World”. We shaped this at a Board away day in 2016. It informs everything we now do. We created a Brand Key, and our ‘tag line “Provoke – Energise - Transform”. We share our values regularly too. This sparked the idea for our Uspire Network, to create a community of leaders to learn, share and problem solve together. It has served us well in 2020, as we’ve re-invented our approach to commercial capability and become ILM accredited Master Remote Trainers.

Here are some VISIONING questions for leaders:

• Where are we going?

• What is expected of us?

• How does this impact customers?

• How are we doing?

• What’s in it for us?

• Where do we go for help?

These questions are in the minds of your teams right now. The challenge for you and the leadership team is to be able to communicate with clarity at the right time, in the right way for each individual. Needless to say, no leader’s Vision was 2020 in 2020 (I had to get that one in ;-)). This makes the need for clarity of direction and openness of communication never more great.


“Execute”, “Implement”, “Action Plan”, “Activate”, “Get on with it”. However you describe it, once Vision and direction are clear, Mobilising is the next step.

There are three mistakes to watch for at this stage:

Mobilising Mistake 1. Expecting your teams to get on with something that is not clear.

“Why are we doing this again?, is a signal to go back to Vision & direction. If your sales team are asking “Why” questions, it’s an alarm bell to your marketing teams that vision 7 benefits are not strong enough. If your supply or customer service team are asking ‘Why” questions, it’s a signal to be more aligned on commercial strategy.

Mobilising Mistake 2. Inconsistency - don’t change your mind too much.

Whilst it’s been almost impossible to stay on strategy in 2020, spend time and resource in 2021 clarifying Vision questions and then stick to the strategy. This requires commitment and consistency of message at all times.

Imagine your Strategy is like a tangible ball of energy, travelling through the pipeline of your business to the customer. It grows at Vision stage and lives in you and your leadership team, fierce and strong. The challenge is to keep that energy hot as it cascades . The strategy must burst through to the customer with impact & energy. If you change direction too much, there will be confusion in the teams, energy leaks in the pipe and the flow that comes out at the end of the pipe will not impress the customer.

What feedback do you get from your customers about your Strategic Impact?

Mobilising Mistake 3. Not involving the team, from the Vision stage.

In it’s latest report 2021 - Accelerate Out Of The Crisis, sales research agency, Forrester reminds us that B2B customers are involving more and more stakeholders in the buying decision. Forrester research found that companies who “activate more employees to support the delivery of commercial goals” generate exponentially better results.

Our Uspire Brand Key has “Champion-led Change” as one of our differentiators. All of our projects start with the appointment of a group of “ambassadors”, to announce, steer and embed and ‘champion’ the strategic intent.

One of our client Sales Directors uses a five-pillar strategy dashboard with customers. A traffic light system of core KPIs tracks progress by customer, for each strategic pillar. Here is what the mobilising plan looks like. Note that it starts with a “People Pillar”. This dashboard has been adopted by all functions, so that every person in the business can see their contribution. It’s a blueprint for success.

Here are some more MOBILISING Questions.

• Who in your business needs to be mobilised for each key strategy?

• Who can you appoint as Champions of Change?

• How does your organisational design need to change?

• Where are the capability gaps required to mobilise strategy?

• What could be the “energy leaks’ in your process pipeline?

• What feedback are you getting from customers now?

• How will you measure the impact of your strategy on customers?


After VISIONING and MOBILISING, the leader’s role moves to the DEVELOP Stage in strategy delivery.

In his book “Thinking Fast & Slow”, Daniel Kahneman states that 80% of decisions are based on what he calls “System 1 Thinking”, that is, thinking led from emotions and not logic. If you are not connecting with your teams on an emotional level, then your Vision & Strategy implementation efforts simply won’t connect.

Be conscious of how you and your senior team are impacting your people. Like my MD in 1995, you are under constant observation. Your teams will pick up signals from your words, tone and body language that will influence their confidence in the plan. Be consistent in your approach, even an eyebrow in the wrong place can leak your true thoughts.

"Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook)

Our ‘go to’ tools to develop consciousness are Personal Colour Style Profiling, Motivational Maps & Underlying Beliefs. This latter assessment measures your balance of Support andChallenge in the way you lead. Significant change programmes require teams to stretch and develop. The model below highlights the dangers of getting the Support/Challenge balance wrong. If you’d like to complete any of our assessments, contact joanne@uspire.co.uk

The second competency at the DEVELOPING stage is ‘Transforming”. The leadership team in your business are accountable for owning the capability requirements needed to deliver your strategy. Put bluntly, if you do not anticipate the specific training and development needs of your people and take action on them, your strategy will flounder.

Your focus must remain on the functional capabilities your team require to deliver on your strategic priorities. Coaching and mentoring are essential in 2020.There have been two competencies that have emerged as critical in 2020.

1. Value Story-telling

Aligning decisions and proposals to your business values through story is a powerful capability. Find and learn to tell Value Stories that demonstrate your strategic narrative. All staff contribute to your strategic story, from the beginning of the ‘energy pipeline’ to the end.

The power of story-telling is deeper than the sales team. This has never been more so than in 2020. We helped one of our clients to train this ancient art to all functions virtually this year. The intention was to find Value Stories that resonated more deeply than the traditional list of benefits and created a point of difference with customers.

What has emerged is a set of personal, colleague and company stories that live the values of the organisation. This has buoyed the team, developed a strong bond of trust and contributed to exceptional results. The initiative has been so successful that an Instagram Channel has been set up to share the Value Stories throughout the business.

2. Digital Leadership

1. Lead strongly from home - The world’s ability to work remotely has progressed 10 years in 10 months this year and is now a priority competence for leaders. Read our last blog, ‘Avoiding the Isolation of Remote Working using your EQ CREDO’, for our advice on leading from home.

This capability is also critical for customer-facing teams. Forrester reports that "84% of sales teams that trained in remote selling in 2020 met or exceeded their targets”. We recommend you prioritise training in this area. 80% of Uspire customers have commissioned us to run ‘remote selling’ workshops since June.

2. Be digitally visible - Your authority, credibility and humanity as a leader must also extend to the outside world via social media. Love it or hate it, your LinkedIn Profile is accessed by your current and potential employees and your customers. If you haven’t already, now is the time to create your personal digital brand.

3. Embrace video as a leadership tool - Cisco predict that 80% of traffic will consist of video by the end of 2021. Embrace video to connect authentically with your teams, customers and external stakeholders.


When an individual or team are performing highly, delivering on the strategic plan, it's time to let go, delegate fully and move onto the next big thing.

Two Big Watchouts for leaders:

1. Beware delegating before an individual or team is fully enabled. Our blog 25 Hour Days & Lessons From Buffet & Ford is worth a read, before you release the reins.

2. Beware holding onto the reins for too long, which will result in frustration and a loss of trust. “Reaching in” down the line of management can be destructive, not least for the line manager. It takes a confident leader to let go, and an acceptance of failure in order to learn. Checking in “with permission” is a good solution here.

A universal frustration at this Enabling stage, is that individuals and teams will reach it at different points. One team may be flying, whilst another is struggling with a particular strategy, customer, or team dynamic. This is what makes the role of the leader a life’s work.

A self and team-aware leader will know exactly who and which team requires attention at any one time. Delegating cannot happen effectively, unless the person accepting the task is clear, trained and comfortable with the task. Delegation before enablement is one of the key reasons for failure.

Ask yourself these ENABLING questions to check your attitude to releasing the reins:

Who in my team is enabled in which areas of our strategy?

Who requires better training and development?

Where do I need to get out of the way of my team?

Which areas of strategy require a tighter grip?

What is your attitude to leading strategic change in 2021 and beyond?

Complete our Leading Change & Transition Diagnostic before our next Think Tank.

If you would like to discuss your leadership approach, or to complete any of our awareness diagnostics, please contact Amanda@uspire.co.uk

I will leave you with our Six Guiding Principles for leading change.

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