February 05, 2024

Pandemic, financial instability, social movements: the world of work is more fluctuating than ever. How to lead in an era of change? Réal Jacob suggests four key strategies.

“Leaders and management teams evolve in an increasingly complex business context,” explains the professor emeritus of HEC Montréal. The economic and social prosperity of companies now depends on their ability to cope with unpredictability.

1- Innovate together to better manage change

According to Réal Jacob, companies are faced with realities that we were not talking about a few years ago, such as disruptive technologies associated with artificial intelligence, cybersecurity or even health crises. Added to these are certain increasing requirements in terms of customer experience, agility, work flexibility (e.g. teleworking) and mobilization of staff members which are putting increased pressure on managers.

For example, a recent survey of CEOs indicates that some of them doubt the ability of their senior managers to cope with the coming years of turbulence. In addition, they discuss the unavoidable challenge represented by environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. “If the management team does not prepare to better manage this complexity, it risks being difficult for its troops,” warns Réal Jacob.

Adopting strategic, bold and resilient thinking is therefore crucial. Fortunately, leaders have many tools at their disposal, including open and collaborative innovation. This promotes debates of ideas and collective intelligence, which are too often under-exploited in our organizations.

2- Adapt together to changes in work

Meanwhile, work culture is also undergoing transformations. Réal Jacob once again highlights the challenges faced by leaders and management committees - equity, diversity, inclusion, attraction and retention of talent, psychological health -, the results of societal awareness surrounding well-being at work.

More than ever, business management is being asked to question their approaches to people management. On this subject, Réal Jacob likes to recall the following quote: “a company is a community of people rather than a group of human resources” (Henry Mintzberg).

3- Protect the psychological health of executives

The years of pandemic have shone a spotlight on the issue of psychological health – particularly that of leaders who too often find themselves “alone at the top”.

“The issue of the mental health of senior executives is also crucial; it's the blind spot that we don't dare talk about, for fear of losing our job, says Réal Jacob. When you work 70 hours a week, you end up adopting bad behavior, and it affects your teams. »

In the collective work Paroles de CEO , to which he contributed, Mr. Jacob notes that most balanced CEOs take care of their well-being on all levels: physical, emotional and social. Executives, too, must place balance at the heart of their leadership — and, in turn, companies must view their well-being as an essential element of their success. In other words, “organizational change begins with personal change,” concludes Réal Jacob.

4- Support the development of the next generation of managers

“Sixty-eight percent of newly appointed CEOs indicate that they should have prepared themselves more to lead by focusing on hard skills , of course, but especially on soft skills — particularly on leadership and behaviors that can become derailers attitude and lead to failure. Because the role of a manager has two distinct facets: accomplishing the expected work (strategy, operations, innovation, financial performance, etc.) and being a CEO: posture, values, attitude, transversal skills, etc. », Explains the professor.

More than ever, it is essential to develop the potential of the leaders of the future. It is about their credibility, their well-being and their ability to meet the challenges of an organization, such as management, growth, transformation and internationalization. Supporting the next generation of managers therefore appears to be an important lever for adapting to a rapidly changing mode.

How to transform?

According to recent surveys, a quarter of CEOs believe that if their companies do not change, they will no longer exist in the next 10 years. One of the roles of the management team is to ensure that transformation projects are successes, and not failures.

To begin their transformation in 2024, companies will have to invest in the development of their senior managers and their next generation of managers. What will be the best lever to achieve this? “An approach that combines learning in action (e.g. special mandate), formal learning (e.g. specialists, training for executives) and peer learning,” says Réal Jacob.

This move towards innovation will also involve an evolution of beliefs, so that openness to change, collaboration and the quest for balance are finally recognized as essential skills for the prosperity of companies and the individuals who make them up.

“Ascension” training: learn from the best


Specially designed for leaders and the next generation of managers, the Ascension program, exclusive to the HEC Montréal Executive School, is in line with the new challenges of the world of work. This innovative and accessible training takes the form of a five-day immersion in the company of faculty and experienced managers from the business world.

Strategic thinking, culture of innovation, change leader, concrete case studies, best practices, peer exchanges and self-management will enrich each day of this training designed as a profitable investment.

Inspired and better equipped, participants will take advantage of this precious time for reflection to consolidate the strongest pillars of their organization and think about their future — in addition to broadening their horizons and their network of contacts.

Real Jacob
Educational Director
Ascension Program