Management Lessons From James Bond, For The Post-COVID World
The new James Bond movie is finally there. And many are almost as eager to go back to the office as going to see the latest and 25th episode of the famous franchise.
We rarely think about James Bond as a manager – at first glance, he seems to be operating alone, in a non-organizational context and with super-human abilities. Yet, the franchise is full of consideration for the modern managers, especially in the current context. Hereafter, I distil my management and leadership takeaways from the James Bond movies.
Dealing with an uncertain macro-environment
The release of the latest movie was itself postponed three times because of the unfolding COVID situation. In addition, the rules for cinemas were fast-moving across the globe, and some levels of alignment was needed.
While the delay in the release reflects the uncertainty of business operations in the post-COVID world, the 25 James Bond movies are also familiar with the theme of global uncertainty. The films always play out the macro-level fears and anxiety – from the risks of terrorism and cybersecurity breaches to political mind games, including disruptive new technologies. Sounds familiar?
The post-COVID world of business will be riddled with more exogenous shocks (whether they are technological disruptions or generalized disruptions such as COVID). The AUKUS crisis between France, the US and Australia, fuelled by tensions with China, also suggests that we will experience more political tensions threatening global trade. Within developed economies themselves, the current shortages and labour crisis in the UK, in the aftermath of Brexit, also hints at heightened difficulties for supply chains.
In a previous piece in Harvard Business Review with Ben Laker, we recommend organizations “create certainty” for themselves: planning for different scenarios and hedging the bets. Yet, COVID has taught us that the peculiarity of most disruptions is that they are rarely anticipated. But the new pace of disruption requires investment in risk management and resilient supply chains: organizations should have a Plan B for each part of the value production process. In the same way as James Bond, they should think about their next move, but be ready to adapt while staying cool-headed.
Capitalizing on complementary skillsets
One could think that the James Bond movies depict a single agent tackling global crises, all by himself. In fact, James Bond, despite his unique skills, rely on a variety of allies that complement his skill set. His “manager” M directly channels Bond’s competencies, despite Bond’s overconfidence in his abilities and contribution. Q, the famous head of the secret service research and development, also succeeds in always providing Bond with the gadget he will need in the field.
More than ever, the post-COVID world of business will require combining people with specialized skills and coordinating them. Technological skills have become central to most teams, but the level of knowledge needed to code, for example, or deal with specialized tools (such as search engine optimization), is only going up. Similarly, social skills will be a must for managers but will need to be fostered and developed. The degree of specialization required to take the turn of the post-COVID world will be non-trivial, but the main challenge will be to identify and attract those with high-level specialized skills.
Beware the style and accessories: from organizational culture to routines
What makes James Bond is his style and accessories. They are part of the character and play an essential role in our collective fascination with the movies. And by analogy, we can think of many “accessories” to business organizations: several aspects of our management practices seem useless and time-consuming. Yet, they exist for a good reason.
Organizational culture, for example, from the everyday workplace rituals to the symbols and artefacts representing a firm, has been disrupted by the COVID pandemic and the shift to remote work. Yet, organizational culture has been proven to be a strong driver of performance and can account for significant differences within an industry. In the same vein, routines or the typical ways of “doing things” in organizations may be seen as an enemy of innovation. In this context, the erosion of routines with the COVID disruption may be a blessing. Yet, the extensive research on routines in organization theory shows that they can paradoxically provide a solid support for change and foster an organizational memory in which firms’ competitive advantages are encoded.
Resilience to uncertainty, the need for complementary skills, and the benefits of the superfluous are three modern management lessons from James Bond. Yet, as Daniel Craig finishes his career as an agent of the British Secret Service, we hope the economic recovery from COVID will be as bright as the future of James Bond.