Navigating through constant change

by Iain Hopkins07 Dec 2017
There are three key trends that all leaders should be aware of as a new year approaches

Given the constant state of flux and disruption most businesses find themselves in, choosing just three emerging trends that leaders will need to be mindful of in 2018 hardly seems sufficient; however, if the task is narrowed to the emerging people-related trends that leaders must be on top of, the task is a little easier.

To get a sense of what these trends are, HRD turned to Andrew Warren-Smith, managing director of DDI Australia. He has identified three key areas that will impact how business is undertaken in 2018.
  1. Potential
Traditionally, organisations have used a narrow definition of potential. Warren-Smith suggests that organisations have a pool of maybe 20 people at each level of the company who they consider to be part of a high-potential pool. These Hi-Po heroes would be the ones to come up with the brightest ideas and to execute on those ideas in the best possible ways to keep the organisation successful through murky, challenging times.

However, DDI’s studies indicate that while 65% of organisations have a Hi-Po program in place, almost 70% say these programs don’t work or are not effective.

“You have many organisations over many years that have put a significant effort into identifying high-potentials and relying and depending on high-potential programs to deliver results, and they’re not delivering the results,” Warren-Smith says.

Part of the problem is that the focus has traditionally only been on senior managers or executives. Warren-Smith suggests organisations should broaden and extend their view of potential.

“Those organisations that are doing this more effectively are thinking about potential right through the organisation, at every level. They are also factoring in a mix of time frames, looking at short-term, medium-term and long-term horizons. That means not just looking at senior level roles and their immediate replacements, but going beyond that to look at what sort of talent they will need in the next two to three years, and then also investing significantly in the early stage leaders.”

To succeed in this approach, DDI encourages organisations to develop an ecosystem of leadership, not just more leaders. DDI has identified three critical steps that will enable organisations to surface, activate and accelerate potential.

“The ecosystem refers to what must happen not only across the organisation, but also at individual and team levels,” Warren- Smith says. “Then it’s about asking how you go about identifying and developing that leadership talent and, ultimately, produce better outcomes for the business.”
 
  1. Digital
Technology is impacting how everyone works, so it has obvious ramifications for leaders, says Warren-Smith. For this reason, DDI has taken the broad theme of digital as the second key trend impacting on leaders and the wider workforce in 2018.

Every day we see news about the automation of jobs. In October alone, NAB announced it was laying off 6,000 jobs due to digital disruption – but the banking giant also announced it was creating 2,000 digitally focused new jobs. Warren-Smith says any job with a narrow scope will be “up for grabs” sooner rather than later.

On a positive note, there is still a lot that machines, computers and robots cannot do. Warren-Smith cites the example of a machine’s inability to show empathy. “You might encounter voice recognition software when you phone the bank,” he says. “You can move through the process by engaging with a computer. However, the computer doesn’t show any empathy if you’ve got a customer issue. People and data will interact, but there will be many roles for people and leaders beyond just the automation part of it. What are the sorts of skills people can take from an existing role and apply to the digital context? Think of problemsolving, decision-making, judgment.”

Just as important for leaders, he adds, is the ability to harness the technology that is available.

“We come at it from a leadership and people perspective, so for us it’s how you combine both the tech and the people piece. How do you find the balance between what the AI and big data opportunities are and marry that with the human side of things?”

DDI sees the role of the leader in the digital world falling into three archetypes. On one end there is the Digital-savvy Leader, who is familiar with the technology and tools to enhance or improve their own individual productivity. At the other end of the spectrum falls the Inventive-disruptive Leader – those such as Steve Jobs, Jack Ma and Mark Zuckerberg – who are the disruptors of organisations and industries. These leaders are rare, and there is very little one can do to develop these skills. In the middle comes the Agile-ready Leader, who is bringing about new business models and executing on the big ideas using their mix of mindset and skill set abilities to achieve business outcomes.

A digital leadership mindset means being open to change and growth. In the NAB example, those people who are being upskilled will need to be open to change and prepared to go on that journey of taking on skill sets that were previously outside of their mandate.

“You’ve got to encourage people to disrupt, encourage people to experiment and be somewhat comfortable with uncertainty,” Warren-Smith says.

In addition to their mindset, leaders must think about their skill set. Warren-Smith again points to the fintech environment, where the big players are being disrupted by smaller start-ups, and are requiring new skill sets from their employees.

“Knowledge sharing is going to be paramount,” he says. “Knowledge used to be power; in tomorrow’s world, I think knowledge will still be powerful but it’ll be about how that knowledge is shared across departments, across organisations and even across industries.”
 
  1. People analytics
The third trend ties nicely to the second trend: the ability to leverage people analytics to make more informed decisions. Warren- Smith says this presents a golden opportunity for HR professionals.

Warren-Smith cites the simple example of engagement surveys, which can today be done at a moment’s notice as a pulse survey. “You don’t have to wait months to get feedback on your culture; you can get it day by day, and then compare and contrast the data,” he says.

He also sees opportunities for analytics to be used more widely in the D&I space.

“It’s now possible to make informed decisions about D&I issues based on more than someone’s gender or background, and instead look at people’s effectiveness and the contributions they make,” he says. “HR can utilise their understanding of people – how they think, how they operate and what motivates them – but can now back that up with data. It’s a wonderful combination.”

Key traits for the year ahead
What leadership traits will leaders need to demonstrate in the coming year? Warren- Smith says perhaps the most vital will be intellectual curiosity, which he deems “critical” during this time of rapid change. “Leaders need to be curious about everything digital. They need to be curious about the future of their workforce: how people will work, the kind of skills they’ll require and what’s coming down the pipeline.”

In addition, Warren-Smith suggests adaptability will be key, in addition to the ability to delegate and empower others.

“Leaders will be pulled in all sorts of different directions,” he says. “Unless leaders can empower and coach their teams to be specialists in their particular areas, they will be pulled down into the weeds. They will need to find ways to step away from the technical details and manage their teams.”

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