In the globalizing, digitalizing world, where the half-life of knowledge has become shorter than ever before, future business context will become increasingly complex, and, very likely, even more unpredictable. To make sure that they’re future-proof, organizations will need to focus on two areas – embracing a selective-intensive people leadership development approach and knowing how to access and analyze not just business, but also nuanced, team collaboration data to make more evidence-based, and thus more agile decisions.
Let me start by discussing how the approach to leadership capability building will need to be pivoted to effectively operate in today’s world.
People leadership in the very immediate future will be primarily about connectivity - fostering effective team collaboration, proactive team bonding, and knowledge sharing in a remote/hybrid setting.
People leaders will have to focus more and more on boosting business performance through managing collaboration design, employee engagement and embedded well being rather than managing performance. They will need the know-how and the right people data to be able to do that in an educated, effective way, just like they need the business acumen and the business data.
With both digital native Millenials and the truly virtual Gen Z making up 58% of the workforce in the next 10 years, employers will have to embrace flexible and remote work all the while creating a sense of belonging and purpose so desired by these generations. The new ‘currency’ is no longer money but intrinsic motivation. It’s all about purpose driven objectives (i.e. contributing to something bigger than ourselves), autonomy, and mastery (also known as Motivation 3.0).
With this in mind, we can already see how the expectations from people leaders as regards their versatility will continue to grow. And so, the support for people leaders needs to be redefined, much more focused and intentional. What it takes is what I like to call a ‘selective-intensive’ approach to people leadership capability building. A lot of organizations have invested in tens of tools and sophisticated self-led capability academies to grow and support their leaders but they still seem to be overlooking the fact that with the information and the cognitive and emotional overload experienced in the last year, and likely in the years to come, what people leaders need first and foremost is clear focus on the selected key future proof people leadership skills.
Very few companies have allowed themselves the ‘slow down to speed up again’ time in order to ask themselves – “what does my organization and the people leaders actually need most in order to embrace this volatile reality”?
On this note, let’s now take a look at the key skills that leaders will, in my view, have to focus on developing in a selective-intensive way to become future–proof.
Future proof leaders capability building needs to circle around three underpinnings. One way of thinking of them is as a triangle – they are interdependent and can’t exist without one another.
Simply put, it’s about the ability to thrive in a constantly changing, ambiguous business environment with shifting priorities, and about the humble acceptance of many FAIL (“First Attempt In Learning”) decisions. People leaders not only have to cope with the unprecedented level of change and ambiguity. They also have to skilfully mitigate, or, ideally, preempt change fatigue among their team members, and invest in building their own and their team members’ mental and physical resilience.
When I spoke to one of the executive HR leaders at a global banking corporation, she said that being agile has become a big challenge to people leaders now, since they have no proper people collaboration data that would let them make evidence-based decisions on how to support their hybrid teams. They seem spoilt for choice with a myriad of great people leadership learning programs available for them at a click of a button, few of them however seem to be fit for purpose now, and so hardly anything is happening on the front of self education and peer to peer learning. No organisation can afford to base its business or people management around guesswork. While we can DO agile and base our work on agile methodologies, we also need proper data to see the bigger picture and BE agile as a company.
I’ll dive deeper into the people collaboration data-informed approach further in this piece.
During COVID, most workplace interactions have moved online. In such a remote/hybrid setting, people leaders have to put more emphasis on nurturing employee engagement and wellbeing. It’s no surprise that they need to entirely revisit their priorities and spend the bulk of their time on proactive, 1-on-1 meetings and team bonding initiatives, as well as be more intentional in regards to knowledge exchange rituals, which altogether require much more presence, empathy, compassion, and individual attention than ever before expected from formal business interactions.
This human 2 human approach needs to be further combined with the seemingly contradictory, data-informed approach that I already alluded to before.
The future-proof leader capability triangle is completed with quality data and insights. Team and company responsiveness and agility depend not on control but on quality context, i.e., real-time data, and seamlessly-collaborating teams. It’s about enabling people leaders with actionable people collaboration insights and educating them on how to leverage these insights to build teams that thrive in change and virtual reality.
For example by regularly, say, monthly, analyzing ONA-provided data such as workload, work-life harmony or team rituals analysis, the leader can open a discussion on certain undesired or unhealthy productivity or teamwork patterns. Leaders can then discuss them on a team level and decide what can be improved. It’s also a good starting point for 1-on-1 discussions around individual needs.
This is where modern people data tools (such as AI-based team collaboration analysis by Network Perspective) come into play.
Until now, people's data has been mostly quantitative (things like the average time to hire, the average time to promotion, employee Net Promoter Score, attrition rates and their cross-analysis), or qualitative employee satisfaction data (very valuable, yet subjective by nature). Analysing and improving these people metrics has also been, more often than not, the exclusive accountability of HR teams.
It is slowly but irrevocably changing. The above-mentioned data are now more closely monitored and acted upon, not just by HR leaders. It has now also become the interest and the responsibility of team leaders, who use it to adequately address the challenges of the future of work on a team level.
ONA lets both HR teams and people leaders collect AI-enabled evidence, such as real-time data on teams’ ways of working, meeting and communication patterns (1-on-1, team and cross-team), status vs knowledge sharing rituals, workload, work-life harmony, etc. These insights can be used to draw evidence-based, actionable conclusions and make corrective efforts promptly. As highlighted in the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2021 report:
“organizations that integrate well-being into the design of work at the individual, team, and organizational levels will build a sustainable future where workers can feel and perform at their best”.
The pivot we can now witness in people leadership isn’t about new capabilities, per se. It’s in my view first and foremost about putting an emphasis on the three generic areas I discussed above – agility & resilience, human 2 human connections, and data-informed decision making.
Leaders must be supported and educated through leveraging more advanced people data in order to be able to derive actionable insights.
Last, but not least, leaders will need to embrace a selective-intensive approach to self development. One, two key future-proof skills at a time in a deep dive fashion. The vast volume of information and the cognitive overload mean you need to identify and focus on a narrow capability area that is crucial to your business.
If you’d like to discuss how to properly derive and use team collaboration data to build future-proof people leadership capabilities, don’t hesitate to reach out.