22 March 2023

Leading On The Way To The Future Work

They're simple words: know, be, and do.

Going from client to client (sometimes continent to continent) in one day, you see and hear completely different perspectives, needs, and requests. One thing that stays the same: for most of us, disruption and/or transformation is occurring or imminent. It requires new skills of leaders.

One recent day highlighted the broad spectrum leaders occupy with regard to the technological, demographic, geopolitical, and environmental challenges we call The Future of Work:

It started routinely, delivering opening remarks for a public, interactive breakfast on Leadership Development & the Future of Work. HR executives from across industries and geographies shared their struggles, concerns, and strategies as they deal with remote workforces, multiple generations, digital disruptors entering their industries, contractors, external legal challenges (GDPR still fresh in minds), automation, and more.

Participants shared that:

  • HR needs to play a more strategic role in their organizations (& has a lot to learn to do that well),
  • they struggle to find the expertise they need because it’s different from anything they’ve needed before (not because it is scarce; it’s not how they’ve done things in the past),
  • their leaders aren’t sure how to lead the variety of contractors they now hire (some long-term and loyal, others extremely specialized, short-term SMEs),
  • they use automation to reduce headcount instead of free up capacity for innovation or growth.

The mantra from the event became:

Automation creates capacity (time, data, intellect). How are we going to use it?

We talked about what leaders need to know, be, and do to lead effectively today and in the future. It’s a very different set of metrics for learning and leadership development; what we need to know, be, and do can serve as a useful framework.

They’re simple words: know, be, and do. The framework can illuminate quite complex transformations, though: like climate scientists working with shipping companies to weigh the pros and cons of newly accessible Baltic Arctic routes, or the leader of the Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, and Syria region who asked his team, “Who do we need to be to help our people be even more resilient?” This is who we need to be as the world and business become more global and uncertain.

One participant shared, as she considered the “Do” column:

The risk landscape is so much more complex now. Young leaders need more assistance, training, and support with decision-making.

And then it was mid-morning: a client’s addressing large-scale cultural challenges with investment project execution. They’re grappling with how to drive creativity and innovation, how to build agility and “failing fast” into an extremely large, traditional organization that’s done the same things, the same way, successfully for decades… until now. This is not easy work; it’s time-intensive, cultural work across the organization. Committed leaders are essential to success.

These organizations are beginning to consciously design their futures, grappling with how leaders will proceed differently now and in the future. That’s one position to occupy as businesses and the world around us rapidly evolve.

En route to the next appointment I caught up on reading about one of my passions: transformation in food systems, fashion, & energy. Coop put Switzerland on the map this week in the Sustainable Food Awards, as runners-up in two categories: new products & packaging. Way to go, Coop!

Here’s another position on the way to the Future of Work: companies already on a transformational path. It was great to read Deanna Bratter, Director of Sustainable Development, Danone North America, saying: “We believe it will be a huge advantage in the long run to embed B Corp criteria and thinking into our organization and business from the very beginning.” and that Gap Inc. (where I worked as a teenager in an American Mall)-owned women’s outdoor and fitness clothier Athleta was recently B-corp certified because it makes good business sense for customer engagement, guidance on impact improvement, and financially. The article quoted the company’s CFO, Chris Samway:

From a purely financial perspective, the return on investment associated with aligning interests of business with those of society is compelling. We know the next generation of consumers increasingly cares about brands that stand for something. We hear from our customers that putting people and planet right up there with profit is something that resonates with her.

The last meeting of the day took me by surprise; someone asked of large firms in Switzerland, “Do you really think these big companies are going to change?”

Yes, I do. At tnm, we’re seeing and supporting it every day in myriad ways, whether they’re proactive and joyful about it or not. Some will change and some will transform. Those who don’t will struggle, some sooner than others. In many ways, The Future of Work is a misnomer; these trends and shifts are already underway. Around the world, our clients choose tnm because we are dedicated to transforming organizations, evolving leadership, and developing committed, purposeful leaders. As a network of affiliates, we have been living in and modeling the Future of Work for nearly 20 years.

Where is your organization on the spectrum? Are you thinking about changes, undertaking large-scale transformation, or hoping that doing things the way you’ve always done them will work a while longer? What do your leaders need to know, be, and do? How will you lead given the Future of Work?

Written by Rebecca Self


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