A new mandate for business and leaders

The WEF has issued a triple investment imperative: invest in reskilling at-risk workers, upskilling the workforce generally and in building learning centres in organisations. This is in preparation for the looming Fourth Industrial Revolution, a revolution that has become terribly fashionable in business parlance of late. One would think that 4IR seems quite distant from the realities of our everyday workplaces. Mine for one is not yet characterised by an interoperability of systems, and I complete most of my own dangerous and difficult tasks, with little assistance from connected machines.

a new mandate for business & leaders

Yet the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Study paints a picture that’s worthy of our attention. A significant level of unease on the part of employees is reported, with two thirds of people concerned about their future job prospects in the face of automation. This striking finding is most acute in developing markets. The new fear stalking the office corridor is the fear of robots. Deep involvement in discussion and in the process of sharing news may signal the desire to regain control and take back power. Engagement with media has jumped from 50 to 72 percentage points year on year.

But something else interesting is happening too. A new mandate is being issued for business and leaders.

Edelman has been measuring trust in the four institutions of government, business, media and NGO’s since 2001. South Africa was added in 2014. In the past, a lack of trust was reported across all four institutions. Trust has shifted from top-down (trusting those in positions of authority), to peer-to-peer (trusting people you perceive to be like you, and not necessarily those in positions of authority), to ‘local’, where individuals believe that they can control the relationship with their employers and that it is within their power to influence what happens within organisations. A new ‘trusted work’ paradigm is emerging. Within this paradigm, the rules are quite different. Employers are expected to re-assume responsibility for the learning and development torch that was ceremoniously handed down to individuals with the demise of the ‘job for life’ in the latter half of the last century. It could be argued that we had just started to get used to the psychological contract dictate that we are the masters of our own learning, growth and career destinies. The psychological contract is the term used to describe the unwritten set of obligations between employer and employee. Your working hours, job role and pay may be set and signed on paper, all that you expect your employer to deliver may not. Often these expectations are not articulated. However, unmet expectations erode trust, with the result that employee engagement declines, as does voluntary and creative effort. Given that creativity is a new currency for organisations, severed contracts are potentially disastrous.

The Edelman study shows that development, in the form of reskilling and retraining for digital futures, is falling at the foot of the employer once again. Employers are expected to engage on and address critical issues such as diversity, empowering with information, and retraining or reskilling so as to alleviate fears associated with digital, Fourth Industrial Revolution futures. In return, employees will advocate for the organization engaging broadly in the community on behalf of the organisation, and they will also be loyal to it.

Preparing for the future is becoming a shared responsibility.

75% of people believe that business can make money and improve society, says the study. The ‘trusted work’ paradigm requires that employers have a big idea for the company, a social aspiration or a purpose that employees can feel strongly about. Leaders, by their actions, are expected to persuade others that trust can be restored. 75% also believe that CEOs must stand up and act on important issues, and not wait for government. This finding is particularly noteworthy for South Africa: as trust falls, business is expected to lead.

Do not aim to build resilience, focus instead on becoming antifragile, says the statistician, scholar, essayist and former risk analyst, Nassim Taleb. Taleb looks at problems of probability, uncertainty and randomness. Whereas the resilient take shocks and stay the same, the antifragile get better. Staying the same is well out of fashion, it seems, and rather risky too. A new mandate is emerging for business and leaders, stand up with purpose and lead.

Superman is dead, and other thoughts on leadership

What do these words describe?   Sense-making, visioning, inventing, relating.

It’s the MIT Sloan 4 Capabilities Leadership Framework.

How many leadership development programmes have a mainframe like this, how many leaders in organisations are developing these critical – some might say ethereal –  components of leadership?  I can think of a few leadership pointers that are less complex to assess, and easier to enhance than say ‘sense-making’ or ‘visioning’.

The truth is, it takes a deep, long, and often hard look at yourself, driven by yourself, to be great at things like relating and sense-making and visioning.  And this doesn’t happen in isolation.

Organisations, or collectives, that have these sorts of capabilities are no doubt better at creating wonderful experiences and products.  They are tapped in, tuned in.  Leaders create and curate the conditions where people who are wondrous at these things are also valued and supported, at more levels than just the top.  It’s not an easy job, producing remarkable things.  Command and control is not so far behind us.  According to Peter Senge, leaders will probably excel in about two of these areas.

How much are our comfort levels are at play when we face developing these leadership skills?  How does this impact the way they percolate through our organisations?

The results of a study by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) are great for pushing thinking boxes.  They speak of skills like ‘cognitive load management’, ‘design mindset’ and ‘new media literacy’ in addition to sense-making and social intelligence, which could be said to map to the MIT framework.  And they say everyone will need them.  Take a look at their skills of the future list here, and their forces shaping the world (which is partly how they arrived at this list of skills).  In 5 minutes, give yourself a score out of 10 for each skill.  How do you measure up?

This is one view, there are many.  I like this study because in place of predicting what jobs are needed, they looked at what skills we will need.  These skills will be in short supply in 2020, says the IFTF.  And we should all be thinking about our value proposition in the future workplace, and about crafting one that we will enjoy.

Perhaps we could plot an assimilation of these skills on the innovation curve.  Early adopters will drive their own value into the future.  They’ll be testing and refining, creating futures. It strikes me as a case of the disrupted and the disrupters.  But that’s a whole other blog.  What you’ll notice is that these skills will start to apply in just about every avenue of your life.

The future is not far away.   Is it already here?   Perhaps the future is starting today.

So here are the questions, the exciting ones.   What does the future require of leadership? What seeds are we planting for the leadership we’ll provide and need in the future?

There is no longer a lone ranger, one hero.  Superman is dead.  That’s ok.

Supermann blaue flamme