09 April 2020

What is the Future of Talent Management?

Attributed to the neuro-engineering breakthroughs which occurred around 2020, the use of neural implants – brain implants that stimulate or block human neural networks to improve human experience – has increased significantly. For example, brain implants are now commonly used to help patients suffering from paralysis, as they use their thoughts to move robotic body parts. 

Now the business world has also jumped on the bandwagon. Korn Ferry, global leading provider of integrated talent solutions, announced the release of its most powerful leadership support tool yet – the Korn Ferry Four Dimensions of Learning Agility or KF4L. This is a brain implant designed specifically to enhance learning agility, which is defined as the ability and willingness to learn from experience and apply that learning to perform successfully under new, first-time conditions. 

Break-neck speed

The value of this breakthrough tool lies in its ability to suppress evolutionary hard wiring intended to help us sense and avoid danger. While this ability serves a critical purpose, it can also be a liability in a world that expects people to cope with the continual barrage of new challenges posed to us daily.   

Years ago, leaders had the luxury of manually “hijacking” their seemingly automatic responses to fear and risk, which often occur as a reaction to novelty and uncertainty. This hijacking took practice, and above all, it took time. Furthermore, while we all have the innate ability to suppress risk aversion and create new habits, even the most agile among us tend to do so inconsistently. Since our break-neck speed in business is not likely to slow, the number of new and complex experiences leaders face is likely to increase.

 Enter KF4L, a tool that automates that process, leaving the leader’s energy and attention intact to focus on the problems arising from the new situation. Early adopters of the KF4L implant believe that humans simply have not been able to evolve quickly enough to meet global needs without technological support, and they can no longer afford to leave learning agility to chance. KF4L also amplifies the neural pathways leading to the brain’s reward systems – the reward experienced by engaging in and learning from new experiences becomes intensified, which helps these new habits evolve faster. 

Change of hardwiring

 Most organizations today have adopted a repeatable and effective approach to driving innovation throughout their businesses. Thought diversity and connection across once-separated fields of study provide us with the opportunity to expand our perspectives and world views as we innovate, and solve problems in new ways. Yet these same global corporations continue to struggle to find ways to maximize their cultural tapestry – the faux pas do occur despite a commitment to greater awareness.  

Considering that the pace of human evolution cannot keep up with our unpredictable world, many are turning to KF4L, which supports business innovation output by aiding leaders in accelerating their agility. Leaders who are open and inclusive of difference, and can empower and motivate others in such an environment, are at a premium. KF4L helps leaders remain open and inclusive by suppressing the hard wiring associated with new faces, different people, and new circumstances which occurs often in new environments. 

Back to reality

That was a snapshot of how the landscape in the field of leadership and talent management might look like in the future. As far as I can tell, we’re not at the brain implant stage for leadership effectiveness (yet). 

That doesn’t mean that breakthrough tools don’t exist. What other tools have you found helpful?

09 April 2020

Curating Curiosity

“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”  – Agnes George de Mille

My last post about the rediscovery of uncertainty was inspired by an immersive experience among a group of individuals new to me, who each had a unique background, set of experiences, and world views.

This was time spent together in a physical space new to most of us, removed from our daily routines to some extent, free to ask questions and experiment – all in the service of discovery and curiosity. Seeing the value of what I did not yet know was far easier in this environment

In ‘The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable’ (2010), author Nassim Taleb suggests that the reasoning that he refers to as ‘Black Swan’ logic makes “what you don’t know far more relevant than what you do know”. 

Shift in mindset

His notion can be applied to the strategic process of differentiating any organization from the competition – a business idea that has no previous substantiation has more potential value than if you stick to the more obvious, tried and trusted path.  

This type of logic got me thinking about a potential shift in the professional services industry. In the past, many organizations have operated under the assumption that our value is best demonstrated when we offer something we know (or think we know). So, we likely ask a lot of questions, although perhaps the purpose is to offer a targeted recommendation. 

This approach is based on economic fundamentals of course, so it is not likely to disappear. However, I wonder if there is room to expand our world view so that the ‘new’ value that comes from professional services organizations will be driven as much or indeed more by the extent to which we are able to meaningfully curate curiosity in others. 

09 April 2020

Uncertainty is Here to Stay

A lot of our time is dedicated to reducing uncertainty. We design solutions with clients, plan for our financial future, anticipate and respond to competitors’ actions. Many of our mental models about quality consulting, advisory roles and teaching are based on assumptions about the relationship between expertise, knowing, and the sense of security that follows.

After spending this week at the University of Houston’s strategic foresight workshop, my sense of uncertainty has been rediscovered. And I’m thrilled about it. The workshop, led by Peter Bishop and Andy Hines, represents growth in the field of professional foresight, or professional futuring.

Invaluable strategic foresight

Many world-class organizations value the skills futurists bring, including the Ford Motor Co., which employs Sheryl Connelly as its manager of global trends and future. These skills are also deployed in other more familiar professions, such as strategic planning, risk management, management consulting, research and development, and marketing.

Foresight experts bring value to organizations by unleashing their creativity, helping them to identify broader insights by stretching their thinking about consumer behavior and new product and service development – what they need to do today to thrive tomorrow.

The workshop explored the conceptual background of strategic foresight. This included models of change, systems thinking, and social change; constructing forecasts of potential and alternative futures, research and scanning; and lastly, the role of leaders and visionaries in taking action for the future. 

Accepting the unknown

But what made the workshop experience different is a simple principal upon which professional futuring proudly sits: ‘stop trying to squeeze uncertainty out of the future – it will exist regardless of how hard you try’.

Bishop and Hines explain that the future cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy. Although they, like other social scientists, believe the future is determined by a causal chain of events, these forces are not well-known enough to be scientifically proven. This should not, however, excuse us from thinking about and preparing for the future, as we may be able to fathom a set of plausible futures from which the one (actual) future is drawn. 

Futurists focus on the unknown and explore its impact. Embracing uncertainty provides us with a constructive way to prepare for a future we do not yet know. Like futurists, we need to learn to deal with it.   

09 April 2020

A Renewable Energy Source for Organizations

Learning agility—the ability and willingness to learn from experience and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new, first-time conditions—is grounded in research. 

In study after study, it’s been proven that a leader’s success depends on being learning agile, his or her interest in seeking out new, diverse, and challenging experiences, drawing numerous and varied lessons from those experiences, and integrating and applying those lessons and principles to the next challenge. 

Some of the most engaging work days I have involve listening to agile leaders describe their newest challenge or unusual experience they’ve had in service of their leadership development. 

Increasing marginal returns

When they tell these stories, their energy level often changes, they become more animated and their rate of speech increases. Some even smile more while they share the story!

They speak fluently about the insights they gained and the surprises they had. Most importantly, they talk about how it made them just a little bit better in the next new situation, which ultimately benefits organizational performance and profitability.  

Agility can be a renewable energy source for organizations but first they need to unearth those select leaders who excel in often uncertain situations. 

I’m curious: what are you doing to find agile leaders in your company?

09 April 2020

Thinking Your Way Out of a Jam

On my morning commute last week, a minor traffic incident on the freeway forced me to decrease my speed to 15 mph. The only downside was the congestion caused by the bright orange safety cones and a lane reduction.

I started to associate this with the fundamental and powerful tenet of systems thinking, as espoused by eminent thought leaders in the field such as Barry Oshry and Peter Senge.

Structure drives behavior

In this school of thought, the “structure” describes a set of interrelating variables, the “behavior” is the outcome of the dynamic interrelationships of the structure and one can think of the “system” as the organism that is comprised of many structures.

So, in my example, the system would be the morning’s traffic flow and the structure would compromise the interrelationships between the freeway availability, the time people started their commutes, the speed at which they were travelling and the accident. The orange cones would be a variable within the structure and the behavior of the system caused the traffic impact.

A question of focus

The business value of exploring structures and systems is extensive. Doing so allows us to look beyond symptoms to identify root causes, for example. We can lead change more effectively when we understand underlying dynamics. Further, we gain insight that we are part of the system, not passively impacted by it.

This kind of important discussion can be ignited in many ways with key stakeholders and leaders. The group explores the issue at hand by responding to a carefully selected focus question – the problem they are trying to solve.

I facilitated such a dialogue with a supply chain leadership team who had recently reorganized their business unit and needed to improve cross-functional collaboration. However, as the unit was geographically dispersed, the team had varied perspectives as to what their priorities were.

Some pinpointed process improvement while others felt that bringing in new talent was the key to their success. To help bring clarity and shared understanding to the team, the focus question we chose was, “What factors are likely to increase collaboration across the business unit?”

Each member of the leadership team contributed their insights until all inputs had been exhausted. Grouped by theme, these represented the variables in the underlying structures of the supply chain system. Having discussed the interrelationships among the variables, we got to a visual representation of the underlying structure. Importantly, we constructed a shared story about what was happening in their organization as a result of that structure.

Pause for thought

With a stronger understanding of the system and structures, the leadership team was able to choose their priorities with greater clarity – interestingly, these were different than the ones they originally picked as being the most important.

The exercise allowed the participants to think differently about the structures driving the supply chain system and therefore come to very different conclusions about the most powerful and effective means of intervention.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we have a group huddle in the boardroom every time or that we should begin the problem-solving process by drawing causal loops and stock/flow diagrams.

But pausing to explore business dynamics can channel leadership action where it matters most and understanding influences on organizational behavior can help leaders more effectively drive change, innovate, and leapfrog competition.

What if leaders could discover the underlying structures that drive their businesses as easily as we can all see the orange cones?

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