Leadership: Adapting to Today’s Harsh Realities

The world in which we live is going through fundamental shifts – simultaneous changes that are literally turning everything, as we know it, on its head. Leaders of today and tomorrow are challenged with addressing these aspects to drive the business forward.

From the influence of technology, to a struggling world economy veiled in high unemployment, protectionism and a depleting middle class, most of us are at odds with these concurrent shifts in events that are disrupting our livelihoods and expectations of career paths.

We must overcome our fear of fundamental shifts and learn how to adapt to the new reality. One could not have fathomed the news of robots and computers displacing highly skilled workers in the near term. But that is today’s harsh reality.

Large corporations simply are not ready. While consumer behavior and expectations continue to evolve, the businesses have not kept pace. Companies have experienced a deterioration of control, despite knowing the eventual need for upheaving the precious infrastructure of the organization.

In the next decade, leadership will take many sharp turns in the journey.  These current trends will challenge organizational leadership.

  • Globalization has opened the borders and has given rise to emerging markets with an evolving middle class. Pressure from global competition is quickly elevating more nimble companies to the forefront while those within the Fortune 500, mired in traditional practices and legacy structures are falling to the wayside: Blockbuster, Borders, Eastman Kodak, among others. More companies are or will be integrating automation capabilities to streamline process, improve productivity and increase speed and accuracy in communication within the organization and to all customer touch points.

For leaders, the need to adapt to market speed will be tantamount to managing the real-time complexities of the market pulse, customer tendencies, competitive pressures and brand position.

  • The Rise of the Millennials gives credence to a generation who has, by far, experienced a mercurial existence compared to their older counterparts. With their natural affinity to tech adoption, plus their unpredictable job prospects, this future generation of leaders will influence the way corporations function, how the workplace is governed and how business practices are developed.

Tomorrow’s leaders will shake the foundation of today’s business with a zeal to drive significant revision in response to the expectation of continuous market disorder. The complacency, which is common among many of today’s leaders, will cease to exist.

  • Data will be more pervasive than ever and artificial intelligence and machine learning science will be interwoven into all areas of the organization to capture meaningful insights that will improve decision-making capabilities.

Leadership will be challenged when they are confronted with the opportunity to share their datasets with partners, vendors and even competitors to create an open source environment that will yield an improved contextual understanding of markets and customers, but will also allow for a much different market dynamic.

  • The Gig Economy will become more pronounced as companies begin to flatten their structures to make way for increased efficiency across the organization. And while many of these processes will be automated, the demand for acute skills across many verticals will create a more defined need for specific outputs on a task basis or as Google terms, “work-for-hire as the new normal”.

For leaders, they will be tasked with creating a black book of contingency or flexible workers but will be challenged to retain top talent under these conditions.

  • Growing Economic Uncertainty will also expose a workforce population caught in the grips of technological change, and are left unprepared to evolve with the demands of the time. The groundswell towards Universal Basic Income will make it necessary to give a boost to an economy in uncertain times. On the other end of the spectrum, the impetus of technology which gives strength to efficiencies, will make many things more affordable, which should help keep the economic wheel turning.

This is, by far, a significant hurdle that will consume business as they battle the elements that will attempt to hinder performance.

I have hesitated to mention Climate Change, This, in itself, will have its catastrophic impacts in the next 30 years. Government, research and corporate investments will prioritize spending to mitigate its effects but as we’ve seen thus far, unless various governments are willing to recognize its eventual impacts, let alone its existence, the efforts of the changing business landscape becomes a moot point.  

Leadership in the coming decade will be unlike what we’ve witnessed in the last 30 years. The simultaneous shifts in economy, technology, consumption, employment, environment and politics necessitate a mindset that not only seeks to sustain organizations, but also push for a fervent, more social-conscious mentality.


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How Would Picasso Design Your Org Chart?

We typically think of organizational charts as a set of vertically stacked boxes that represent people and their job descriptions. Additionally, the chart illustrates who reports to whom and the hierarchy of the company. And this is generally how we think about organizations: who is the boss and what are they the boss of?

I’m declaring my disdain of those charts and the vertical structures they represent. I am dedicated to the end of the org chart as we know it!

With that in mind, I’ve created the “Top 10 Reasons I Hate Organizational Charts” list:

Top 10 Reasons Why I Hate Org Charts

  1. They are vertical, not horizontal.
  2. People are represented as boxes.
  3. You can’t see the informal relationships of an organization.
  4. They are a myopic internal vision of a company.
  5. There are no customers represented.
  6. There is no community, social or otherwise, represented.
  7. You can’t see the stage or language of an organization.
  8. No core value, noble cause, purpose, mission, or vision is visible.
  9. They don’t promote leadership and mentorship, learning or teaching at multiple levels.
  10. They don’t support creativity, innovation, uniqueness, and greatness.

Check out this video to learn more:

Rebecca Onion wrote about what is considered the first org chart by New York and Erie Railroad on Besides being historically significant, the chart is beautiful to regard. Designed by McCallum and drafted by G.H. Henshaw, a civil engineer, the chart draws from the natural motifs popular in the Victorian aesthetic. Looked at from afar, the whole resembles a tree laden with fruit or blossoms. Up close, the individual “branches” illustrating groups of employees who worked on the trains have the rough, natural look of vines, twining alongside the straight lines of the tracks that they service.

Henry Mintzberg was the creator of the Organigraph. He was on the right path in terms of freeing us from hierarchy and silos. You can view his sample and see his liberating tool. But even dear Henry didn’t foresee our ability to be completely free to design our true vision.

Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to get out a gigantic piece of flip chart paper and redesign your org chart with great imagination and vision.

What would it look like if you used the following list as a guideline?

  1. Create a metaphor that represents your business. (What would Picasso do?)
  2. Draw your values, noble cause, and vision in this picture. Remember that your heart is central.
  3. How do people intersect with each other, customers, and your community?
  4. How do people REALLY (informally) interact?
  5. Are you cross-functional or departmental? Can silos be replaced?
  6. How do you make and spend money? Can you represent that in the nature of the drawing?
  7. What communal language do you speak? Are you talking about individuals or about groups, community or greatness?
  8. Where is your leadership or mentorship pipeline, and how do you illustrate it?
  9. How do you represent roles, titles, and hierarchy in the picture?
  10. Place yourself in the picture. Specifically, place yourself where you want to be rather than where you may find yourself today.

Is your picture different from your reality? Can this new org chart set the stage for your strategic plan? After all, a strategy is simply the steps you will take to make your vision come true. What will you need to think of, innovate, start, or stop to develop a strategy that represents the vision represented by your picture?

As of right now, let’s ban the traditional org chart and in its place put organizational vision. This is a critical step toward creating unique organizations that we want to be part of, rather than being defined by the hierarchy of an organization. As we design our organizations, let’s ask ourselves this question: “What Would Picasso Do?”

About the Author: Ruth Schwartz is an internationally certified business leadership coach, motivational speaker and author. She owns High Performance Advocates, a management and leadership coaching company.

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The Rules of Engagement Are Changing: 4 Ways You Can Ride the Wave Successfully

Leaders already know that keeping their teams motivated, engaged and driven to succeed is a demanding task in itself. But in today’s world it’s even harder, because leaders have to keep their people engaged while responding to huge, disruptive changes in how we work and what we care about in the workplace. It’s a big challenge, but the first step to overcoming it is knowing what the changes are. In Hay Group’s new book, Leadership 2030, we’ve identified six “megatrends” that are transforming societies and the global business environment as we know it.

The six megatrends leaders must be prepared for

  • Globalization 2.0 — Economic power is shifting from mature Western economies to emerging markets, so we’re seeing more diverse market needs, more collaboration across countries, and global competition for talent
  • Environmental Crisis — The world is facing a disruptive combination of climate change and scarce raw materials that brings the perfect storm of challenges for businesses: increasing costs, fluctuating values and concerned stakeholders
  • Demographic change — Aging populations are changing the face of the global workforce and exacerbating the war for talent
  • Individualism — Growing freedom of choice is eroding loyalty and forcing organizations to respond to individual needs in an increasingly diverse workforce
  • Digitization — Work is going remote, and the boundaries between professional and personal lives are blurring, as people increasingly live life online
  • Technology convergence — A combination of nano, bio, information and cognitive (NBIC) sciences is set to spur a wave of powerful technological breakthroughs — speeding up the pace of change and creating new product markets

Right now, employee engagement is already a moving target. To take a line from The X-Files, “The future is out there.” To successfully keep people engaged and on track to deliver business results, leaders must respond to trends outside the organization, because they will affect what happens inside it. The six megatrends bring about a multitude of challenges – here we’ve identified four core responses to help you, as leaders, successfully navigate them.

Employee Engagement and the New Imperatives for Leadership

Imperative #1: Instil confidence in the direction your organization is taking

How engaged employees feel is influenced not only by their current work experiences, but also by their view of the future. For people to commit, especially over the long term, they need to have confidence that a company is well-led, heading in the right direction, and well-positioned to deliver products and services they know customers want.  Unfortunately, given the pressures that come with change, communicating regularly about the changes with employees can often slip, leaving them confused about the priorities for the organization. Demand for information often outstrips what you and your managers are able to supply: the consequence is a lack of clarity, which erodes confidence in leadership and strategic direction.

Technology convergence won’t just create new product opportunities; it will also increase the challenge of staying ahead of the curve. And in an increasingly global business environment, new competitors can be expected to emerge regularly. So how can you respond?

As well as having a clear and compelling vision, you need to communicate regularly and personally about changes in your organization and what they will mean for individuals and teams. Making sure you and your peers at all levels know about changes and receive the same messages about them is essential to promote consistent understanding across the organization. Managers in particular play an important “sense-making” role in times of change, helping employees understand new developments in the organization and their implications for teams and job responsibilities. You must make sure that managers at all levels are aware of and engaged with planned changes, and that they understand the importance of reinforcing key messages with their teams. If middle managers and supervisors signal to employees through their words or actions that they lack faith in their leaders, employees’ trust will decline rapidly.

Imperative #2: Have integrity

Socrates said: “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you could possibly be possessed of.” That advice applies to companies just as much as individuals. Consider a quote from Miles White, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Abbott: “Today we’re in an all-out war for reputation, our companies are battling – to an unprecedented extent – for our most vital assets: our own identities.” That battle is playing out on many different fronts. Companies are facing increasing pressure from the media and from political and regulatory scrutiny. But increasingly too there is a power shift in play, brought by digitization, toward consumers and employees. A single voice can undermine a company’s reputation. Individuals can make a huge impact with the click of a mouse. And so companies need to be ever more careful in managing their reputation, because hard work to make a good name can be undone in seconds.

To foster employee engagement, you need to give your people the sense that they are contributing to a purpose larger than themselves. The desire to work for an organization that stands for something and makes a difference is not limited to Millennials, but extends across generational groups. So, in a transparent world, where reputation is increasingly at risk, organizations need to prove they operate with a high level of integrity. For leaders, this demands high levels of openness and sincerity, demonstrated through consistent values, words, and deeds.

With critical natural resources becoming scarcer and climate change more threatening, the environmental crisis will highlight the need for all organizations to demonstrate that their operations are sustainable. Pressure will come not only from outside (societies, governments, and customers) but also from within. Showing employees that you are responding effectively to sustainability issues will be necessary to build confidence in prospects for future success. “Greenwashing” will not cut it – and in fact will damage trust.

Imperative #3: Be transparent

Importantly, employee engagement is an exchange relationship. If you want your employees to do and deliver more, it’s essential that they feel valued, believe that their extra efforts are appreciated and that, over time, there will be a balance between total rewards and contributions.

In a digital world, the four walls of an organization will have increasingly large windows. And interested eyes will be looking both in and out, which puts additional pressure on companies from an engagement and retention perspective. Social media allows your employees, especially those with highly desirable skills and experience, to promote their knowledge and accomplishments – making key talent more difficult for organizations to hide. Likewise, online resources make it easier for your employees to compare what they currently get in terms of compensation, career development opportunities, and work environment with what is on offer elsewhere.

To respond, you need to develop and reinforce strong employer brands, showcasing the unique attractions of working for your organization. You also need to recognize that rewards extend well past compensation and benefits and you should build core organizational messages around total reward offerings. In this context, line managers can effectively reward team members outside of the confines of compensation and benefits. Total rewards statements, for example, can be powerful resources for selling the rewards you offer beyond merely salary.

Imperative #4: Be flexible

Leaders are increasingly challenged with overseeing 4G workforces, with four generations of employees working side by side, each with their own needs and motivators. And, with increasing acceptance of the idea that a career should be tailored to the individual, all employees, regardless of age, are likely to value fulfillment, meaning, self-development, and recognition in their jobs

As a result, a one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement is doomed to fail. Engagement will need to be more personal, tapping into each employee’s drivers, outlook, and expectations.

It’s important you balance traditional roles of directing and organizing team activities with more listening, coaching, mentoring, developing, and advocacy. You’ll also need to be flexible in responding to employee needs. Keeping the skill sets and expertise of Baby Boomers nearing retirement in the organization, for example, may require exploring part-time, work-from-home, or contract employment arrangements.

Finally, recognize that there are limits to the “mass customization” of engagement on the part of organizations and empower people to take responsibility for their own engagement, connecting them with the tools and resources available to help them manage their work experiences, development and careers in a personal, positive way.

Don’t Be Caught Out

To motivate and retain employees, you need to rethink your engagement strategies — because a changing world is changing the game. As part of our research looking at how the external environment is transforming engagement, we conducted a survey of 300 leaders responsible for employee engagement in Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 companies:

  • Over 80% agreed that their company needs to find new ways to engage its workforce in light of the changing environment
  • Yet just one-third feel their organizations are adapting to the megatrends
  • And only a quarter have personally started to drive change

You can avoid being caught out by:

  • Considering which megatrends will have the biggest impact on your organization and workforce
  • Identifying the changes needed in your approach to employee engagement
  • Building networks or taskforces that involve the right people and functions to make change happen
  • Regularly talking to your people across the employee lifecycle to understand how their motivators and behaviors are changing in light of the megatrends

How are you responding to the megatrends? Which do you think will have greatest impact on engagement in your organization? Tweet me your thoughts at @markroyalHG or connect with me via LinkedIn.

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For more information on how the megatrends are transforming businesses and engagement and to find out what you can do today to respond, download our new rules of engagement report or view further materials here.

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