A friend of mine goes into the office every day, but it’s an office unlike you and I work in. On the top floor of an older office building, over 11 organisations operate alongside the constant hum of a 3D printer and within shared meeting spaces, including one contained in a giant inflatable brain. When I pop by for after work drinks I find a flow of ideas, enthusiasm, support and collaboration beyond that experienced in many of the more traditional work environments where I spend most of my time. Shared co-working spaces are on the rise in every corner of the globe, servicing the growing needs of small businesses, social enterprises and individual specialists.

One of the megatrends identified in Hay Group’s recent book Leadership 20301 is the rise of individualism and with good reason. In the future people will have greater choice about how they make a living, who they work for and when they work. This has many implications for companies of all sizes especially when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. The “Talent War” has been going on for decades but the competition is just going to get tougher. Even if you have a top employment brand it’s hard to compete with the autonomy and flexibility offered by being your own boss (not to mention an inflatable brain).

So what do leaders and organisations need to do today to be competitive tomorrow?

Invest in finding and keeping the right people

Top talent always has options, decreasing supply pushes demand higher and we all know the costs of making a bad hire, especially at a leadership level. But it’s not until this talent has proven itself in the marketplace with 10-15 years’ experience that we recognise it. So how about getting creative about where and how you are sourcing potential at the entry levels of your organisation? Growing talent is a long term strategy which involves investment up front, but the costs involved today are an investment for the future. If you are able to develop your own talent and retain them then you will be less vulnerable to an increasingly tight talent market. A word of caution here: your best talent today may not be what you need in the future. It is important to be clear on finding and preparing talent to meet your future capabilities, not just to meet the business of today.

Build leaders that understand people first and your business second

I’m not saying that business savvy leadership isn’t important but even if you are in manufacturing the reality is that your business gets done through people, and their needs are changing as fast as the environment you are operating in. Unfortunately our leadership pipelines tend to select good operational executers (with obvious reasons why) that then struggle to really lead, influence and motivate people across all levels of an organisation. It’s a big job being able to listen and speak to 100 people, yet not many development programs and experiential learning opportunities prepare us to deal with the increasing demands of leading 100 individuals, let alone 10,000. Take a quick review of your succession planning and learning and development strategy. Where are you currently placing the emphasis? On the tactical operational components or on the people leadership capabilities?

Find and own your corporate culture

People want to come to work in an environment that they can connect with and excel in. The best cultures are vibrant, constantly evolving and as different as the individuals that influence and shape it. If that all sounds rather nebulous it’s because it is. Culture is something people feel rather than rationalise. This means that trying to enforce a culture, especially in our technology driven world, doesn’t work. Instead it has to be persuaded and cajoled in people. While it is tempting for organisations to use best practise approaches and try to transplant other cool things you have seen work in one company (such as an inflatable brain), the key here is to support, recognise and celebrate the emergence of local cultures under the banner of a clear corporate vision of who you are.

Be realistic about your tolerance of risk

The push for flexible workplaces, contingent workforces and agile operations mean that many of the traditional structures, policies and practises of the modern organisation will be challenged. HR leaders should be driving discussions that prepare their organisation to adapt from a risk mitigation approach to a people enabled environment. An enabled environment will not only better suit the needs of your individual employees but ultimately allow you to respond to the individual needs of your consumers. I’m not naïve – not all companies are going to be comfortable or effective if they remove all policies, procedures and structure. But which ones are really necessary? When someone says we need an employee handbook, do we stop first and ask why?

Finally embrace individualism

You could blame generational trends or fight against the unrealistic expectations of employees these days but instead why not look towards the opportunities? If you don’t other companies or indeed your employees will. Leaders and organisations are going to have to work on meeting the emotional as well as the rational needs of the employment contract. This means having leaders and managers that actually want to understand the personal drivers for each of their employees, what motivates them and pushes them to produce their best work. The good news is that employees who are managed as individuals are better equipped to then meet the needs of your customers who are also wanting to be treated as, you guessed it, individuals.

At the end of the day we all know that the world is changing. The challenge is not acknowledging this but getting ourselves and ultimately our organisations mobilised to do something about it. So now it’s up to you.

1Leadership 2030: The six megatrends you need to understand to lead your company into the future by Georg Vielmetter and Yvonne Sell


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About Contributor

Wendy is a Director at Korn Ferry Hay Group. She focuses on Executive Team Development, Leadership Development, Diversity and Emotional Intelligence. Wendy is passionate about helping senior executives become more effective leaders. She understands the impact great leadership has on people performance, and has extensive experience in aligning people and organisational design with business strategies.

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