The professional landscape is transforming, and the only way to maintain competitive advantage is to maximize the unique skills of your workforce. In Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future, consultant and futurist Alexandra Levit provides a guide to making the most of the human traits of creativity, judgment, problem solving and interpersonal sensitivity.
If you’ve ever wondered what the ‘robot takeover’ will look like, how talent and machines can work side by side and how you can make organizational structures more agile and innovation focused, you will be interested in Alexandra’s work. I recently spoke with her about her research and observations.
“Enlightened 21st-century leaders will abandon command-and-control to diplomatically govern their organizations.” -Alexandra Levit
You cover some sweeping trends. Would you share a few of the macro themes that are the backdrop of your work?
The book addresses a few essential questions: In a world where robots can do more and more, where does that leave us as humans? How will leaders build integrated human teams that can compete in a business world with constant evolutions and disruptions while remaining productive, marketable and sane? We explore the demographics, technological advances, work structures, organizational priorities, leadership models, individual career paths and human roles coming to fruition in the immediate years to come.
“The speed with which information populates the online world means with one wrong move, your organization’s reputation could be in jeopardy.” -Alexandra Levit
There’s a lot of talk about the move from management to true leadership, as well as the need to be human in the face of data and the impending rise of the robots. It’s easy to get lost in it all and hard to really understand why any of it matters.
The truth is that when people thrive, our organizations thrive too, so the sole function of leadership should be to enable people to be their best and do their best work. Leaders today are the creators and custodians of platforms for human success.
Here are 10 ways every leader can contribute to the platform, enable people to thrive, drive organizational success and get more from their own role. These are inspired by research which has encountered leaders across organizations of all shapes and sizes, with common factors in success shining through.
Things move fast in modern business, and the people who have the greatest insight are those closest to the customer. Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy, and the faster we can access it and use it, the more plugged-in our organization is to what the world needs from it. Take time every day to talk to your people, find out how they are doing, and what issues they face. Then offer support and congratulate them on their success. In workplace change, one of the major factors that contributes to things going wrong—which happens in 70% of cases (McKinsey, 2015)—is the feeling that management isn’t listening. Give people a voice!
“Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy.” –Andy Swann
Your job as a leader is to ensure you have the right people, in the right places, doing the right things. If your recruitment process is right, then the people are right – there’s no need to micromanage every task. Trusting the individual to find their own best way to succeed, within the most basic parameters that they need to operate in, not only empowers them, but allows them to do their best work. It also reduces the workload of the leader – instead of box-ticking, you can be out there involved with your people and collecting valuable insight.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” –Ernest Hemingway
Karyn Schoenbart is CEO of The NPD Group, a global provider of information and advisory services to the world’s leading brands. A working mom, she often gave career advice to her daughter Danielle as she was growing up. By the time Danielle entered the workforce, she joked that she had received a “Mom. B.A” giving her a tremendous competitive advantage. Now years later, Karyn has written MOM.B.A: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next, based on her “lessons” to Danielle as well as on her thirty years of experience building a successful career. The book, filled with wise advice and numerous personal anecdotes, is noteworthy for Karyn’s candor and her delightful sense of humor. I recently spoke with Karyn about her favorite tips for those just starting out or climbing the corporate ladder.
“Your integrity is your biggest asset.” –Simon Chadwick
What’s the best way to make a good first impression?
It starts with how you show up. It’s important to dress appropriately for the occasion. But that doesn’t mean it is a “one size fits all” rule. Dress the way that matters to the people who matter. And when in doubt, find out! A few years ago, we were looking for someone to fill an executive position that would report to me. One of the candidates came to the interview in a very low cut dress. She was clearly qualified, but we didn’t know what to make of her choosing that particular dress for the interview. In the end, we all agreed: The candidate’s attire demonstrated a lack of judgment, and we didn’t want someone with poor judgment helping to run our company. We didn’t hire her.
How you speak is also a reflection on you. Avoid bad vocal habits like the dreaded up-speak (where every sentence ends as though it is a question).
In my experience, people like it when you call them by name – it shows you care. Make it a practice to remember and use people’s names. My tip for remembering names is to use it three times when meeting them; when introduced, during the conversation and finally when saying goodbye. It really works!
How do you build a good relationship with the boss?
Be the person your boss can count on. Step up and go above and beyond. Every positive interaction that you have is like putting money in the bank. Then if there is a problem, you have something to withdraw. Think of criticism as an investment in you. Your boss is taking the time to help you be better.
It’s also a good idea to get to know your boss as a whole person. Find out what matters to him or her and show an interest. One way to break through is to check in on a Monday or Friday, which creates an opportunity to interact on a more personal level (i.e. do you have any interesting plans for the weekend?).
“Focus on being a good listener, which includes being patient and attentive.” –Diane Bowers
People issues. Many leaders will tell you that people problems keep them up at night. From dealing with the under-performers to retaining and motivating the superstars, people problems dominate a leader’s thoughts.
One primary difference between a great culture and a poor one is this: a great culture has stars in every seat and a poor culture tolerates under-performers.
That’s what Trevor Throness explains in his new book, The Power of People Skills. His book teaches how to make the right people decisions. Don’t let the difficult people problems slow you down. His book is a helpful guide to everyone in management. I recently spoke with him about his work. Trevor is a coach who has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs and organizations fix people problems and build exceptional cultures.
“The one quality that all successful business leaders have in common is tenacity.” –Trevor Throness
Attracting A Players. Many say they want to do this, but they don’t put the time and resources in to show it’s a priority. Why is it so important?
It’s important because A Players are up to 300% more productive and valuable to you than others. Think of your best person; wouldn’t you rather lose three other weaker players than lose him? One great employee is worth three adequate employees. The irony is that often the best employees cost nearly the same as the worst. 50% of medical doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class, but they all charge the same!
“A-Players are up to 300% more productive and valuable to you than others.” –Trevor Throness
What are some of the people myths that affect many companies?
Here are two of the biggest myths:
People’s basic weaknesses will change if they’re coached
Often leaders believe that, through their expert intervention, the basic construct of someone’s personality will change. “Sure, today they’re a quiet, detail-oriented person who prefers to work alone, but once I show them the way, they’ll become an aggressive leader!” The truth is that leopards don’t change their spots. The best case scenario for any employee is that he will become a better version of who he already is. If you’re unhappy with the fundamentals of who he is, coaching is not going to fix that.
The point of coaching is to help people fix their weaknesses
The focus of coaching should be to capitalize on strengths, not to build a set of strong weaknesses. When I’m coaching someone, and we’re discussing weaknesses, I’m hoping that the person will grow in self-awareness so she can see how her weaknesses affect her team and then moderate that behavior. Mostly, however, I’m looking to adjust her role so that she can spend more of her day capitalizing on her strengths, doing what she was born to do, what makes her feel strong, and what accounts for most of her results.
“One great employee is worth three adequate employees.” –Trevor Throness
In the last several years, businesses have faced smarter competitors, continual change, technological innovations, and uncertainty.
It seems more difficult than ever to both grow the top line of a business and the bottom line, too.
That’s the challenge that Dr. Dorriah Rogers, CEO of Paradyne Consulting Works, takes on.
From her work with some of the most complex projects and organizations, Dorriah has developed a 9 step program to grow net profit. After reading her new book Decide to Profit: 9 Steps to a Better Bottom Line, I asked her to share more about her research and experience.
“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” –Chinese Proverb
Tell us more about the 9 steps and how you arrived at them.
The 9 steps are the result of many years of implementing various profit-focused solutions and systems across many different types of industries and companies. At one point in my consulting career, a senior executive (almost, but not quite) jokingly asked me if I could develop an “Operations Manual” of all the tools I had at my disposal. That was the genesis of the 9 Steps. From there, I kept refining the steps, making sure they were interrelated, and asked for real-world feedback from my clients, until I had it down to a system as simple as I could make it. I wanted to create a process that was not overly complicated to understand or use, and I wanted to create something that both managers making decisions and employees wanting to make an impact could readily implement to help their companies improve profitability.
“Whenever man comes up with a better mousetrap, nature immediately comes up with a better mouse.” –James Carswell
Identifying the system that needs improvement seems straightforward, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. What if you can’t seem to identify which one is off course?
Agreed. It is not simple to get started. And that is why so many of my clients struggled. They either focused on too many improvements or the wrong ones. In many cases, most managers and employees inherently know where they need to start, or in what general area, and that is as good a point to begin with as any. It may not be as tight a starting point as you might want, but the 9 Steps will help to define and clarify if it is the right place to focus your attention and resources as you progress. Keep in mind that a “system improvement” could be as big as an entire corporate overhaul (like the Lego case study in the book) or as small as an internal vendor payment process. The idea is to find those things that are impacting your ability to make money. So the first place to start is to discuss internally which things are impacting your ability to generate profit. Not revenue, but profit.
Companies have a choice: keep doing what you’re doing and make incremental (or no) improvements to your bottom line, or tackle your best estimate of the system within your organization that could potentially have the biggest impact on profit. You might start out with the wrong one, but the beauty of the 9 Steps is the iterative process built into it. Along the way (and fairly soon) you will realize that the system you chose to improve might not be the right one because it is NOT positively impacting your financial goals, and the steps will prove that out for you through the ROI process. At that point, you simply readjust, and the 9 Steps will guide you closer to those areas that will have the biggest impact. So in short, start somewhere and the 9 Steps process will get you where you need to be.
“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” –Theodore Levitt
What is the expert loop and how does it often cause problems?
The expert loop was first coined by Alex “Sandy” Pentland in his November 2013 HBR article entitled “Beyond the Echo Chamber.” In it, he posited that within organizations only a handful or individuals are viewed as the experts and the only ones who are capable of making important decisions. I agree with his conclusions that, in fact, seeking information outside of this expert network is often much more valuable. Time and time again I have seen the phenomenon of top executives sitting in rooms with the same small group of people as they rehash both problems and ideas in a tired, circular rhythm. The same ideas are beaten to death, and the same people are heard. Even when new people are brought into the conversation, their ideas are often dismissed or even scoffed at as the experts re-establish their positions of authority at the top of the food chain. The problem this creates is twofold: a lack of true innovation and the stifling of a culture of continuous improvement. While it is true that experts should (and do) have great ideas, it often requires a fresh perspective or a dissenting voice to shake things up and move the company in a new direction. Some of the best ideas I have ever heard have come from the most unexpected voices.