How about your emotional fitness? Get it right with these 5 tips.

How about your emotional fitness? Get it right with these 5 tips.

Original publication in Medium.com on October 20th 2019

Have you ever wished that you could find a little more balance in your emotional life? Or maybe you struggle with an endless stream of negative self-talk that keeps you feeling constantly anxious, depressed, or guilty?

If so, you’ve probably found yourself reading an article or two about emotional intelligence. It’s a pretty attractive idea — that if we understand more about ourselves and how emotions work, we can improve everything from bad moods and negative thought patterns to productivity and the quality of our relationships.

But there’s a big problem with the idea of emotional intelligence: It’s just ideas—and ideas are never enough.

To really change and grow into a resilient, emotionally mature, and mentally strong person, knowledge isn’t enough. You need action. You need practice. You need habits. You need emotional fitness.

Reading all the best books on running marathons won’t actually lead to finishing a marathon unless you train and put in the miles. The same goes for our mental health and emotional wellbeing. You have to put in the work if you want to grow and become stronger. You have to build emotional fitness.

What follows are 5 of the most effective habits for building emotional fitness and becoming a more resilient, mentally tough, and emotionally fit version of yourself. These are habits I practice myself and recommend to my clients in my work as a psychologist.

If you’ve ever got stuck in a worry spiral, you know how hard it is to re-direct your thoughts and attention away from worry and back to reality. The same is true of rumination spirals — endlessly criticizing yourself for past mistakes and your own perceived failings as a person.

When your attention gets stuck in a pattern of negativity, your emotions and moods follow:

  • Obsessing about how awful your upcoming speech is going to go? Prepare to be racked by anxiety.
  • Replaying that gaff in front of your in-laws over and over again in your head? Prepare to be swamped by shame.
  • Constantly telling and re-telling the story of how your spouse wronged you after dinner last night? Prepare to be stuck in anger and resentment.

How we habitually think determines how we habitually feel.

Negative thinking patterns exert a powerful gravitation pull on our attention, which is why it’s so easy to slip into them and get stuck in them. In order to resist the pull of negative thinking patterns, you must strengthen your ability to shift, focus, and control your attention.

Thoughts come and go in our minds, and there’s little we can do to change that. What we can control, though, is our attention.

If you can become stronger and more skilled at managing your attention — focusing on helpful, productive things and avoiding unhelpful, distressing ones — you’re mood will improve dramatically.

There are many forms of attention training, put the simplest and most powerful is mindfulness meditation. To begin, carve out five minutes each day and dedicate them to strengthening your attention muscle:

  • Sit somewhere comfortable and close your eyes.
  • Focus your attention on the sensation of breathing. Try to keep your focus there — on how it feels to breathe.
  • Inevitably, thoughts, emotions, memories, images, external noises, or other physical sensations will intrude on your awareness. Simply acknowledge that your attention has been temporarily distracted and gently return your attention to your breath.
  • That’s it!

If you want to be more balanced in your moods and emotions, you must build your attention muscle.

2. Exercise

You can’t separate your mental and emotional self from your physical self. Your mind and everything in it — thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. — lives in and depends on your body.

If your body isn’t functioning well, neither with your mind.

People who regularly exercise and take care of their bodies are much better able to regulate and manage difficult emotions, moods, and thought patterns than those who don’t.

Of course, people who exercise still fall into bad moods, worry, and get depressed. But regular exercise exerts a powerful protective effect on our mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Find whatever form of exercise you enjoy and make a plan to do it regularly.

3. Talk to yourself. A lot.

Yes, you heard that right: Talking to yourself is a good sign when it comes to emotional wellbeing.

As we discussed above, bouts of negative emotion and low mood are the result of subtle but powerful patterns of habitual thinking. And what makes thought habits like worry and rumination so powerful is that they often run on autopilot, just outside our conscious awareness.

This means you can have a worry spiral, for example, running through your mind for long stretches of time without noticing it, building up more and more negative emotion with each thought.

The longer your negative thoughts persist unnoticed, the more negative emotion you will generate.

On the other hand, the faster you become aware of your negative thought patterns, the quicker you can defuse them and the less negative emotion they’ll generate.

And that’s where talking to yourself comes in…

Talking to yourself helps you become more aware of your own thoughts. It allows you to put distance between your thoughts and your self.

This distance helps give you a fresh perspective on the mental habits driving your emotions. And the better your perspective on your thoughts, the easier it is to disengage from them or change them.

Here’s another big perk of talking to yourself: You can’t speak nearly as fast as you can think.

If you constrain the speed of your thinking to the speed of speech, your mind will only generate a fraction of the negative emotion in the same amount of time.

Few things will keep you saner than cultivating a habit of talking to yourself when things are tough.

4. Rest

Like exercise, adequate sleep and rest are essential for both physical and mental health.

Here’s an example: If you had to guess, when are couples more likely to get into a fight: 11:00 AM or 11:00 PM?

If you’ve ever been in a relationship, I think the answer is pretty clear: fights and arguments are far more likely in the evening.

Why? Because, by the time evening rolls around, we’re exhausted.

We simply don’t function well when we’re exhausted—physically, mentally or emotionally.

Everything from impulse control and emotion regulation to communication becomes significantly more challenging when we’re tired.

To protect yourself against the mood-deflating effects of fatigue, commit to consistently good habits of sleep and rest:

  • Wake up at the same time every day.
  • Don’t get in to bed until you’re truly sleepy.
  • Create a sleep runway in the evenings.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take frequent breaks, especially during strenuous work.
  • Make time to be outside and in nature.
  • Build more whitespace into your life.

5. Clarify and cultivate your values

Consider the following two people, both of whom find themselves stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk, beating themselves up over a mistake they made earlier in the day:

  • Jasper is a high-powered criminal defense attorney. He lives for his work. It’s his life. And he’s amazing at it. Nothing makes him feel better than winning a big trial. But because he’s dedicated his life almost entirely to his job, he has very few interests and passions outside of his work as an attorney. No real hobbies, no long-term romantic relationships — even his friends he’s not especially close to. On his way home late at night after a rare defeat in court, Jasper is skewering himself because of a crucial (perceived) mistake he made in his closing argument. Unsurprisingly, he feels depressed, angry, and ashamed.
  • Jenny is a preschool teacher. She loves her job, but she also loves that she never has to take work home with her and gets the summers off. She’s been happily married for 10 years, volunteers every other weekend at the animal humane society (she LOVES pit bulls!), and has a baking blog where she chronicles her adventures with experimental pie recipes and gluten free treats of all kinds. Jenny is on her way home after a parent teacher conference in which one of her student’s parents berated her for her daughter’s continued poor reading ability. Like Jasper, Jenny finds herself ruminating on what she may have done wrong with her student and how she could have been better. She’s feeling down and discouraged.

All other things being equal, who do you imagine is going to be more successful extracting themselves from their negative thoughts and emerging bad mood?

My bet’s on Jenny.

  • Jenny has a diverse and well-cultivated set of values and interests. Even if she can’t extract herself from her negative thoughts on her commute home, she’s coming home to a supportive partner, an adoring pitbull named Brad, and a flurry of encouraging comments on her most recent blog post about gluten-free brownies.
  • Jasper doesn’t have much to come home to in terms of things that could help him emotionally. Sure, his 65th-floor apartment is dope, his 80-inch plasma TV is stunning, and the bar in the lobby of his apartment building serves killer sliders. But how well will those things really serve to help Jasper disengage from his negative thoughts and bolster his mood?

The point is this:

A diverse set of well-clarified values makes it much easier to let go of negative mental and emotional patterns.

Like a well-balanced financial portfolio, diversified values and interests are a powerful buffer and shield against stress and emotional downturns.

So carve out some time to really ask yourself: What truly matters to me? What are my values? What do I feel passionate about? And then most importantly, how could I begin to work toward those values? What would it take to make those values and interests a reality?

If you want to make real changes to how you feel on a regular basis, emotional intelligence isn’t enough; you must commit to an emotional fitness regimen.

Train your attention.

Exercise.

Talk to yourself.

Rest.

Focus on your values.

Written by Nick Wignall

The effect of clarity and intentionality on Leadership

The effect of clarity and intentionality on Leadership

Original publication in LeadershipNow.com on November 8th 2019

What are the defining characteristics of successful leadership?

Mark Sanborn identifies them as clarity and intentionality in The Intention Imperative. Clarity, he says, “tells you where you’re headed” and intentionality is “the consistent action you’ll take to get there.”

To explain, Sanborn takes us back to when Domino’s found clarity and discovered how they were going to get there. With clarity of purpose that took them back to their roots, and intentionality, they became an e-commerce company that happens to sell pizza. As a result, Dominos stock has risen 5000 percent since 2008, outperforming all of the world’s largest tech companies.

Leading with clarity and intentionality makes the difference. He offers the following chart to illuminate the effect of clarity and intentionality on our leadership effectiveness.

Sanborn Intention Imperative

The quadrant of No Leadership is negligent leadership—no direction and no way to get there. Vague Leadership has a bias for action but lacks a clear idea of where they’re going. Wishful Leadership knows where they want to go but haven’t figured out the how or aren’t taking consistent action to get there. Intentional leadership is effective leadership. “Intentional leadership is knowing where you want to go and taking consistent action in the world as it is, not the world as it was, to get there.” There is a lot contained in that last statement and is the subject of this book.

Intentional Leadership consists of three imperatives: Inspiration, Culture, and Emotion.

The Culture Imperative

Culture gets a lot of attention and is considered critical to success, but few organizations actually do much about it. At best, it becomes an HR function.

Sanborn defines culture as “what we think and believe, which then determines what we do and what we accomplish.” He lists six reasons why it matters so much, but this reason caught my attention. I had never looked at it from this perspective. He says, “Culture is a corporate immune system that protects against variance, decline, or abandonment by identifying and combating threatening forces like toxic partners, disjointed processes, and bad decisions.”

Culture often takes a back seat—though we know better—because we focus on the wrong things or think it is all about making employees happy. “Making people happy isn’t the job of an intentional leader. The job of an intentional leader is giving employees the tools—the philosophy, the training, the communication, and the incentives—to be successful.” Sanborn offers five levers to create, change, and/or maintain culture—intentionally.

The Inspiration Imperative

Inspiration comes from purpose and the mission. It’s more than motivation or engagement which are “task-focused and lack the sustaining power of inspiration.”

Inspiring leadership begins with you. You find it in yourself first so that you can bring it out in others. Inspiration can be found in solitude, those you associate with, curiosity, a healthy sense of humor, gratefulness, service and exercise. “To find your purpose is to find your inspiration.” From this foundation you can guide others to their inspiration.

Sanborn offers ten tools for inspiration. Connection with your team, your example, empathy, linking purpose to work, providing challenges and education, appreciation, and a good story are among the ten.

The Emotion Imperative

We have entered the emotion economy. The customer wants to feel successful after the fact, not just happy. “Are you happier you did business with us than with someone else?”

You want customers happy they chose you—to feel successful. “The old notion that a company merely needs to provide a good or service withers away when we start to understand that it is not the product or service itself that matters—what matters is which emotion your company elicits from its customers.”

The intentional leader knows that this goes beyond customer service. That’s part of it. “A customer’s emotions start well before they enter your sales funnel. The new economy has expanded the points at which your potential customers will first interact with your company. Across all levels of your organization, ask yourself how each impacts the customer’s happiness and feelings of success. This includes marketing, product design, sales, and, yes, customer service.”

There are a lot of great insights in this book. Through a series of case studies that go beyond the usual suspects—a parking garage, High Point University, Acuity Insurance, Savannah Bananas baseball, Texas Roadhouse, and Envisioning Green landscaping—and interviews, he walks us through the thinking behind intentional leadership and its three imperatives to see how they connect. Here is a sampling of the comments from organizations featured in the book:

Nido Qubein, president of High Point University: “I just get in front of our team. I walk around and pat people on the back, shake hands, share a laugh. It’s not complicated. I make time for moments of joy each day, and the time I spend in the café talking to students and staff members makes me feel good. Students talk selfies with me. If a student is on their phone talking to Mom and Dad, I grab it and talk to their parents. I’m present.”

Ben Salzmann, CEO Acuity Insurance: “You can’t innovate in a vacuum. If you take the best genius and give them a year, feed ‘em the best food and lock ‘em in a room—a year later they don’t look so smart. Take the same person and let them talk and look around and interact, and they will come up with great innovations. Stimulus is critical.”

Kent Taylor, founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse: “If we think about a new idea, I run it through twenty people—managing partners, market partners, kitchen managers, service managers, meat cutters. I don’t create ideas in a distant office. When it comes to employees, I am always asking, Are they happy? Do they enjoy their job? That’s important because I believe that happy employees create happy guests, which creates happy accountants!

Erika Johns, co-owner of Envisioning Green: “Our culture is fun and positive. We aren’t afraid to laugh and joke around, but we know how to work hard. You spend more time with your co-workers than your family a lot of the time, so it’s important to have some fun at work.”

All of the examples point to the fact that inspiration, culture, and emotion, are created and maintained with intentional leadership. Sanborn completes the book with thirty things that you can do now to lead intentionally based in reality—the world as it is.

Why Learn & Adapt are the highest valued soft skills you should teach your kids

Why Learn & Adapt are the highest valued soft skills you should teach your kids

Original publication on Medium.com on December 16th 2018

The jobs of the future don’t exist yet — but we know they’ll require some serious social skills

An education is supposed to prepare you for the future. Traditionally, that meant learning certain facts and skills, like when explorers arrived in America or how to calculate an answer using long division. Today, curricula have shifted to focus on a more global and digital world, engaging students in subjects like cultural history, basic computing skills, and writing code.

Yet, the challenges our kids will face will be much different than those of our generation. Most of what a typical student learns in school today will no longer be relevant by the time they graduate from college. A study at the University of Oxford found that 47 percent of today’s jobs will be eliminated over the next 20 years.

Over the next few decades, much of what we “know” about the world will no longer be true. The computers of the future will not be digital. Software code itself is disappearing, or at least becoming far less relevant. Many of what are considered good jobs today will be either automated or devalued. We need to rethink how we prepare our kids for the world to come.

Understanding Systems

The subjects we learned in school were mostly static. The answer to two plus two was always four. Interpretations of certain subjects may have differed from place to place and evolved over time, but we were taught that the world was based on certain facts. We were evaluated on the basis of knowing those facts.

Yet, as the complexity theorist Sam Arbesman has pointed out, facts have a half-life. As the accumulation of knowledge accelerates, those half-lives are shrinking. For example, when we learned computer programming in school, it was usually in BASIC, a now mostly defunct language. Today, Python is the most popular language, but will likely not be a decade from now.

The best way to prepare for the future is to develop the ability to learn and adapt.

Computers themselves will be very different as well, based less on the digital code of ones and zeros and more on quantum laws and the human brain. We will likely store less information on silicon and more in DNA. There’s no way to teach kids how these things will work because nobody, not even experts, is quite sure of that yet.

Kids today need to learn less about the present and more about the systems future technologies will be based on, such as quantum mechanics, genetics, and the logic of code. Economists have consistently found that routine jobs are most likely to be automated. The best way to prepare for the future is to develop the ability to learn and adapt.

Applying Empathy and Design Skills

While machines are taking over many high-level tasks, such as medical analysis and legal research, there are some things they will never do. A computer will never strike out in a Little League game, have its heart broken, or see its child born. So it is very unlikely, if not impossible, that a machine will be able to relate to a human like other humans can. That absence of empathy makes it hard for machines to design products and processes that will maximize enjoyment and utility for humans. So design skills are likely to be in high demand for decades to come as basic production and analytical processes are increasingly automated.

We’ve already seen this process take place with regard to the Internet. In the early days, it was a very technical field. You had to be a highly skilled engineer to make a website work. Today, however, building a website is something any fairly intelligent high schooler can do — and much of the value has shifted to front-end tasks, like designing the user experience.

With the rise of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, our experiences with technology will become far more immersive, and that will increase the need for good design. For example, conversational analysts (yes, that’s a real job) are working with designers to create conversational intelligence for voice interfaces. Furthermore, virtual reality will clearly be much more design intensive than video ever was.

The Ability to Communicate Complex Ideas

Much of the recent emphasis in education has been around STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) and proficiency in those areas is certainly important for today’s students to understand the world around them. However, many STEM graduates are finding it difficult to find good jobs. On the other hand, the ability to communicate ideas effectively is becoming a highly-prized skill.

Consider Amazon, one of the most innovative and technically proficient organizations on the planet. However, a key factor to its success is its writing culture. The company is so fanatical about the ability to communicate that developing good writing skills is essential to building a successful career there.

Think about Amazon’s business and it becomes clear why this is the case. Sure, it employs highly adept engineers. But in order to create a truly superior product, those people need to collaborate closely with designers, marketers, business development executives, and others. To coordinate all of that activity and keep everybody focused on delivering a specific, high-quality experience, communication must be clear and coherent. So, while learning technical subjects like math and science is always a good idea, studying subjects that delve into the art of communication — like literature, history, and philosophy — is just as important.

Collaborating and Working in Teams

Traditionally, schoolwork has been based on individual accomplishment. Growing up, you were supposed to study at home, come in prepared, and take your test without help. If you looked at your friend’s paper, it was called “cheating” and you got in a lot of trouble for it. You were taught to be accountable for achievements on your own merits.

Yet, consider how the nature of work has changed, even in highly technical fields. In 1920, most scientific papers were written by sole authors; by 1950, that had changed and co-authorship became the norm. Today, the average paper has four times as many authors as it did then, the work being done is far more interdisciplinary, and it is done across greater physical distances than in the past.

Make no mistake: The high-value work today is being done in teams. This will only increase as more jobs become automated. The jobs of the future will not depend as much on knowing facts or crunching numbers as on humans collaborating with other humans to design work for machines. Collaboration will increasingly become a competitive advantage.

That’s why we need to pay attention not only to how our kids work and achieve academically, but also to how they play, resolve conflicts, and make others feel supported and empowered. Value has shifted from cognitive skills to social skills. As kids will increasingly be able to learn complex subjects through technology, the most important class may well be recess.

Perhaps most of all, we need to be honest with ourselves and make peace with the fact that our kids’ educational experience will not — and should not — mirror our own. The world they face will be far more complex than that. It will be much more difficult to navigate than anything we could imagine back in the days of Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Written by Greg Satell

4 levers to grow as a purpose-driven compagny

4 levers to grow as a purpose-driven compagny

Original publication in Forbes on October 31st 2019

As untamed capitalism and corporate greed come under increasingly fierce and widespread siege, the business world has begun to respond, loudly.

In August, the elite CEOs of the Business Roundtable lobbying group released a statement promising to move away from the decades-old corporate belief in “shareholder primacy” toward a more holistic, purpose-driven approach that “serves all Americans.”

Let’s be clear: this move is a huge milestone in the recent history of management. After all, the signers of this statement lead organizations that take in a combined $7 trillion in revenue and employ 15 million people. However, whether the group’s stated goal of shifting commitments actually transpires remains to be seen.

The advantage of purpose-driven companies

Still, the business roundtable’s announcement, while greeted excitedly, shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. Over the 11 years since the start of the fiscal crisis, more and more attention has been paid to the ethical, social and environmental responsibilities of co~rporations.

Yet businesses that do operate with a sense of purpose and of bettering society reap economic benefits. Recent studies have shown that the performance of companies with a clear sense of purpose grew by 10 times the median rate of companies on the S&P 500. 

What’s more, purposeful organizations appeal to younger people just entering the workforce. This generation has grown up connected in unprecedented ways by technology to a global community, alert to what threatens it and attuned to social justice. To reach these new or future workers of the Greta Thunberg generation, companies can’t ignore social ethics.

How to promote purpose throughout your business

Purpose is a word that packs a punch. It’s an idea whose meaning, while lofty, may be easily grasped. But attaining a sense of purpose can prove daunting, especially in the context of business and its more practical economic goals.

This can be seen in the gap between society’s expectations of businesses and its perception of results: just 39% of people think that organizations work with the goal in mind of improving the quality of life and well-being of their employees and surrounding communities.

It was with this challenge in mind that I, along with my colleagues A. Lleo-de-Nalda, C. Rey, A. Alloza and N. Pitta, set out to research the promotion of purpose in business. And to develop what we call the Purpose Strength Model compiling the successful techniques and strategies drawn from analyses of 25 purposeful businesses.

How can CEOs and managers promote purposeful business? It’s helpful to first recognize the three pillars of purpose: 

1) Coherence, or the alignment between what a company says and what it does.

2) Authenticity, or the true motivation and intention behind the things a company does. 

3) Integrity, or the naturally occurring behaviors that help maintain a purposeful drive. 

Then, it’s necessary to understand the first and most fundamental step toward building and sustaining purpose, which is constructing a shared purpose that enters the minds and hearts of all employees and inspires them to do their best, most purposeful, work.

How exactly can this communal purpose be achieved? Our model presents four factors, or levers, to attend to while sowing purpose in your organization: 

1. Strategy. The company should define a strategy for the development of a clearly defined purpose. This may sound simple, but it requires deep, prolonged reflection and understanding of corporate responsibility and ethical objectives. This strategy should include specific mile markers to be met along the road to purpose. 

2. Leadership. Company leaders must be depended upon to capably transmit the company’s purpose to employees so that it enters their minds and hearts. This leadership includes directors who promote purpose from the top of the organization and, so that purpose permeates each employee, leaders at all levels and divisions of the company.

3. Management. Systems of management and organizational procedures that guide day-to-day work and ensure that purpose is remembered each day. The organizations we studied saw fit to integrate the company’s purpose into all daily aspects of work including budget planning, talent recruitment and performance assessments. 

4. Clear communication is paramount to demonstrating that what the organization is, what the organization says it wants to be, and what it is perceived to be, all align. 

By following the model of companies who are ethically and financially successful, managers can help lead their companies into a thriving, purposeful future.

By Nuria Chinchilla

What can dishwashing teach us ?

What can dishwashing teach us ?

Original publication in Medium.com on June 27th 2019

A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”

Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?

The monk replied, “I have eaten.”

Joshu said, “Then you had better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.

One night, I used a plate and a bowl for dinner. The next morning, they were still sitting on the counter. I was about to leave when I realized: I should wash these.

As I was rinsing the bowl, I remembered this story. I found it years ago. Leo Babauta shared it. He says:

“Remembering to do these things when we’re done with the activity isn’t just about neatness. It’s about mindfulness, about completing what we started, about being present in all we do instead of rushing to the next activity.”

I’ve always liked doing dishes. I think this story explains why. It’s comforting. Satisfying. Mindful. There’s the water, the scrubbing, and you always get an immediate result. Then, it’s on to the next item. Nothing more, nothing less.

Still, there is something deeper to this story. A much more profound message.

“It’s: don’t get your head caught up in all this thinking about the meaning of life … instead, just do. Just wash your bowl. And in the washing, you’ll find all you need.”

What if washing dishes isn’t a chore at all? What if it’s a refuge? A ladder out of the fuss of everyday life and into our hideaway. A sanctuary. A little pocket of peace, where all you have to do is be. Where no stress can reach you. No looming deadline, no existential fear, no weighty decisions to make.

When I chose to clean my bowl, I thought it was a small gesture. A sign of tidiness. But when I did it, I found it was so much more. In fact, it was everything. Enough. All I had to do was wash the bowl.

Nothing more, nothing less.

I’m not a monk and I’m definitely not Joshu. But I know this: We can transfer this enough-ness to all our activities. Folding laundry. Sending an email. Getting coffee with a friend.

Some tasks feel inherently comforting, but all tasks offer comfort if we let them be enough. Whatever we do, if we do it with intention, if we put in our whole heart, the outcome won’t matter. Because we did what we could. Because we were there. What more could we ask from ourselves than that?

Life is big, but it’s made of small moments. Small interactions, situations, and many small tasks. We can spend our days worrying about the incomplete parts of the puzzle or we can choose to look intensely at each piece. Zoom in. Get a close-up. And shape it until it fits.

Like the puzzle, we’ll never be perfect. We have just entered the monastery. But every day is a new chance to be there. And every day, when we’re done eating, we’ll need to wash our bowl.

Written by Niklas Göke

What HR needs to look for hiring new leaders ? Check what defines the “3C’s leaders”!

What HR needs to look for hiring new leaders ? Check what defines the “3C’s leaders”!

Original publication in InsideHR on October 18th 2019

The leader of the future is the antithesis of many current leaders who focus on their silos to achieve results, writes Jerome Parisse-Brassens, who explains that HR needs the appropriate tools to support the development of new culture leaders

There is a significant shift occurring in organisational cultures, in response to the VUCA world we live in and the coming-of-age of digital and artificial intelligence (AI). What I find interesting is that this is happening in every market, regardless of their levels of maturity. And this has big implications for leaders and HR professionals.

Over the past twenty years or so, businesses have increased their focus on results, achieving significant profit, establishing a strong reputation and setting fast track records in growth. Successful cultures were centred on achievement, with environments in which accountability is king, people keep their promises, KPIs are clearly established, and little room for error. Achievement cultures required leaders to take personal responsibility, drive accountability, and manage large teams of people who knew what they had to do.

Side-effects of achievement cultures
While this enabled growth, it also reinforced silos at all levels and limited cross-collaboration. For HR teams, this meant they had to recruit leaders who were experts, had delivered results before and could lead teams in fairly predictable environments.

An unexcepted consequence of the strong pressure on results has also been a sharp increase in burnout and staff disengagement, leading to increased absenteeism and sick leave and higher recruitment costs. In the race for results, people were often forgotten.

It’s recently become obvious that the siloed, results-focused model is not sufficient anymore, and the concept of agility made its appearance as a technology enabler, tool, and cultural attribute. True agility is a step change from the previous business model.

“It’s recently become obvious that the siloed, results-focused model is not sufficient anymore”

Beyond customer-centricity as the anchor, agile cultures are requiring leaders to be open, lose the fear of mistakes and not knowing, adopt a learning mindset and the ability to establish collaborative networks across the business. The silos still exist, but new bridges are being built.

What HR needs to look for in leaders
What this change means for HR is the need to recruit and develop leaders who are curious, have courage, and display a collaborative mindset. The significant shift in culture today is not a shift away from a focus on achievement and results (this has to remain strong in the current competitive environment) but the dialing up of the people lever.

Organisations have realised that the next step-change cannot come solely from more pressure, but from utilising the strengths, the skills and the capabilities of their people. This translates into increased empowerment, enhanced work/life balance and wellbeing, more trust and caring, and loosening the top-down approach. Many of my clients are working on just that – but this is easier said than done.

Putting people at the centre of AI and digital transformation
Unfortunately, this is not enough. With the coming-of-age of digital and AI, organisations have to reinvent themselves. AI’s power comes from the amount of data at our disposal and the speed at which machines can analyse it to make faster decisions than us humans could ever do.

The big difference between today and tomorrow is the sheer amount of data available and its connectedness. Silos do not exist with data and this is where the true power of AI lies. It is breaking down barriers. The good news, which the most fearful of us have not yet understood, is that digital transformation and AI are putting the human at the centre. It is the human who will teach machines how to make decisions based on the data they receive, it is the human who will clarify ethics and arbitrate between values, it is the human who will feed the machine data and rules and tell it what to do, how to learn, and how to surpass us in many of the tasks we care currently performing.

So, how does translate for tomorrow’s culture leaders?

“The next step-change cannot come solely from more pressure, but from utilising the strengths, the skills and the capabilities of their people”

What the culture leader of tomorrow looks like
The culture leader of tomorrow is a connected leader. They have to let go of their need to control and their fears of not knowing. They have transitioned from a “command-and-control” mindset to one of trusting and serving people to help them be their best. They have a whole-of-organisation approach to thinking, which allows them to connect data, processes, customer, people and results beyond traditional boundaries.

They are curious, responsible, and learn from their mistakes. They are not experts, but they can find the expertise where it resides, from customers through to employees and machines.  Their vision is clear, and they can flex the roadmap along the way. To be effective as a networked leader, they have developed openness, caring and listening skills. And everything they do adds value to the customer. I call them “3C leaders”: customer-centric, connected and caring.

What this means for HR
Understanding this shift is critical for HR teams. This new kind of leader is the antithesis of many current leaders who focus on their silos to achieve results. The keys to tomorrow’s success are not the keys employed today. This has strong implications for recruitment, learning and development, performance management and communications. Each of those systems needs a complete overhaul, a new perspective, and the appropriate tools to support the development of the new culture leader.

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