The speed with which technology continues to progress has been a discussion point throughout history, which started well before we had the means to document our conversations. While there’s no doubt that the tools we have invented to manage the way we live and work have brought benefits, many have caused considerable disruption, not just to industry, but entire economies. There’s also a risk with the adoption of new technology that it may fail or be replaced early in its lifecycle after we’ve made a significant investment.
Recently, I attended the RSM Business & Finance Symposium: Face the Future with Confidence. Presenting on The Future of Work: How Innovation will Transform our Working Environment, Andrew Sykes pointed to a 2017 National Geographic Magazine article that ranked the top 10 innovations that changed the world. You may be surprised to know that personal computers only ranked fourth (to the printing press at number one). Smartphones didn’t even make it into the list.
Lately the perceived threat of Artificial Intelligence (AI) hovers like a drone over those of us employed in professional services. Could lawyers for example, traditionally well remunerated for their knowledge and ability to interpret complex laws, be replaced by highly accurate legal advice via AI on demand? Yet Sykes reported that the World Economic Forum estimates only a 45% probability that we’ll see an AI machine on a corporate board of directors by 2025.
From his accounting perspective, Sykes described the effect of the invention of spreadsheets: Computerised ledgers displaced manual bookkeepers, but productivity gains enabled firms to offer their services to a broader market, which had a flow-on effect leading to an increase in demand for accountants.
However, what really got me thinking (and to some degree made me a little nervous) was when Sykes mentioned how quickly robots learn. It’s the daunting ability of robots to learn without relying on human inputs which is realised as AI gone rogue in the post apocalypse genre of science fiction films like The Terminator (coincidentally released in 1984).
Some will know about Deep Blue, at the time a ‘supercomputer’ developed by IBM specifically for playing chess, which went on to beat reigning world champion Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a chess match. Deep Blue could analyse 200 million positions per second. That’s impressive. Then came AlphaZero, a computer program developed by the AI research company DeepMind (bought by Google for $500m), who not only mastered chess, but the games Go and shogi. Within 24 hours, this superhuman player defeated other world-champion programs, Stockfish and elmo. AlphaZero searches just 80,000 positions per second in chess (compared to 70 million for Stockfish) but AlphaZero compensated for the lower number of evaluations by using its deep neural network to focus selectively on the most promising variation. This ability to learn is what will impact us and the future way we work or deliver outputs.
Robotics have already had a significant impact on the way we work, most obviously in manufacturing. Other sectors to be impacted over the next 20 years will be ICT, advanced materials, biotechnology, medicine, energy and sensors & monitoring. We already know about driverless cars, but the focus has quickly shifted to pilotless drones (with human carrying capacity). Robotics are playing an ever increasing role in medicine and are perfect for delicate micro-surgery. The flip-side, medical science with nano-technology can identify cancer, but cannot inform a patient with empathy or make moral judgement about an end-of-life decision.
This is where the human element plays a key role in our society. When we are ‘doing business’, human interaction continues to be important in the decision-making process. There is a subjective psychology behind, “I know you, I like you, I trust you” when we are making business decisions and is often the path to building relationships that lead to buying decisions. Senior leaders and executives must seek input from their multiple stakeholders if they want their organisation to be successful. Encouraging the sharing of ideas and robust debate helps define an organisation’s culture, which can then be integrated into organisational design and strategy. The style of people, their values, leadership abilities and team dynamics are qualities that could be assessed by psychometrics and other automated abilities tests, but interpretation and feedback is always going to require human input and sensitivity.
So while AI will increase in the workplace, psychology will remain a resource for helping people cope with uncertainty and change. As the world becomes increasingly more reliant on technology, so will the need for human-based counselling. People need to connect with other people to address social problems (isolation, sleep disorders, uncertainty of work). So while we can comfortably transact with a chatbot to resolve common customer service problems (paying a bill or rescheduling a flight), the human element of dialogue, emotional connection and physical touch will prevail.
In the Executive search cosmos, the human interaction and skills needed to listen, interpret, challenge, advise, influence and negotiate are arguably unique to us mere mortals, especially when there are no hard and fast rules on where empathy, compassion and sometimes ‘tough love’ are required. Yet we use AI in our daily work lives to help make decisions and processes more efficient. As recruitment guru Greg Savage has said, “AI is not a threat if you use it to soak up all the drudgery so you can become better at selling, and consulting and creating outcomes.”
It’s often said people are the most valuable assets to any organisation. From a hiring perspective, attracting the talent (people) that will predict the future, innovate, and disrupt is vital to the success of any business. As executive search consultants, we humanise what can otherwise be a dehumanising experience (think video interviewing, on-line applications, and assessments). We provide delicate feedback to unsuccessful candidates, and do so often face-to-face, so we can read and interpret the feelings of people and adjust our delivery as required. We offer advice to those facing a significant lifestyle change that comes with relocating internationally to take up a new post, or moving on from a company in which you have deeply invested.
For executives, being prepared to ask ourselves how we might embrace AI and other disruptive technologies and help our businesses thrive is essential. How will we interface with AI and robotics in the future? What role will we play versus our technological colleagues? Are we investing in the right capabilities (people and technology) that will allow us to grow and succeed in a rapidly evolving commercial environment? They’re questions that we might not want to ask, might not think that we need to ask, but absolutely have to ask. And no amount of artificial intelligence can do that for us.
In this digital age, how will you not just survive, but thrive? What is the future of work for people in your industry or sector?
Entering a room with 50 of your competitors can be a surreal experience. Recently I attended the Asia Pacific Conference hosted by the Association of Executive Search and Consultants (otherwise known as the AESC), in Sydney. The theme of the Elevate 2017 conference: New Heights, Peak Results.
Arriving at an industry event on your own can be akin to entering a lion’s den – I wasn’t sure whether to broadcast my name and our organisation, putting our brand out there to let everyone know I’d arrived or sit back and observe the opposition before engaging – there would be networking opportunities after all.
Opting for the latter, it wasn’t long before a friendly face (someone who knew me) came to say hello, introducing me to several others. Taming the collective in any group can be challenging and some clearly wanted to size off the competition. In the world economy, facing off against the challenges of a constant stream of potential disrupters is the new reality – one I’m sure all business leaders can relate to, no matter what market you’re in. In this environment it’s easy to lose sight of our strategic objectives, so I find industry events like this really help to refocus on the value we can bring to our clients.
What are the attributes for the next generation of leaders? Speaking about The New Wave: Executive Talent for the Next Generation, AESC CEO, Karen Greenbaum highlighted the ability to lead change, an entrepreneurial approach, high emotional intelligence and critical thinking. Being innovative (a recurring theme) and inspiring others were also highly rated.
Global uncertainty is now the norm. It’s one of the key themes Greenbaum presented, which resonated with me. What lies ahead will be fundamentally different to what we know today. Greenbaum says while global business leaders are understandably cautious, there is optimism about channelling opportunities, looking for signals and interpreting market intelligence to navigate through uncertainty and identify new competitive advantages. Similarly, the pace of technological change will only continue to accelerate. How we embrace technology, however, will determine whether we succeed or fail. Succession planning is also a significant issue for leaders across the globe who are concerned about business continuity where there’s been a lack of succession planning.
How do we ensure delivery of revenue growth against a backdrop of constant disruption? It’s a concern closely related to the uncertainty that revolves around the digital expertise of an organisation. Greenbaum recommends business leaders focus on developing a talent pipeline, leveraging the agility of their executives and other talented employees to promote a culture of innovation.
Earlier in the program Oliver Bladek from McKinsey spoke about organisational agility. He quoted that by 2050 half of the Fortune 500 companies will be based in Asia. Global interconnections will see a significant rise in mergers and acquisitions and he emphasised the importance of cultural integration (with a purpose-led vision) would underpin the success or failure of these mergers. Bladek described a need to balance speed to market with stability: Too fast and you become unstructured, lost without vision and purpose; too structured and you can become overly bureaucratic. It’s evident that agile companies deliver higher, healthier shareholder (an increasingly, community) value. An agile organisation, is therefore, one that effectively combines speed and stability.
Bladek also recognises the difference between technical managers and adaptive leaders, an idea presented by organisational change and development guru John O. Burdet who gave a series of lectures as a guest of TRANSEARCH International Australia in Melbourne and Sydney earlier this year. Both Bladek and Burdett identify the adaptive or inspirational leader as emotionally aware, flexible and in the ‘learning zone’ (as opposed to one who operates in their comfort zone, or worse, the ‘terror zone’). Such leaders are effective problem-solvers. They are role models for the values of their organisations. Bladek further challenged us to engage with our teams at appropriate times. It’s another example where our emotional intelligence can help us to be aware of our energy levels, to understand when we have high energy and drive (versus when we are drained).
Over the years I’ve helped a variety of organisations build diverse and inclusive leadership teams. It’s no surprise then that the AESC conference presenters established attracting and retaining talent requires a winning value proposition. I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of aligning talent with mission and culture. Assessing internal talent, providing meaningful coaching, workforce flexibility and attractive development opportunities are imperatives for retention. Let’s not forget it all begins with successful on-boarding, as we’ve previously written about on TRANSEARCH Insights. I was heartened to hear as articulated by a panel of clients who were invited to the conference that executive search consultants continue to add considerable value to our clients. Feedback from the conference on the value good executive search consultants brought to our clients’ businesses included:
These points were reinforced by the attendance and participation from my industry peers, as well as the observations of the presenters, and bode well for our industry and the organisations we work with in the future.
The theme of this year’s TRANSEARCH global conference was, Creating Tomorrow’s Business, Today. Executive Chairman Alain Tanugi in his opening address said, “This means exploring how to balance outside-in thinking with inside-out actions”. Or in other words, how do we foster excellence within our organisations, while managing our businesses through a world of disruptors?
TRANSEARCH International partners from all over the world recently met at Versailles in France for a week-long conference on the site of the former palace that was home to King Louis XIV. Louis knew a thing or two about disruption, relocating his entire court from Paris to the country estate, a huge cultural shift for the ruling nobility at the time. Our contemporary authority on organisation culture, John Burdett, writes that we’re now at the beginning of a social and cultural revolution equivalent to the invention of the printing press.
In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, presented to delegates at the TRANSEARCH conference, Burdett observes that once the predominant occupation, agriculture now employs less than 1% of people in the USA and only slightly more in European countries. Three centuries after the industrial revolution, manufacturing jobs have moved to low-wage countries and 50 years on from the introduction of the computer, the new knowledge economy in countries like the US, UK and Australia, relies heavily on the service sector. “If you hold down a key leadership role, the world is getting faster, more turbulent and to a significant degree, far less predictable,” Burdett says.
Technological changes are here for the foreseeable future. When we think artificial intelligence, robotics and automation, it’s not just factory workers who are in line to be replaced. We’ve seen self-service supermarket check-outs and airline luggage check-ins. Self-driving trains are here, as are self-driving trucks (see the mining sector). Drones can deliver parcels, follow you on your mountain bike or deliver bombs. The autonomous car is around the corner, as is mobility-as-a-service (mobility solutions that are consumed as a service) and while we have digital assistants, some will still prefer to be greeted by Sam than Siri. An uncompetitive manufacturing landscape has seen the end of vehicle manufacturing in Australia; however, even knowledge-based professions such as lawyers and financial advisors are on notice. “If it doesn’t involve a high level of skill, innovation, flexibility and/or value-adding interface with the customers…” Burdett predicts these roles “are on a fast track to redundancy”.
Spare a thought for tomorrow’s future leaders, the millennials entering the workforce today, dealing with the present generation of progress (or lack therefore) on activity based working, managing the effects of climate change, energy crisis, potential wars and on-going conflicts. Closer to home, access to trade routes in the Asia Pacific region, housing affordability, underemployment, inclusiveness, societal impact and new energy sources. Also say goodbye to long service leave and hello to long sector leave, measured not by your service with one employer, but your service working in the one sector (Who pays for the leave?).
According to The World Economic Forum, 60% of the roles required in ten years time don’t even currently exist. Whilst we cannot necessarily manage any change, Burdett says successful leaders can anticipate, or “ride the crest of change”.
My objective when attending these conferences is to meet my international colleagues, exchange ideas on how we can improve or introduce new services to clients, learn new ways of thinking and also to have some fun. The former was facilitated by some outstanding networking sessions, the latter via a fascinating speaker, Gilles Babinet, who helped us explore how we can innovate the executive search industry and be part of the digital revolution.
John Burdett also provided a model for the Culture journey and key points on managing from the outside-in and leading from the inside-out:
Managing from the outside-in
Leading from the inside-out
Are you creating tomorrow’s business today and are you on the culture journey? If so, let me know how it’s going.
TRANSEARCH International Australia recently hosted a range of senior leaders at The A-Z of Organization Culture, presented by international speaker Dr John O. Burdett. Over three days in Melbourne and Sydney, including a closing session amongst the Ferraris at Zagame Automotive Group, 120 CEOs, HRDs and other executives participated in seminars about organisational culture. The event was also the Australian launch of John Burdett’s latest book with the same title.
When John invited the audience to contribute their thoughts on the qualities observed in the best leaders, respondents overwhelming cited personal attributes – authentic, respectful, influential and optimistic – over the technical skills and experience traditionally sought in leadership roles – vision, decisiveness and direction. He pointed out that the personal traits highlighted by the audience were consistent worldwide and even transcended the generations (particularly the millennials). These attributes are pivotal to the success of the most successful leaders and definitely required for aspiring leaders. John also pointed out however, that these personal attributes could not be considered in isolation, nor at the expense of results and delivery – an obvious measure of success for those working at senior level.
Using his Orxestra© Methodology, John categorised these leadership qualities into the four groups that make up an inspirational leader: On one side in two quadrants are strategic and operational concerns, while the other two quadrants focused on people and engagement. It was clear that while leaders are expected to achieve results, the soft skills that enable them to do so effectively are highly valued.
Storytelling falls into the latter category also, a skill John has in spades. He is one of the best storytellers I have heard, and shares his stories with humour and clever and memorable metaphors… “Strategy is a bicycle, culture is a bus.” He provided personal anecdotes throughout the sessions bringing to life many personal experiences, both as a human resource professional, but also as a coach to CEOs of global corporations.
John gave an example where of one of the world’s largest tech companies conducted an exercise to identify their ideal leadership competencies. The organisation is known for its positive culture, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the ability to coach others came out on top as most desired of their leaders. This was closely followed by taking an interest in people; empowering and developing teams was also highly rated. These competencies have no doubt been fundamental to the success of that company. As John says, “Loyalty is never about the business strategy… no one gets up in the morning to deliver shareholder value, it’s about their manager and the culture.”
It wouldn’t be worth talking about culture without providing the tools to measure it. John says, “If you can’t measure it, you can manage it.” The Orxestra© Methodology, designed exclusively for TRANSEARCH by John Burdett, includes a comprehensive culture scorecard. Follow the links to find out more about our approach to senior executive search, leadership and organisation development, or contact us here.
Tell us about your culture journey below.
We associate showering with waking up our brain for the day, so it’s no surprise that some of our best ideas are ‘shower thoughts’. I worked for a CEO who regularly called in with her shower thoughts for the day on her commute to the office. Most were simple, practical solutions to everyday business problems, with an occasional eureka moment… Archimedes would have been proud!
Research conducted by psychologist Dr Scott Kaufman for Hansgrohe (the bathroom hardware manufacturer) in 2014 found 72% of people have creative thoughts in the shower and “14% of people have showers with the only reason being to generate new ideas”. The study concluded “the feel of the water together with the tranquillity of the shower experience and being alone helps generate new ideas and fresh thinking”.
Literally, you can forget about having creative thoughts when you’re under the pump… a full schedule, working to a deadline, competing priorities and other disruptions all require focused thinking. Routine tasks (showering, regular exercise, gardening or even ironing) however, allow your mind to wander while you’re on autopilot. Actually these activities allow your conscious mind to process ideas that your subconscious has been problem solving in the background while you were focusing on the other tasks at hand. The scientific explanation – it’s a combination of dopamine released in a relaxed state of mind. “The subconscious mind has been working extremely hard to solve the problems you face and now that you let your mind wander, it can surface and plant those ideas into your conscious mind,” explains creative thinker and social influencer Leo Widrich on his Buffer blog.
Thought leader and cultural change commentator John O. Burdett links strategic thinking and workplace culture. In his book Myth, Magic, Mindset: a template for organisational culture change, Burdett says, “Our economic future lies in having a better strategy, a far greater ability to innovate and a culture that is adaptable.” Could your organisation’s strategy benefit from some shower thoughts? What about your organisational culture… Is it healthy, does everyone in the team align with it, how could you further nurture it?
So while you’re enjoying some downtime over the holiday period, allow yourself the extra time to lay in bed, watch the sunset or sip your favourite Sav Blanc. Cast your mind to some of the strategic objectives you’ve been trying to resolve during the year. You’ll be surprised how creative thoughts will emerge and solutions will surface.
Downtime assists us tremendously with clear thinking (maybe before the Sav Blanc). Use this time to consider your business structure, your organisational culture, the approach you might take with a difficult colleague, client, or even your Board. It is also a great time to give your mind the freedom for self-reflection and reset your professional goals for the New Year.
Have a happy, safe festive season and enjoy your break. On your return, let me know if you had any shower thoughts that helped you with articulating new ideas.
Peter Drucker said ‘Culture eats Strategy for breakfast’ and the more organisations I speak with, the more I understand the impact of culture. Every executive appointment today must be a winner: We don’t have the luxury of time or money to make a hiring decision that won’t substantially benefit our organisation. The more senior the position, the greater the impact and the greater the culture fit, the greater the opportunity for success.
Cultural fit is integral to evaluating executive candidates. A capability driven recruitment strategy may help an organisation achieve its goals, but a strategy that incorporates culture brings the spirit, cohesion and inspiration that underpins success. When conducting a search for a CEO, for example, ‘Do they fit?’ is a key question to consider. It should be assessed as a component of the selection criteria, but how do we measure ‘fit’?
Of course we would expect an individual’s experience to be included in any hiring assessment. However, a more thorough process will include culture, as well as considering leadership competencies and performance. As we build a candidate profile, how would our prospective CEO work with their teams, integrate with the organisation and interact with the Board in their new role? Having examined an individual’s capability based on their past performance and leadership potential, we should also look critically at the organisation when recruiting its talent. What phase is it in… start-up, growth, consolidation? At what stage is the culture of the organisation… currently defining its culture, an established brand, or a market leader? Is the Board therefore, hiring for today’s culture or the culture of tomorrow?
If you asked a group of leaders within an organisation to define its culture, it’s highly likely you would receive a range of different answers. Subjective interpretations don’t contribute to a robust recruitment processes, so it’s critical to have a common understanding of what culture means. Using a sophisticated, well-researched, professional tool such as the TRANSEARCH Orxestra Methodology© can help an organisation to quantify key aspects of the candidate profile, including culture, leadership and performance. Once we’ve clearly established what we’re looking for in an executive and defined the competencies and culture, we can use the Orxestra© methodology to assess the candidate’s capabilities and fit to these requirements. This provides both client and candidate a clear picture of ‘fit’. This can be further augmented with psychometric assessments to add another dimension to the hiring decision.
A strong culture is evident from the clear set of values and beliefs that enable its employees to be passionate and productive even while working with mundane systems and processes. Our experience as executives tells us people in a positive cultural environment are more engaged, self-motivated, will communicate more openly and work effectively with each other and their customers (internal or external). I think culture assessment should be fundamental in the talent acquisition process. Now that’s something to strategise about over breakfast.
‘Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast’ is what Peter Drucker said when advising business leaders about how to lift performance and improve morale in their organisations.
TRANSEARCH International Australia recently co-hosted a boardroom lunch for board directors and senior executives with Board and Risk Advisory firm Blackhall and Pearl. Co-presenting were Harry Toukalas and Tim Boyle who took us on a journey exploring risk culture, its drivers, carriers and benefits. Discussion focussed on the importance of culture within an organisation, as well as at Board level.
It was fascinating to explore who has the ability to influence culture – it’s not just the C-Suite. While harnessing these influencers can positively impact an organisation, failing to engage with any detractors can dramatically affect morale, leading to a loss in performance.
Our team demonstrated how the TRANSEARCH Orxestra Methodology highlights 5 key areas of ‘fit’ when hiring top talent, underling the importance of ‘culture fit’.
What happens when you bring together a group of Australia’s top business leaders to consider the big issues? Current media headlines would have you think the TPP, China FTA, a lumpy economy, risk, governance, or the AUD would be front of mind.
In fact the headline challenges turn out to be multi-generational workforce management, the link between organisational culture and productivity, immigration, regional development, and security – both information and personal.
Economic growth, fresh political leadership and national security also featured in the discussion hosted by TRANSEARCH International Australia.
Less publicised issues also got a good hearing around the table; the debate from the over 50s corner heated up when the conversation focused on understanding the work expectations of the next generation: “We have a young team in their 20s… they’re so distracted by what’s on their phone!” and “Young women are driven, they are totally underestimated. They’re probably going to shock us all…” (46% of the participants at the TRANSEARCH Boardroom Lunch were women).
Are we too complacent about our security? Cyber security and bio security were perceived to be greater threats for Australia than brutal terrorism. The feeling around the boardroom table was that we are well protected but complacent. Two CEOs with insider knowledge feel that at best we’re well protected, at worst we’re living in a fool’s paradise, blind to the Dark Side. A security expert amongst the group highlighted that executive protection is also soft in Australia: executives could be held for ransom as is common in other parts of the world. There’s also a very fine line between genuine concerns about security and those motivated by pitching fear based on xenophobia and racism.
A stable economic environment may have benefited professionals, but our group was careful to consider opportunities for those who also do a valuable job that is not ‘sexy work’. The truck drivers, process workers and administration employees who will be a necessary part of the future workforce.
Purpose and Meaning is understood to override salary and job titles, and many recognise that people need, regardless of their age “an understanding of where they fit in”. Brand, engagement and corporate culture, were some of the real reasons behind why people do what they do. We talked about creating very good ‘whys’ as a great way of attracting good people and engaging employees, regardless of generation stereotypes. The fact that some younger employees don’t worry so much about risk was also raised as a positive. It allows them to risk exploring new ventures and they are much quicker to recognise opportunities. As one participant said, “What a gift!”
On the subject of risk one executive stated, “I hold traditional values about personal privacy, but my son said to me, ‘technology has made privacy irrelevant.'”
Participants went on to talk about opening our borders and welcoming diversity at the executive table. We cannot underestimate the importance of finding the right immigration solution, they said. We need to consider populating our country with skilled and educated migrants, make resources available and provide humanitarian support to displaced refugees.
Focusing on regional centres, education was raised as a way of supporting regional growth. “Successful cities are diverse, safe educational centres. Education is something Australia does well,” it was said. Success stories, such as Deakin in Geelong and Monash in Bendigo mean more young people are making lifestyle choices to leave the big cities, or not to leave regional areas for the city.
In support of our bright young stars in Australia, we heard from one executive who was mentoring MBA students. These start-ups with their own businesses don’t have a lot of capital, but they are positive and have great ideas. Raising capital has been a problem, so where is the connection between entrepreneurs and investors? Some thought we need a Silicon Valley in Australia. All agreed employment growth will come from these new businesses, from those people who want to have a go. If we don’t support them, they will go abroad to places like the USA to get a break.
If you had any preconceptions about what’s been on the minds of our senior executives, I’m pleased to report it isn’t all negative. They do seem to be getting some sleep.