Back in January 2004 who knew how the words “cloud,” “scrum” and “disruption” would morph and take on dramatically different meanings?
Not me! Yet the changes have enabled those of us in organizations of all sizes to transform the way we work. We’re more mobile, make more evidence-based decisions, and practice more inclusivity and innovation.
Looking back 15 years ago this month, my focus was fairly narrow in establishing Connect Consulting. The intention for my new firm was to be a stabilizing, not disruptive, force to support clients in leading change initiatives inside their organizations. Measurement was an important aspect of my work, but not to the extent of following science through sprints. Like many consultants back then, I worked remotely rather than in my clients’ offices, but not in the cloud.
Between then and now, I’ve adopted more technological advancements and other changes than I can remember. My business has morphed multiple times into different services and products based on my clients’ needs and desires as well as my interests.
The pace of change continues to accelerate, requiring continuous adaptation. The environment is becoming more not less VUCA—volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
These changes have major implications for how organizations need to view and interact with employees, according to Dr. Sunnie Giles, author of the Forbes article A Big Turnaround in Management Thinking: New Leadership Competencies for VUCA and the book, The New Science of Radical Innovation: The Six Competencies Leaders Need to Win in a Complex World.
As she explains, “today’s workplace requires us to respect workers as individuals and trust them to respond to unforeseen environmental perturbations.” The environment and situations change too quickly to stick with the status quo. There’s little ROI in managing people as an asset and exerting top-down control.
To survive in this VUCA environment, organizations need to switch their focus away from efficiencies and standardization and toward learning and innovating, Dr. Giles says.
This means an end to treating employees as machines and a return to humanity. Leaders need to connect with employees. In other words, view them as unique individuals and listen to their distinct voices.
This return to humanity has been the guiding force for Mercedes Martin, Miloney Thakrar, and me the past 18 months as we conducted research, primarily interviews, with senior leaders across 16 industries in five countries. We explored how these leaders defined, envisioned, and practiced socially sustainable leadership.
Leaders told us about the struggles they experienced in keeping pace with the constant and extreme change. (Keep in mind these leaders already are committed to learning and innovation. Plus, several were also experimenting with other new practices.) For a summary of our findings, you can download Seen, Heard & Connected: Humanizing Social Sustainability. How Leaders Build Sustainable, Equitable and Inclusive (SEI) Organizations.
Many of our research project participants as well as others are asking for new types of learning and development opportunities that fit the VUCA environment. What’s mostly available now are programs designed and built for the industrial age.
And yes, these requests have me morphing my business yet again as I partner with Mercedes and Miloney. We’re focusing on supporting leaders to create more inclusive, collaborative, and innovative cultures. These changes can make organizations more sustainable, profitable, equitable, inclusive, and yes, more human too.
As one of our actions, we’re developing learning experiences, called ”learning labs,” for leaders and their teams. We start with leadership behaviors and mindsets, exploring how self-awareness and personal narratives inform each individual’s leadership style.
With these labs, we’re also cultivating safe spaces for teams to experiment with being more curious, courageous and committed to navigate uncertainty. That will help individuals adopt more fluid and sustainable mindsets, explore effective ways to involve employees more in planning and decision making, and encourage deliberate risk taking.
Our approach is simple, bold and authentic. It’s also constantly evolving to fit our clients’ needs and the changing VUCA environment.
If you call this “disruptive,” I’d not only agree but also embrace the idea. As coaches, consultants and facilitators, we too need to be changing. Otherwise, we become irrelevant and obsolete.
On a personal note, I’m enjoying learning and stretching in this work with exceptionally talented and fun colleagues. At the same time, I also feel grounded, which is a reassuring although odd feeling in our VUCA world. Nonetheless, the experience and expertise I bring in applied neuroscience, behavior design and communication serve as strong roots.
Here’s to continuous growth, renewal, and positive change in a more inclusive, collaborative and innovative — and of course, more human — work world. We welcome you to join us on this journey!