The modern work world continues to evolve into an ever-changing, increasingly ambiguous environment creating novel challenges for current and future business leaders. One way leaders are able to respond to these new challenges is to continually assess how they can operate more efficiently and effectively given their existing and future organizational talent. A method to achieving this goal is to develop a new set of core leadership competencies enabling leaders to adapt to change, collaborate more effectively, maximize their talent, and ultimately stay competitive in the marketplace. These novel competencies are especially important given the shift from a VUCA world to a BOCA world (See our recent article, VUCA to BOCA-Building CEO bench strength, for an in-depth explanation), as organizations are quickly evolving past their current talent capabilities.
Evolving Organizational Characteristics
Although organizations have dealt with ambiguity for years, the modern work environment is now more complex than ever. Recent organizational trends such as generational work preferences, advanced forms of technology driven collaboration and globalization have influenced the fundamental structure of organizations. In addition, flatter organizational structures along with blurred functional boundaries have changed the way communication and collaboration are achieved across an organization. The shift to a knowledge-based economy and the use of data analytics are additional examples of an evolving workplace. Hence, the competencies that were necessary for organizational success just a few short years ago may not be relevant to the demands of the modern organization. So, what new competencies should organizations be developing in emerging talent to assure they are primed to meet future business dynamics?
Identifying Core Critical Competencies for the Future
In an article by Bill Pasmore and Sylvester Taylor of the Center for Creative Leadership titled Core Competencies Remain Critical to Success, the authors identify six leadership competencies that they believe will become increasingly important in today’s ‘hyperfast world of constant complex change’. This prompts one to ask how these new competencies differ from core competencies in the past. Outlined below are the six new leadership competencies identified by Pasmore and Taylor, and how they differ from their predecessors.
Discovery-based learning: Due to fast-paced innovation and change, learning agility combined with gaining insight from structured learning experiments, taking calculated risks to learn, and seeking feedback from inside and outside the organization will be highly valued. Although learning has always been a necessity of good leadership, prior learning by leadership was based mainly on experience and to a lesser degree on education in the 70/20/10 framework. In this case, it may be well over due that organizations revisit this framework (See the recent publication in HR People & Strategy: In Focus by Evelyn Rogers and Greg Moise, Lead With Millennials, for more information on updating the 70/20/10 framework).
Collaborative strategic decision making: Flatter organizational structuring and generational preferences will require cultures of equality and teamwork among knowledgeable contributors in and outside the organization. In the past, leadership was more control-oriented, not collaborative.
Shaping work for meaning: Creating meaningful challenges by providing opportunities for learning, growth, and advancement to keep younger generations engaged in their work. Giving meaning to work has not always been the case, but generational preferences are forcing organizations to rethink how they not only keep their workforce engaged, but also retain critical talent.
Activating open networks: Knowing how to create and leverage open networks, inside and outside of the organization. As the work world continues in what Daniel Pink coined as ‘an era of free-agency’, organizations may rely more on temporary contributors from outside the organization than in the past.
Leading complex and continuous change: Being able to lead multiple, simultaneous complex change initiatives to drive organizational success. Gone are the days of single, complex change efforts, and leaders of the future must be prepared to effectively handle a diverse number of programs.
Pursuing vertical development: To successfully deal with the challenges of the future, leaders must exhibit more complex thinking about the ‘bigger picture’ to take actions that will enable long-term shifts in strategy and capabilities. In the past, acquiring new skills and breaking challenges into smaller parts might have been sufficient for leadership development. However, as with these new competencies, leaders of the future must have the ability to anticipate and proactively work towards developing the most effective organizational capabilities, strategies and technologies.
Evidence of New Core Competencies
So, are organizations evolving to embrace these new core competencies? Recent competency modeling projects conducted by E. Rogers Associates have shown some evidence of a shift in core critical competencies. Using the Korn Ferry Leadership Architect tool, we have helped two distinct organizations identify the core competencies necessary for their future success. In a small not-for-profit organization, collaboration and nimble learning were determined to be core competencies for the overall organization, aligned with collaborative strategic decision making and discovery-based learning. Additionally, in a large for-profit organization, nimble learning, managing complexity, building networks, and having a strategic mindset were identified as core leadership competencies which overlap with many of the new competencies. Identifying these core competencies enables these organizations to take the necessary steps to ensure that present, and future, leadership are prepared to handle the challenges of the BOCA work world.
Millennials – Is There a Skills Gap?
If organizations are to shift to these new core competencies, it creates an important question: Has the next generation in the workforce, specifically Millennials, sufficiently developed these competencies for future success? The answer can potentially be yes and no. According to Lydia Dishman’s article in Fast Company, These are the Biggest Skills that New Graduates Lack, hiring managers have found that overall, ‘soft skills’ such as communication, leadership, ownership, and teamwork were lacking in new hires, specifically new graduates. This is concerning because of the heavy emphasis on collaboration and networking, as well as the ownership that goes with building an effective professional network. However, the bright side is that this younger generation has the skills in technology building (ie. coding) necessary to facilitate the creation of online social networking tools, allowing for easier collaboration in the future.
The Next Steps
So, how can organizations develop their emerging talent in terms of the new competencies? In addition to hiring for these specific competencies, organizations can leverage the existing skills of the Millennial generation to accelerate their development into future successful leaders. Combining Millennial strengths, such as technology skills, with opportunities for learning, growth, and advancement will be key to ensuring successful development of these new core competencies. We suggest:
Expanding employee content knowledge:
- Providing employees with the autonomy to explore different ways to effectively approach their work tasks, such as incorporating “learn-on-the-go” development tools like e-learning, gamification, Ted Talks, Webex seminars, etc.
- Offering ongoing lines of feedback to supplement learning and exhibit organizational and supervisor support and guidance.
Driving employee development through unique work experiences:
- Creating virtual projects for diverse, cross-functional teams from within the organization to encourage collaboration, networking, and technological learning.
- Providing a variety of assignments such as stretch assignments, task forces, supervisory experiences, international assignments, cross moves and scale assignments to prepare for increasingly complex future projects.
- Working on leadership-related tasks such as change management strategies or improving employee engagement, providing employees the opportunity to see the ‘bigger picture’.
Building more effective networks:
- Holding intellectually stimulating networking events within the organization to facilitate relationship building and organizational learning.
- Encouraging employees to join professional networking groups outside of the organization, such as LinkedIn groups or other social media driven network platforms to increase exposure to novel work ideas.
- Offering programs that foster developmental relationships within the organization (E.g., formal coaching), including peer coaches and mentors who can help activate professional networks.