ReimagineHR: In the Digital Age, What Does Great Leadership Look Like?

ReimagineHR: In the Digital Age, What Does Great Leadership Look Like?

Digitalization means much more for organizations than the adoption of digital technologies. It is a holistic change event that affects many fundamental pillars of how our businesses operate, including our people processes. One of these implications touches on how we select, develop, and deploy leaders, which has inspired a lot of concerned chatter about new “digital leadership” competencies that will make the most effective leaders of today and tomorrow dramatically different from those of the pre-digital era.

At Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando on Monday, George Penn, VP and Team Manager at Gartner, facilitated a panel discussion with three experts in talent acquisition and development, drawing out their insights on how leadership really is changing in this new age, and which of these supposed changes are overhyped. Our panelists included Julie Loubaton, VP, Talent Acquisition at Keurig-Dr. Pepper; Christopher Lubrano, VP, Leadership and Organization Development at International Flavors and Fragrances; and Hari Abburi, VP, Global Talent at Dawn Food Products. Here are some key takeaways from Monday’s conversation:

Leadership fundamentals aren’t going anywhere

Foundational leadership qualities are still essential, Loubaton said. Businesses are, as always, looking for great strategic thinkers. Creativity, communication skills, and vision are as important as ever, the panelists noted, but these are not new. Lubrano also stressed the importance of fundamentals: Leaders today need a strong ethical foundation and an ability to connect with people and establish a sense of community among their team members. Again, these competencies have always been valuable elements of a managerial skill set. Strategic vision, creative thinking, and interpersonal skills remain table stakes for business leaders and most likely, always will.

So what is new?

Agility, adaptability, and the ability to lead fast-paced change are the key skills that are becoming more important for leaders in digital enterprise, the panelists said. Loubaton said her organization was looking for industry disruptors, who understand how to leverage new technology to upend traditional ways of doing business in their field and are not afraid to take that leap. Agile thinkers who are comfortable operating in a fast-paced, high-tech environment are becoming more valuable. Lubrano emphasized the importance of change management skills: creating urgency, maintaining focus, and clearing the path to new ways of working. The accelerating pace of change, Abburi added, means that while strategic planning skills are still fundamental, leaders now have to be able to formulate and execute strategies on a shorter cycle.

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How HR Can Make the Shift to an Agile Mindset

How HR Can Make the Shift to an Agile Mindset

As the digital age pressures organizations to rethink the way they design talent solutions, HR teams have begun adopting new, leaner practices already in common use in other business functions. The “agile” methodology, pioneered by software developers, is a highly iterative approach to design that relies heavily on end-user feedback. This approach can be successful in HR as well, but applying it requires functions to change not only their processes, but also their mindsets.

Most HR functions have traditionally designed HR solutions using the “waterfall” method, which includes an extensive requirement-gathering phase, after which a design team creates and implements the solution. A small group of users typically tests the solution only at the very end, shortly before wide-scale deployment.

The waterfall method (and the mindset that accompanies it) has historically served HR well because it’s ideal for an HR function aiming to solve as many employees’ problems as possible, for as long as possible. However, many HR functions are finding that their solutions aren’t as adaptable as they need to be to keep up with the rapidly-evolving demands of their end-users: i.e., employees. Employees want assurance that HR systems and processes will be personalized to fit their needs and will evolve as those needs change, but they’re also willing to supply detailed feedback to get there.

Enter the agile approach, which has gained traction thanks to its efficiency in responding to change. The workflow in an agile project draws a stark contrast from the waterfall method in that end-user feedback drives every aspect of the process. Whether an agile HR specialist is addressing issues in a payroll process, designing a new training series, or implementing a new HR information system, they collect employee feedback at every step along the way to guide their continued iteration, then continue refining products between design cycles until end-users are satisfied.

Of course, making the transition to an agile HR function and an agile mindset can be challenging. Here are six changes HR leaders can make to help embed the agile mindset in their teams:

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ReimagineHR: 6 Shifts in the Digital Age and Their Implications for HR

ReimagineHR: 6 Shifts in the Digital Age and Their Implications for HR

At our ReimagineHR summit in London on Thursday, CEB (now Gartner) Principal Executive Advisor Clare Moncrieff led a session on creating a common vision of digitalization for the business and HR. After examining hundreds of trends, our research councils serving chief HR officers and chief information officers have identified six deep shifts in the business environment that will result from digitalization. These shifts should act as the framework for heads of HR to:

  • Ensure talent conversations with the line are grounded in business context
  • Identify the current talent implications of these shifts, project future implications, and partner with the line and C-suite peers to prioritize and respond to each
  • Improve their teams’ business acumen (to underscore the importance of this, 58 percent of HR business partners indicated in one of our surveys that building business acumen was their top development goal in 2017)

(The case studies we link to below are available exclusively to CEB Corporate Leadership Council members)

1) Demand Grows More Personal

As customers seek personalized products that align with their preferences and values as individuals (rather than as segments), companies will rely on digital channels and digital innovations in logistics and customer service to achieve personalization at scale. Customers will continue to expect lower-effort, nonintrusive service.

This could, for example, affect how HR functions look for new talent. Attraction of critical talent now requires differentiated, customized branding and career coaching. Candidates will demand a more effortless, personalized application experience. AT&T approached this shift by creating a more personalized “Experience Weekend” to show the innovation of its brand to campus candidates and make top talent more likely to accept job offers.

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Why US Talent Isn’t on the Move

Why US Talent Isn’t on the Move

The US is a big country with many local labor markets, some more robust than others. With millions of job vacancies and local unemployment in metropolitan areas varying from 2 percent to 20, economists would expect workers to move where the jobs are, but overall, they aren’t. Daniel Gross at Strategy+Business considers why not:

“The percentage of Americans moving over a one-year period fell to an all-time low in the United States to 11.2 percent in 2016,” the Census Bureau reported in November. That percentage has been steadily declining over the past three decades.

Some of the reasons for inertia are obvious. People are often reluctant to leave their homes, familiar surroundings, friends and families, and the places where they have made investments, even if they realize economic opportunities may be greater elsewhere. Struggling housing markets and underwater mortgages may make it impossible for many people to move. And from companies’ perspective, labor forces and physical locations aren’t simply interchangeable, even in an age where there’s a Starbucks on every corner and people can work remotely. There aren’t enough engineers in El Centro for Silicon Valley companies to hire, and there aren’t enough houses in Fargo for potential job-seekers to move into. And as agile and nimble as companies can be, like people, they feel the need to be part of the ecosystem in which they grew up and had been thriving. If you want to be a player in film, you have to be in Los Angeles. Serious financial firms must have a presence in New York. For those in the technology game, San Francisco and Silicon Valley exert a magnetic attraction.

Last year, a Federal Reserve working paper postulated a correlation between declining labor market fluidity and declining social trust, observing that labor mobility fell as people reported trusting strangers less. In the meantime, as potential employees stay put, companies are making major geographic relocations of their own to seek them out where they already are, in many cases moving from suburban corporate campuses to central city locations.

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Is It Time to Stop Romanticizing Startup Culture?

Is It Time to Stop Romanticizing Startup Culture?

These days, whenever a large, legacy organization wants to overhaul its culture, they start talking a lot about being more like a startup, using words like agile, nimble, scrappy, and lean. Samsung, for example, launched a cultural transformation initiative earlier this year with the goals of “execut[ing] as quickly as a startup company,” opening up communication, and encouraging continuous innovation. A similar focus on emulating startup culture can also be detected in General Motors’ ongoing change effort and Walmart’s decision to shake up its e-commerce business by acquiring the startup Jet.com and hiring its CEO Marc Lore to run its entire online operation.

But is startup culture all it’s cracked up to be? Talent Economy editor Frank Kalman insists that it’s not:

Firstly, the image that most people see when they think startup culture probably isn’t entirely accurate. Yes, many startups have flexible work environments, where employees are able to maintain loose in-office hours so long as they meet their performance goals and objectives. And, yes, many offer lavish and untraditional employee perks, like free food, beer on tap, nap rooms, social events and casual dress codes. Other attractive elements abound.

But, in many startups lies a subculture that isn’t quite as attractive.

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Are Problem-Solvers the Answer to Big Companies’ Agility Dilemma?

Are Problem-Solvers the Answer to Big Companies’ Agility Dilemma?

As organizations grow, they often find that their ability to respond to challenges quickly and decisively is diminished; size and structure, by their very nature, have a tendency to slow things down. At the Harvard Business Review, Greg Satell admiringly profiles Experian’s DataLabs unit, a dedicated problem-solving team aimed at overcoming this downside of scale and giving the major multinational corporation the ability to think and act more like a startup:

Part skunkworks, part research lab, Experian DataLabs keeps a running list of the data problems customers want them to solve. As Eric Haller, Global Head at Experian DataLabs, told me, “We regularly sit down with our clients and try to figure out what’s causing them agita, because we know that solving problems is what opens up enormous business opportunities for us.”

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Change Management in the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’

Change Management in the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’

The World Economic Forum’s annual gathering of economic leaders, tycoons, and celebrities finished up last Saturday in Davos, Switzerland, and the meeting was not short on big ideas about how the world of talent is going to shape up in the near future.

The centerpiece of the discussion was what people are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution (although there’s some debate about whether we are still in the third). The WEF put out a long report with a lot of statistics to help you understand the shift and to scare the world into action—especially with the much-reported statistic that robots are going to steal about 5.1 million jobs by 2020. (You can read the executive summary here—though apparently you must still download PDFs in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.)

The revolution, it is argued, ushers in a blurring of the physical and the digital and, importantly, does so at incredible speed and disruption to business. For Fortune editor Alan Murray, the human element of this change was one of the key takeaways from Davos:

Digital transformation is as much about people as technology. I moderated two private CEO-level discussions focused on the digital transformation of industries, and in both, the human challenges trumped technological ones. Companies struggle to create cultures that can embrace rapid technological change, and governments struggle in response to publics more likely to focus on future risks than future benefits.

CEB data certainly bears this out. For the last year, we’ve been tracking the impact of change at organizations as companies have looked to transform both their HR functions and their workforces to better handle the onslaught of change largely generated by the digital revolution. And as the WEF meeting made clear, change in this new era is very different than in the past.

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