The days of hiring people for a steady job, with a predictable workload, are over. In today’s organisations, change is becoming constant. So much so, that few - if any - leaders can predict what their organisation will look like in a year’s time. The unpredictability of change has created an entirely new challenge - that of leading into the unknown.
One implication of this is that organisations have to become more agile and more responsive to macro trends and factors beyond their control. Success will depend to a large extent on whether employees have the capability - and capacity - to work effectively and to take advantage of opportunities that arise.
To survive in this uncertainty, every organisation will need to recruit and develop employees who are talented, resilient, adaptable, imaginative and trustworthy. These five traits form the mnemonic TRAIT. Employees will also need a positive mindset because that will impact on whatever job they're asked to do.
The challenge for HR is not only to champion these traits but also to encourage and support their development. This is important because the willingness to develop people - through easily accessed learning, structured programmes, facilitated working, coaching and stretch assignments - will increasingly be a differentiating factor between winning and losing organisations.
Implications for leaders
Every leader should be asking themselves: am I equipped to lead into the unknown? To meet this need, leadership development practices must evolve. Another challenge for HR is to develop the following attributes and behaviour in your current and future leaders:
1. Personal credibility and integrity. Leaders must behave in ways that are consistent with the vision and values of the organisation. The most compelling vision - even if it is communicated with clarity and conviction - will fall on deaf ears if a leader lacks credibility and integrity. Being authentic, consistent and fair are imperatives. In times of maximum uncertainty, where no one has all the answers, the most effective leaders will be those who earn trust.
2. Resilience. Leading into the unknown, through constant change, takes stamina. Dealing with ambiguity, coping with stress and overcoming setbacks can be emotionally draining, psychologically demanding and intellectually challenging. Leaders will need to be resilient to cope effectively.
3. Agile thinking. Today's leaders need to be brave enough to challenge conventional approaches and be adaptable to changing situations and circumstances. They must accept that a best-fit decision made today may have to be modified tomorrow.
4. The ability to inspire. In the absence of certainty, leaders need to be able to influence and inspire others, rather than relying on their hierarchical authority to get things done. Good communication skills are a given (the ability to listen, converse and present). Leaders must be able to create clarity and build confidence within the organisation through their actions and their demeanour.
5. A passion for learning. Leaders will need to learn, practice, reflect and improve as a repeating cycle. To do this, they must be committed to their own learning. They will also need to champion the learning of others.
6. A willingness to collaborate. To lead into the unknown, leaders will need to build relationships and to collaborate effectively with others. Strong interpersonal skills and the ability to express feelings, beliefs and thoughts assertively, not aggressively, are required.
Those organisations that are anxiously waiting for 'change' to be over so they can stabilise again need to realise that it's not going to happen. You have to adapt your leadership development practices and recruit and develop employees with the right traits and the right mindset for success. The only other alternative is to continue to take extra long lead times to adapt to every single change that comes your way.
Todd Turner (pictured) is CEO of learning and development consultancy Hemsley Fraser
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