Preparing for Uncertain Times
We are all looking into a future that seems uncertain and unpredictable. Luckily though, we have all we need to know to meet the challenge and more, right at our fingertips.
Recently, I was reminded of a piece of work from 2008 that had looked at the future of management in 2018. The report sounds much less abstract today and may be relevant for leaders searching for inspiration, hence this post.
In 2007 / 2008, we studied the future of management (Management Futures, The World in 2018). The report was commissioned by the Chartered Management Institute (UK), who has the mandate to inspire member organizations and their leaders. The method chosen for the study was FMG's The Eltville Model. It was around the time of the last financial crisis, which made it challenging to focus on the future ahead, rather than on the urgent matters of the time. We have come full circle.
In the study, we looked at probable, alternate, and surprising futures in 2018 and beyond. I remember us discussing the possibility of a virus affecting the world; however, we ranked cybercrime higher than natural causes like pandemics. Little did we know.
In terms of a probable future, key findings for managing organizations in 2018 were:
Business models and structures will change in nature. There will be a polarisation from global corporates to virtual-community-based enterprises.
To succeed, organizations will need technology that can capture and analyze implicit and tacit knowledge and share knowledge with customers and partners.
The working population will be more diverse. Changing expectations of work and the impact of new technologies will require managers and leaders to develop a new range of skills that focus on emotional intelligence, judgment, and the ability to stimulate creative thinking to improve productivity.
Personal responsibilities will increase, and so will people's individual needs. Attending to these needs will inevitably lead to blurring boundaries between work and life as people try to cope with numerous urgent demands. Work-life integration will, therefore, supersede work-life balance.
In 2008, we envisioned companies of the future to have a relatively small core team that ran the company. All other human resources are practically self-sufficient and diverse professional "satellites", pulled in as required for as long as needed.
The recommendation of the report to leaders was to focus on six organizational topics while preparing for the future.
Liveliness (Energize with belonging and purpose)
Clarity (Be very clear and transparent)
Flexibility (Accommodate for swift changes)
Genuineness (Base decisions on values, the wisdom that comes from experience and common sense)
Innovativeness (Nurture the natural creativity of all)
Openness (Collaborate in a spirit of trust)
One thought that stayed with me all these years was this: Business structures will change, become more fluid, and dependent on a myriad of diverse, mobile, and self-sufficient professionals.
Such complex change scenarios can feel overwhelming to think through, but if we spin the thought, where could we possibly start?
Let's start with the basics.
I often observe the tendency in organizations to feel overly responsible for their people. On the other hand, honoring commitments made upfront in the hiring process and beyond seems to take a backseat eroding trust and accountability in the workforce in general.
Let me back up and define responsibility versus commitment:
1) Responsibility is a moral duty; we cannot hand it over to others at any time. We, each of us, are responsible for ourselves (happiness, satisfaction, motivation, health, growth, self-concept, and self-worth). Apart from underage children and pets in our care, we are responsible for no other person. In short, it is our job to make ourselves happy. Of course, others can cheer us on, give us words of encouragement, and show us the way, but the responsibility remains squarely where it belongs.
2) A commitment or obligation is a different matter. These are verbal or written promises we give to others (contractual mandates, agreements, saying yes to anything). We can terminate such obligations any time if we want. It is about keeping promises. A word is a word. It is best to keep this list short. It weighs heavy on us if we don't.
Why is this relevant in our case?
Because in organizations we first have to put responsibilities and commitments back into their rightful places before we change anything else.
In organizations, each person is stand-alone and an equal partner at eye-level. In organizations, each person is self-responsible. A self-sufficient professional "satellite" within a network of teams and reporting lines. In organizations, when we take responsibility for others, e.g., to motivate them and keep spirits up to have them engage more, we make a crucial mistake. We degrade people in the most profound sense.
But if we leave the responsibility where it belongs, we not only win back time, energy, and resources; we respect our people in the most profound sense.
Thus, we can use the freed-up time to honor the commitments we have made at the beginning of the working relationship and afterward (contracts, agreements, having said yes to anything). This is where we need to improve.
Honoring commitments while handing responsibility back to where it belongs is a powerful tool for change. It builds trust and strengthens accountability.
With the same token, the now solely self-responsible employees can learn to be self-motivated and to keep commitments. All of them, verbal and written. They will know that committing means serious business. Accountability is now part of the fabric of the organization. And if not, their leaders will point them in the right direction and role-model expected behavior, while honoring commitments they themselves have made.
This one powerful tweak will resolve many current day headaches of non-committal behavior, like coming late or unprepared to meetings or not delivering on promises. You name it.
This one powerful tweak will also move you naturally towards a more lively, transparent, flexible, genuine, innovative, and open culture. And prepare you for the future, however way it may actually evolve.