Into the Crucial Phase
The ongoing success of almost every business everywhere will be defined largely by how it comes out of this crisis – how it adapts. In short, it’s time for us all to decide what we want to change and how we’re going to change it.
At Working Voices facilitating change has always been our area of expertise. For that reason, our mission this year has been to respond in real time to our clients’ requirements. Now the challenge is to predict what’s coming down the line next. It’s as if the future has been fast-tracked.
After listening to hundreds of participants on our courses worldwide, we see there’s an appetite for change that puts Learning & Development teams in the vanguard.
In this white paper we’ll share some tasters about the courses we’re currently building and the courses you may want next. At the end of the document we pull a selection of these courses together into a bundle we’re calling The Integrated Leader – a blueprint for the next decade’s leadership challenges.
The Future of People Development
Our first prediction is that your key areas for development will fall into two groups.
First, there are the things that were always needed – things you were probably well aware of but which are now more important than ever.
An example of this is the need to unite and inspire teams when we can’t transact with them face-to-face. These skills were always required, but remote working has made them more urgent and critical. Here’s one course we’ve been delivering in response:
Second, there are topics and skills that many clients may have been aware of but were previously just marginal or ‘nice to have’.
Critical Thinking skills are a good example. There’s been a growing interest in these courses over the last few years and we’ve been delivering them in greater numbers. But suddenly managers have had to make decisions in totally uncharted territory.
In summary, the skills of management and communication that were previously well known are more important than ever and can’t be overlooked. But they won’t be enough on their own. Fortunately, Working Voices can help you maintain the flow of your development goals while bringing in fresh, relevant and new ideas.
The skills of management and communication that were previously well known are more important than ever and can’t be overlooked. But they won’t be enough on their own.
Here are the other courses we’ve been offering clients to great effect during this time. All were specially adapted in both content and format for online learning:
Now we’ll introduce you to some of the new areas of learning we think will be significant in the work environment as we step into the future.
Cycles of Disruption & Adaptation
This is one big idea that we think will be significant. Cycles of disruption and adaption are ‘driven both by pandemic-related health reasons and new business imperatives’ (Honigmann, Mendy and Spratt – McKinsey 26thJune 2020). Dealing with them the right way is paramount.
This year all of us at some point have seen ‘business as usual’ completely washed away. Normal procedures had to be adapted, reinvented, worked around, or abandoned. And it’s very likely that there will be further cycles of disruption as the shock waves work their way through the global economy. Every organisation needs people who can deal with these cycles effectively, compassionately and rationally, keeping their eye on the real goal.
Leaders need to know how to manage emotional reactions to turbulent change. We’ve developed a course that does precisely that:
The Danger of Active Inertia
Behavioural science has suggested three dysfunctional ways in which groups and individuals respond a crisis – denial, reframing and active inertia.
- Denial – The first obstacle to solving a problem is sometimes admitting that the problem exists. Being quick to recognise threats is essential.
- Reframing – is explaining away the problem by misdiagnosing the cause, nature or extent of the problem. So the right thing is not done at the right time. Political leaders who fell into this trap over COVID failed their citizens. Corporate leaders who made balanced and informed assessments served their people, customers and shareholders well.
- Active Inertia – is the easiest trap for companies to slip into and there’s a great deal of literature to support this idea:
Active Inertia is “management’s tendency to respond to the most disruptive changes by accelerating activities that might have succeeded in the past”. It’s called ‘active inertia’ because you’re doing something, but getting nowhere.
One example we were given was that of a manager’s first Zoom meeting with his wider team, all of whom were confined to their houses and working from home. Apparently he launched the meeting by affirming the need for everyone to hit all the KPIs and deadlines they previously had, whilst minimising disruption to business as usual. Barely anybody spoke and Team members quietly started dropping off the call.
The manager may have been right about the importance of business continuity. But he was amplifying his normal, old message without acknowledging the radical change in circumstances that had occurred. Not everyone had a room at home they could work in from 9 to 5 without interruption. And even those who did might find that situation hard to cope with. They were all worried about life outside work. People wanted help and understanding that in normal times they would never have expected to need.
Appreciation of Complexity
Don’t fall into the trap of simplifying the picture to make the answer more certain and yourself more confident.
The second thing we’ve seen clearly is that leaders need to better appreciate complexity. They will need to change their minds on how to deal with this sea change as the immediate future throws up conflicting demands and conflicting data, making every call feel risky. The crucial lesson to learn is: don’t fall into the trap of simplifying the picture to make the answer more certain and yourself more confident. Instead, live with the doubt that complexity brings and learn how to make the wisest decision possible with the evidence you’ve got.
All our courses stress the importance of listening – for creating the right conditions for the open exchange of ideas. Our suite of Critical Thinking courses provide a decision-making framework for all situations. But a course that specifically helps with Rapport Building is:
Autonomy Starts With Active Followers
In a fast-moving, high-stakes industry, how can leaders foster an inclusive and collaborative culture? Where delivery is paramount, is a more authoritarian style inevitable?
Mattina Horner wrote that in contrast to authoritarian leadership “democratic leadership finds more originality, less aggression and more productivity”. (in Viorst, 1998, p201).
David McClelland adds: “If a leader wants to have far-reaching influence, she must make her followers feel powerful and able to accomplish things on their own.”
However, the attitude of those being led – the followers – is also an important part of the picture:
“Leaders usually do have greater initiative, but followers are vital to success, and they too can become leaders. Leadership benefits from active followers, in a unity, including “upward influence” on a two-way rather than a one-way street.” (Hollander, E.P. 2008).
Leading for Autonomy means leadership of everybody by everybody, with shared responsibility for the direction and decisions made in the company. That doesn’t mean that everyone’s in charge but that everyone assumes responsibility.
Leaders and followers need a strong psychological contract binding them together in a mutually beneficial relationship
An obstacle to this is often found in our habits and thoughts. Although most of us clamour for autonomy, when it comes to an unfamiliar challenge, we tend to outsource our own sense-making, decision-making and risk-taking to someone higher up the line. To achieve the right culture, the right decision-making habits need to be cultivated all through the company.
Now more than ever, with a more distributed, independent workforce and less oversight and perceived control, leaders and followers need a strong psychological contract binding them together in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Our courses on emotional intelligence, resilience and inclusiveness all help build the attributes necessary to embed an inclusive, dynamic culture.
New Rules of Corporate Life
One encouraging thing that senior leaders have reported to us at Working Voices is that previously reticent group members are speaking up more now that meetings are entirely online.
This is just one example of how corporate life is inventing new rules for itself. There’s no need to simply transplant what was okay in an office into the online environment (even supposing that were possible). This is our chance to think about how teams can be dynamic and agile, how work can be more functional and efficient, how we can all be more happily productive.
At Working Voices, we’re asking questions like:
- What is resilience and how can we create it in ourselves and around us?
- What is productivity and how can we assess it?
- What makes a workplace – virtual or otherwise – genuinely inclusive?
- What does uncertainty do to us and how do we work through it?
- How do we help innovation to flourish and what blocks it?
You can see that these questions have informed the direction of the courses we’ve already mentioned above. But we haven’t stopped there. We’ve tried to peer beyond the horizon. Here are some of the courses we’re currently developing. They come on stream in Q4 of 2020, ready for all our clients to roll out in the new year.
This is an area where Corporate learning could take a leap forward in the next year or two. We know this from the thousands of hours of coaching and interviews we do each year.
The pandemic and its consequences have highlighted concerns over mental health. For many of our clients this concern is not new. The growing awareness of mental health issues through the media and society has been reflected in the corporate world for a number of years now.
Whilst welcoming this development, we would like to propose our own narrative here – and our own solution. In our view, the current emphasis on mental health seems to neglect social well-being and socially beneficial environments. Attention is focused on relieving the symptoms more than rectifying the cause.
For example, some organisations are providing mindfulness and resilience courses while doing very little to address the causes of stress and ill health in the workplace. We all know from our own experience that the majority of the stress we’re under results from unnecessary aggravation and pressure around the work we’re doing, exerted by others – sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. It’s not the actual work itself that’s the problem.
Our idea, which shouldn’t be so novel, is to put more emphasis on people learning how to avoid stressing out their team and how to lead everyone to be productive and accountable in a functional, humane fashion.
It’s possible to create a work environment that stimulates and nurtures people. And it can be one where ambition – even competition – is still a motivating factor, along with personal rewards and individual glory. But it takes vision, a management philosophy, and the dissemination of the necessary knowledge and skills. That’s where the L&D function, by enabling this culture, can serve an enlightened leadership. And that’s where Working Voices comes in too. Examples of course titles that serve this goal are:
All of the following courses were created or redesigned in 2020 to meet the changing needs of our existing clients. They’ve been refined with the excellent feedback from participants and L&D contacts that we are in dialogue with.
The Integrated Leader
As a result of our discussions on the next wave of business needs, out trainers were inspired to put together a set of courses, The Integrated Leader.
Effective leaders, increasingly, need to integrate different styles of thought.
The crucial insight behind this programme is that effective leaders, increasingly, need to integrate different styles of thought. They need to switch, for example, between emotional understanding of their colleagues and purely rational assessment of profit potential. Or they switch between driving for efficiency and covering off risk; breaking the mould while remaining compliant. This is not multi-tasking; this kind of switch needs to take place repeatedly in the making of a single decision.
The modern, post-Covid leader is on a continuous journey of self-awareness: uncovering their own blindspots and biases, identifying their strengths, and improving their thought processes. Feedback shows that leaders actively want to do this, especially the new generation coming through. We anticipate that clients will find this programme highly relevant and exciting.