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Responding to the Resignation Crisis

One of the topics I discuss in my book, Next Generation Leadership, is how to respond to the resignation crisis. I discovered that, among many tactics, one which appears to be highly effective is cultivating an alumni network. If it is true that Generation Y, or Millennials, are leaving their organisations with frightening rapidity, my research show that this is in fact their expectation.  They are often anticipating leaving every two to five years from one organisation to the next. 

Then, it’s best that we consider how we might allow them to come back at some point in the future. So, they may not stay for more than two to five years at a time, but perhaps we can convince them to come back two, three times over the course of their careers, and in so doing, the develop new, senior leadership skills, customer relations skills, sales skills, whatever it might be, which you didn’t have to pay for, and then you get them back, and you get the benefit of all that new development. So how do we cultivate an alumni network? Well, professional services organisations like McKinsey or Accenture are world class at maintaining their alumni networks, so we can learn a thing or two from them. They even hold reunions in many cases, just as a university would, of their former employees because these people are currently clients, they’re customers, they’re net promoters.  You certainly don’t want them to be net detractors!  

But what too many organisations do, instead of cultivating those relationships, instead of holding alumni reunions, instead of keeping a social network alive, is when someone resigns they say, ‘Oh, you’re leaving? Ok, leave your swipe card on the desk and don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out.’ That’s certainly not the way forward. We want to keep a workforce, whether it’s in one go at a time or two or three goes at a time because we’re living in a world where young employees want mobility from job to job.  Sometimes those future collaborations might be contractor positions instead of full-time employee engagements, and that’s fine.  Certainly we need to make working with us as attractive as possible, so that over the course of their careers, we can collaborate with the high potentials for as long as possible. The only thing is – it may not be all in one go. 

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Humanising Leadership

Work life has fundamentally changed over the last 150 years. We’ve seen technology evolve how we work, we’ve seen scientific management evolve how we work, we’ve seen Six Sigma evolve how we work. We’ve seen other forms of agility, adaptability, etc., evolve how we work. However, the act of management, the habits, processes, and technologies of management have fundamentally not changed since the industrial revolution. As a result, we are facing an engagement crisis, and I don’t need to tell you that we are also in the midst of a resignation crisis. That’s because work is becoming more incremental, inertial, and inhuman. Fundamentally inhuman.  

Covid didn’t cause these crises, but they accelerated the trends, as we were forced home to contemplate our lives and fulfilment.  We’ve seen the engagement crisis evident for years in polls such as the Gallup Survey, which indicates that only about 13% of the global workforce are engaged in their jobs, 62% are disengaged, and about a quarter are actively disengaged, meaning that they hate their employment so much that they would sabotage their organisation given half a chance.  As dramatically depressing as those statistics are, the real tragedy is that most managers don’t seem to care enough to do much about it.  When I share these survey results in front of executive audiences, the most common reaction I see is resigned acceptance: a shrug, a shake of the head, eyes downcast.  

We simply have to get angry about this state of affairs in order finally to change it.  I would argue that you wouldn’t see this reaction in similar circumstances with professionals other than ‘managers’.  If I were addressing an audience of general practitioner doctors and told them, ‘I interviewed all the patients you saw over the past year and their families.  Here are the results.  13% of your patients got better.  25% died, and 62% reported that seeing you made no difference to their health whatsoever.’  Those GPs would be up in arms!  They would be demanding that the practice of medicine be completely reimagined in the face of these results and particularly if they largely didn’t change year to year.  Yet again, corporate managers have grown accustomed to such dire results to the point that they neither act upon nor even dwell on them.    

What’s the solution? Not more management!  At least not more management in terms of the definition of ‘to control’, but more management in relation to being more human, more empathetic, helping our people, and by extension our organisations to be more relevant tomorrow than they are today. This, I believe is the challenge of leadership in the 21st century: humanising management. 

To find out more, please go to my website www.adamkingl.com.

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Work-Life Balance

When I wrote my book Next Generation Leadership, I interviewed Generation Ys, Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, and I asked them about work-life balance. My first question was, ‘What do you mean when you say work-life balance?’ What was very interesting is that I learned that there’s semantic discord among the generations about their definitions of that term. 

For most Gen Xs and Baby Boomers, work-life balance is a ‘when’ question. In other words, when they hear ‘work-life balance’ they would interpret that the speaker wants to work fewer hours, which can lead them to conclude, ‘They don’t want to pay the dues that I paid, and so they’re lazy. So it goes, and that contributes to this incorrect prejudice that Gen Ys are somehow lazy. 

When I ask Gen Ys what they mean when they say or hear ‘work-life balance’, they generally say that this is a ‘where’ statement. In other words, technology allows me to work wherever I want. Therefore, what they’re looking for is flexibility in terms of location of work. What they’re rejecting is face-time culture, being chained to your desk, not being able to leave the office until the boss leaves, etc. 

Of course, what we learned since Covid is that we should in fact have flexibility in terms of workplace location. And yes, I know that it does vary based on your function or industry whether it is possible to work from home or elsewhere, but nevertheless this is an important semantic discord for us to notice and understand. A great solution is to ask one another before you get into a work-life balance conversation is ‘Well, what do you mean when you say work-life balance in your context,’ to make sure that you aren’t speaking at cross-purposes. 

For more from my articles, media, book and speaking, please visit adamkingl.com

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Empowerment and Delegation

I’ve been asked recently by a number of clients to explore empowerment and delegation with them, particularly in the age of working from home, and the more I thought about it the more I consider that empowerment isn’t a technical or tactical challenge.

There aren’t many specific suggestions or behaviours to master in order to be better at delegation and empowerment. Instead, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more of a psychological barrier if we find that our organisations and leaders struggle with empowerment. Namely, the issue is what Carol Dweck referred to as ‘The Growth Mindset’ – that leaders must role model challenge and experimentation as a springboard for growth, stretch and fulfilment. 

Therefore, I challenge leaders to ask themselves, ‘Do I rely on my expertise and experience to give me answers to future challenges?  Do I need my people to do things in exactly the way that I would do it?  Or am I willing to give up that control to say that my team may come up with solutions that I wouldn’t have come up with, that could be just as good or better, but that requires the confidence to let go?’

If we really want our people ultimately to grow, to be the leaders that they want to be, and that we would wish them to be, we have to cease relying so much on instructing people how they should do the job.  In being clear about the outcomes that we require, we have to be open to the possibility that our team will adapt, evolve, and figure out new solutions themselves. In so doing, leaders facilitate the capability of autonomic or evolutionary adaptability, one of the most critical new norms that organisations would like to practice but struggle to embed. 

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Professional Services and the Resignation Crisis

The press has recently been discussing what appears to be a resignation crisis that we’re facing globally.  After all, there are four million people who quit their jobs in April in the U.S., a 20-year high. There were a record 10 million job vacancies in June. A Microsoft study indicated that 41 percent of the global workforce are considering resigning within one year, and a Fast Company article suggested that number may be as high as 55 percent.

 

The implications of the resignation crisis are especially dire for professional services firms. I’m thinking of management consultancies and law firms who have a partnership model in particular. Initially, the partnership model only worked if graduates knew they were on an 8-12 year journey to make partner, but what if those graduates don’t care about making partner anymore?

 

This is a potential existential crisis if that young talent is considering leaving every two to five years, which research for my book, Next Generation Leadership, has shown. I talk to firms all the time who are seriously questioning their philosophy of work and the architecture of how they are composed. We have to reconsider the models in our organisations, particularly in partnership models, and think about how can we still imbue people with purpose and values so that they will stay a little bit longer, but also create those organisational designs that are not necessarily ‘up or out’.  That must involve working on purpose and legacy, particularly with senior partners, those in the last trimester of their careers, who might otherwise be thinking, ‘Well, there’s very little else that you can teach me.’

 

I would want to get this stakeholder group together ask them to think about the type of firm that they wish to leave for their successors.  How might it be possible to have more fluid movement in and out of the firm? In that way, top talent might include those who are en route to becoming partners, or might become future clients, or might become suppliers or partners, or might ultimately want to work with you on a contractor basis. After all, over sixty percent of the world’s work is now organised according to projects.

Top talent might even want to return as senior executives later on in your company’s life. In other words, you might get two, three bites of the cherry from that same person who might come in and out of your organisation with greater dexterity that most companies currently would tolerate. It really involves rethinking how you work, but I do think that it is necessary to have that conversation now.

 

 

 

 

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What Is Strategic Innovation?

When I talk to executives about innovation, they generally go right to products and services.  In other words, their default is to explore those innovation questions that everyone asks themselves.  But what questions are neglected as a result?

If you are a senior executive, what are the things that you can affect, that you can change, that no one else in your organisation can change? And generally the answer to that question ultimately is strategic or business model innovation, challenging assumptions implicit in the questions: who are your customers, what are you offering them and how are you offering it.

If you can change the assumptions in those questions you are playing a different game from your competitors and you are giving yourself an inimitable competitive advantage.

Take for example Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Enterprise decided to play in a  completely different sphere. Rather than primarily trying to serve air travellers, they served customers who were suffering from car breakdowns. Now, that implied that they would be putting their depots and their offices in residential areas rather than in expensive airports, so now all of a sudden, they were competing in an area that for a long time had no competitors and offered them cost advantages.

So do consider, when you can think about innovation and if you are a senior leader, what are the business model innovation questions that you can ask yourself so that you can claim advantages that would take many, many years for your competitors to imitate? And in so doing, you truly become a game-changing innovator in your industry.

Adam Kingl is Adjunct Faculty at the UCL School of Management, Hult Ashridge International Business School, an Associate of the Moller Institute at Cambridge University, and the author of Next Generation Leadership (HarperCollins 2020).  www.adamkingl.com 

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Considering the End of Lockdown

What should companies be thinking about regarding their talent as we (possibly?) near the end of lockdown?

First, think about the physical space of your company office.  A lot of organisations are shedding commercial real estate.  The implication is that employees returning to the office are going to be smooshed together in ever more constricted open plans.  Well, that may work for some people but not for others, so do consider also providing flexible, private space.  You have introverts; you have neurodiverse colleagues.  They will, at some points in the workday, need time to themselves.

Second, think about how you may extend flexible work, giving people the opportunity to continue to work from home at least part of the time.  For many industries and functions, an option to work from home is never going to go away now and in fact will be expected from many if not most employees.  For example, over half of the U.S. workforce was already working from home at least part of the time before lockdown happened.  Most companies have already demonstrated that it can and does work.

Third, when your colleagues are back in the workplace, you now have the opportunity to socialise again.  You probably have many employees (hundreds or thousands in some cases) who joined your company during lockdown and have never yet had the opportunity really to get to know their colleagues in social situations.  To do so build trust, and that helps to reinforce culture.

This brings me to my fourth point.  If you want to build a stronger culture post-lockdown, create opportunities for your people to observe important meetings with important clients and customers.  And in that way, they start to understand how you work when it really matters, which is the true test of organisational authenticity.  This initiative can be easier when you are physically co-located, so seize the opportunity to demonstrate that being the office does have its advantages.  Get people together to observe the behaviours you desire and need for a culture that wins and has fun together, where people would not wish to be anywhere else.             

Adam Kingl is Adjunct Faculty at the UCL School of Management, Ashridge-Hult International Business School, an Associate of the Moller Institute at Cambridge University, and the author of Next Generation Leadership (HarperCollins 2020).  www.adamkingl.com

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How to Fail Successfully

I think you will agree with me that when we come together in these social constructs called companies we tend not to be as innovative, adaptable or inspirational as any one of the human beings in those organisations.  Why is that?

These companies tend to perpetuate this fear of failure.  As a result, we only innovate around tiny, incremental ideas that we’re almost one hundred percent certain are going to succeed because it’s a reputational hazard if we do otherwise.  As a result, companies usually don’t invest in big, supernova ideas that are going to leapfrog the competition and achieve exponential returns.  It is contingent on the leadership community in organisations to rethink their attitude toward failure and how they communicate failure as a learning opportunity.

Of course you have to control the risk when you are innovating, but you have to consider your innovation pipeline as a portfolio with a collective return rather than as individual opportunities that represent lots of chances for embarrassing failures.  If you have one supernova idea out of a hundred that you try over the course of a year, it doesn’t matter if the other ninety-nine were unsuccessful.  And I’ll go even further!  You never could have had that one supernova idea unless you also tried the hundred ideas.

How many of us in our companies try a hundred new things in a given year?  Very few!  U.S. Poet Laureate Maya Angelou once reflected, ‘People will forget what you said…but people will never forget how you made them feel.’  As leaders, therefore, let’s think about how we make our people feel about failure.  Change that attitude and we may find that our organisations are much more innovative than they ever could have been in the past.

Adam Kingl is the author of Next Generation Leadership (HarperCollins) and is a keynote speaker, educator and adviser.  www.adamkingl.com

      Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

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What Should Senior Executives Focus On When Pursuing Innovation?

A lot of executives say they want to enhance innovation in their organisations. I tell senior executives not to focus on products, services or processes because they have many colleagues who can focus on those. Senior executives should be focusing on strategic innovation, answering three fundamental questions: ‘Who, what, how?’ : Who is my customer? What am I offering that customer? How am I offering it?

This is also known as business model innovation, challenging the assumptions implicit in the answers to those three questions. If you can innovate around your strategy, you can develop an inimitable competitive advantage. To improve the quality of internal conversations in an organisation, leaders have to encourage that their assumptions be questioned. They should be asking their colleagues, including those more junior, ‘Based on what you’ve just heard me say, what assumptions do you think I’m making?’

Once those assumptions are surfaced, then ask, ‘OK, which of those assumptions may not be true or may no longer be true? Maybe some of the ways I look at the world were fit for purpose five or ten years ago, but they aren’t so today.’ That’s a really simple hack to make yourself automatically a more innovative executive. Of course, in a COVID and post-COVID world, the relevance of one’s perspective may be limited to months rather than years!

This approach to encourage questioning is rather antithetical to the old paradigms of the leader as the font of wisdom. Experience is sometimes an ally and sometimes a professional hazard. So do consider encouraging others to identify and then question your assumptions in order to progress on the road to enjoying an innovative environment in your team or company.

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How to Develop Your Young People in Lockdown

How to Develop Your Young People in Lockdown

One of the main conclusions I came to in researching my book, Next Generation Leadership, is that Generation Ys (Millennials) crave development more than almost anything else from their organisations.  But the question I hear now that we are in lockdown under Covid is: How can we recreate the development that would have happened organically by our youngest colleagues’ observing how senior people go about doing business?

There are still at least a couple of things that we can do.  First, even under lockdown, we can invite our young team members to senior stakeholder meetings, senior customers or strategic conversations, even if they are just observing.  If we want to enhance a culture of development, one way to do that is to help our people observe desired behaviours.  The best definition I’ve ever heard of ‘culture’ is so good because it is so simple.  It’s just two words: ‘shared behaviours’.  That’s it!  But that definition implies that you have to give your people the opportunity to observe behaviours in action, and you can certainly still do that under lockdown.

The second piece of advice I would give is to consider mentoring your youngest employees.  These don’t have to be your direct reports, but also make that a reverse mentoring opportunity.  You can teach them about how to navigate your organization, advance their careers, serve more sophisticated customers, and they help you with issues such as leveraging social media, identifying new customer segments, and using skills and tools they have acquired which many of their older colleagues have not.  It’s also an opportunity to find out for yourself what younger generations want from life, their career and their leaders.  I think you’ll find it illuminating!

So how do you still organically develop your Millennial colleagues under lockdown, in ways that don’t cost you anything?  First, invite them to senior virtual meetings, and ask them to observe and note behaviours.  And second, consider mentoring and asking for reverse mentoring.