I read a great post a week or so ago titled “Adaptability: The Key Leadership Trait in the Digital Transformation” by Daniel Newman. Reading it took me back to two blogs I wrote a couple of years ago in my series on Soft Skills development, specifically the ones on adaptability and flexibility. In them I stated that one of the most common situations in which we will need to change and adapt is when processes (technology) change in the workplace. Newman’s article focuses on the required leadership change that comes with rapid changes in technology. His premise is that adaptability isn’t enough anymore. “Leaders don’t just have to change — they must change quickly, or best case proactively”.
This resonated with me in particular because of a series of interviews I am currently undertaking with leaders in the hi-tech sector focusing on the human resource challenges they face after hiring employees. Things are moving so rapidly in their organizations that there is a tendency to just forge ahead and ignore concerns about social or personality issues. One leader said to me that they don’t have time to deal with staff personality challenges. On one hand, finding good people with the right technical skills in a booming sector is a challenge, but on the other the rule seems to be that if a person doesn’t fit, then just let them leave. My reply to that philosophy is to say that it is very short-term thinking. Just a small series of events and a change in attitude (adaptability) can make a huge difference in retaining talent and creating a better workplace environment.
For smaller firms that don’t have, or can’t yet afford a dedicated HR staff person, the leader is the HR department, this on top of everything else they are doing, so I can see how personality and behaviour issues can drive them crazy. On the other hand if they could slow down and take some time for strategic thought, the solutions to these issues would become clearer. I keep visualizing the picture of the guy pulling a cart with square wheels who is unable to see the guy trying to sell him round wheels, because he is so focused on the task before him.
I get it — projects have timelines and there is a need to see them to completion, but in reality, an hour or two per week is not going to be a make-or-break difference. The initial challenge is getting the leader to recognize that first, they need to slow down, and second, they need to be strategic. Once they can do that then they can start looking at the big picture and not only the one right in front of their eyes.
Whereas Newman’s article focuses on the need to look out for future changes in technology and to be proactive in customer engagement, my message is to be as proactive and engaged with staff. In fact, how can you have one without the other? What is the solution? Don’t just provide a cool space to work in with all those neat amenities like foosball tables, beanbag chairs, well-stocked fridges, but also provide opportunities for personal growth, starting with the leaders. Who are your future leaders in the organization? What does your succession plan look like? How are you developing those future leaders? What opportunities for growth do they have?
The good news is several of the hi-tech sector leaders I’ve been speaking to have or had business coaches and/or mentors, so they are getting some advice and counsel from a business viewpoint. But what about from the soft skills perspective; from a leadership perspective? My initial research is pointing to a definite gap there in need of filling.
John Whitehead coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.
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