As a former Navy SEAL, we were always operating in VUCA (volatile-uncertain-complex-ambiguous) environments. That acronym is now widely used in the global business environment, and it's no surprise that today's organizations are facing the need for change at a faster pace than ever before. This is in large part due to advancements in technology, multi-generational work forces and global economic implications.
If I could use only one word to draw a correlation between the post 9-11 Naval Special Warfare community and today's global business environment it would be CHANGE. Constant change.
Organizations face a radically shifting context for the workforce, the workplace, and the globalized world of business in general. These shifts have changed the rules for nearly every organization, the way we think about culture transformation and the pace at which we must learn to evolve the functions of leadership and management.
The workforce is changing. It's more digital, more global, diverse, automation-savvy, and social media-proficient. At the same time, business expectations, needs, and demands are evolving faster than ever before. While some companies see this as a challenge, I believe it should be viewed as an opportunity. An opportunity to rethink how we approach leadership, talent acquisition and retention and organizational structures. An opportunity to create systems, processes, and tools that will continue to evolve and sustain their value over time. An opportunity for taking point in what will likely continue to be among the most significant changes to the workforce that we have seen.
Technology is advancing faster than ever before. This levels the competitive playing field and can overwhelm a workforce. But business productivity has not kept pace with technological progress. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources show that productivity growth remains low despite the introduction of new technology into the business environment. In fact, since the 2008 recession, growth in business productivity (gross domestic product per hour worked) stands at its lowest rate since the early 1970s (1.3 percent). At the same time, companies themselves are being disrupted more quickly. They are being pushed into a reactive posture rather than proactively re-engineering their approach to business.
So what does this mean for the global business landscape?
All business leaders have experienced these shifts. Business and HR leaders can no longer continue to operate according to old methods. They must now embrace new ways of thinking about their companies, culture, leadership, their talent, and how they approach transformation.
The priorities contained in this article reflect the shifts in mindsets and behaviors that I believe are required to lead, inspire, organize, motivate, manage, and engage the 21st-century workforce - especially during times of change.
Priority 1: A Shift from Leadership Hierarchies to Peer Networks
Today, a new set of skills along with a shift in mindset is required for organizations to focus on career strategies, training and development, organizational ecosystems and internal peer networks. In the high-performance companies of the future, leadership responsibilities can no longer exist in older traditional top-down hierarchies - it must exist through networks of well-trained and empowered employees that have the resources to make decisions and execute. This creates a more nimble and agile cultural environment where better decisions are made with better data at a faster pace.
Priority 2: Career-pathing and Building Learning Cultures
There needs to be a much greater emphasis on created and investing in new tools and systems where employees can take ownership over their own professional and personal development. But in today's workforce, these tools have to be available 24/7. The company culture has to be designed to promote constant learning so team members can build the skills they need quickly and easily. And they must be rewarded for doing so.
Priority 3: Strategic Talent Acquisition Strategies
In the SEAL teams, we have invested millions in research to help us continually evolve the way we approach "talent" acquisition. We are an evolving organization in an ever-evolving industry - if that's what we want to call it. Similarly, companies have to become more advanced in their methods and even cognitive approaches to finding and retaining top talent that fits both the job and the culture perfectly. This potentially means new tools and a refined approach. And retention has everything to do with ongoing development and the workplace environment.
Priority 4: Creating Experiences and Engagement Mechanisms for Results
Companies have to think more strategically when creating cultural experiences and strategies for employee engagement. Even the term "engagement" seems to have a new meaning. Experiences and engagement mechanisms have to fit the culture which must be aligned to achieve specific business objectives. At the end of the day, meeting the employees needs and focusing on wellness and satisfaction has to tie back to results.
Priority 5: New Performance Management and Rewards Systems
A shift must happen from more static and less frequent employee review systems to more fluid and almost constant feedback. Both formal and informal processes can be used. More consistent communication and coaching ensures a sound learning environment, greater efficiencies and higher retention. All of this positively impacts growth and profitability.
Priority 6: Consistent Investment in Actual Leadership Development
If we need to shift from traditional hierarchies to networks and teams, there needs to be a transformation in the way we think about leadership development as a whole. High-performance organizations will create and deconstruct cross-functional project-focused teams more easily. But they can only do this with a culture based on shared values and culture, transparency in goals, freely flowing information and feedback and actively rewarding for skills and performance - NOT position or title.
The new leadership mindset that will allow for this evolution will reward teams for learning, innovation, risk-taking, experimentation and customer-centric thinking. For many organizations, this will by no means be a simple task. It will require focus, teamwork, discipline and resiliency. It all comes down to who is up for the task!