Half of the giants we now know may no longer exist by the next decade.
In 1964, a company on the S&P 500 had an average life expectancy of 33 years. This number was reduced to 24 years in 2016 and is forecast to shrink further to 12 years by 2027.
Organizations need to find the right business strategies, both long term and short term, to keep up with the fast-moving economy. Ensuring staff members are equipped with the necessary advanced cognitive skills and soft skills is one strategy, but upskilling is expected to take five to 10 years. The wide skills gap is a bottleneck that 79% of global CEOs are extremely concerned by, says a report by PwC. Some companies know they must fill the skills void immediately, and they have been aggressive in hiring top talent — often younger generations who are disruptors — to introduce innovation, divergent thinking and out-of-box solutions that are desperately required to extend the organization’s lifespan.
Given strategies were already in place, why do the shelf lives of organizations continue to shrink and at an increasing rate?
Tapping into the existing talent pool is one matter; retaining them is another. How successful have corporate leaders been in keeping talent passionate and fully engaged in their work? Have they put in the right strategies to shape the culture into one that nurtures diversity, innovation and continuous learning?
Not quite, it seems. Studies have shown that management has in many cases persisted with traditional and outdated leadership styles and kept top talent on the sidelines instead of utilizing the very skill sets they were hired for. They stifle them in a culture that clings to old ways of working and collaborating — the very aspects they were meant to defy in the first place. What a paradox! It is no wonder that less than 13% of the workforce is passionate about their work.
To reverse the tide, companies need to explore more effective ways to retain employees by creating a culture where leaders’ top priority is to meet the psychological desires of employees as humans.
Forget people-centeredness and embrace human-centeredness. Satisfying and addressing the human needs of their valuable employees is key for organizations that still want to be around after the next decade. And here’s the good news.
Line managers are the enablers in this solution who could easily shape the culture conducive for innovators and disruptors because they have immediate access to employees. By changing mindsets around how the staff is regarded, line managers would be able to strengthen their leadership style into one that recognizes and rewards heterogeneity, ambition and sophistication through simple daily interactions. This in turns elevates organization culture and is a strategy with a great payoff in the long run.
Here are some tips to get leaders started in becoming more human-centered.
1. Recognize employees as human beings with needs.
Some questions to help you:
• What “human needs” do my employees have?
• What am I doing daily to meet their needs of autonomy, sense of belonging and mastery (by motivation psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan)?
Line managers who can answer these questions could achieve a fundamental shift from seeing “human resources” as an inanimate resource into valuing employees as contributors who have desires, ideals and ambition. It will transform the way leaders and employees engage with each other.
All humans have an innate desire to be heard and understood, so begin by reaching out to hear and understand what is important to the human beings who you lead, and you will also be heard and understood by them.
2. Examine all ideas for potential value, even when they sound alien, and all contributions, even when the value seems intangible.
Questions that could help you:
• Am I inviting, considering and seeking to understand ideas and opinions that are beyond my current state of imagination and comprehension?
• Am I sharing my point of view openly and respectfully when I do not understand my employees’ perspectives yet?
Some of my clients shared that the wildest ideas proposed by their talented staff had turned out to be game changers that elevated the value of the organization rapidly. They had to deliberately focus on being excited by the ideas — albeit outlandish at first — and put good faith in those who they had hired and give them the environment to experiment with new ideas while at the same time maintaining a healthy mentoring and consultative relationship.
Who would have thought that air travel was possible? Remember that the Wright brothers were called “crazy” when they said they would create a flying machine?
Some ideas could sound misaligned at first. In those instances, take turns to share your points of view early and discuss. On occasions when the employee demonstrates an incomplete understanding of the context, which does happen, seize the opportunity and give constructive feedback. After all, that’s how humans learn!
3. Guard against complacency, and be a champion of lifelong learning.
A question that could help you:
• Have I embraced agility as my leadership mindset by updating, renewing and upgrading myself continuously?
“The Law of the Lid” by John C. Maxwell says, “Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. … Your leadership ability — for better or for worse — always determines your effectiveness and the impact of your organization.”
In the age of disruption, all professionals must be lifelong learners. Leaders, even CEOs, are not exempted. They have to guard against a complacent attitude like “I don’t need to learn anymore, as I have arrived at my destination.” Marshall Goldsmith said, “What got you here won’t get you there,” and that is exactly true.
In the fast-moving economy, organizations have to strive harder to build an inclusive culture and promote innovation to continue thriving. It is a matter of survival. Employees are the greatest human assets, and if organizations start centering on meeting human needs and cultivating the soft skills irreplaceable by automation, it will protect the lifeline of organizations for a long time to come.