Some of the top minds in business and academia will converge on Davos again this week to take part in the 47th World Economic Forum. This year, delegates are convening to discuss the broad theme of Responsive and Responsible Leadership. As ever, the subject is a timely one.
Populism and capitalism
The global rise of populist politicians – brought sharply into focus by the results of the U.S. elections and the U.K.’s ‘Brexit’ referendum — presents new geopolitical risks for corporates whose businesses rely on the free movement of people and goods across borders.
With the specter of a rise of inward-facing populist policies on the horizon, one would expect there to be plenty of discussion about the tenets of responsible leadership, the potential for a reversal of globalization, and the mounting public backlash against its present effects.
There will also be discussions about how our leaders can fine-tune the global capitalism model to function to the benefit of the majority, not just corporations and their investors.
Those are some of the high-profile sociopolitical discussions that are expected on the stages of the Davos complex.
Digitalisation and democratisation of the workplace
This year’s theme is also timely for another reason and, while it will be discussed extensively, expect it to capture much less of the spotlight from the assembled global media.
At the corporate level, the inexorable and rapid rise of technology is changing the very nature of work and jobs. It is driving a greater digitalisation and democratisation of the workplace, and that has implications for business leadership.
The digital revolution is changing the concept and location of the workplace, moving it beyond the static properties of the employer, and simultaneously empowering and neutering the worker in the process.
This transition is exponentially increasing the demands on business leaders, which cannot be fully addressed by simply broadening their digital skillsets.
Not only are they expected to know how to use the new tools to transform their operating models and reach new customers, they need to prepare their businesses for the way those tools are changing how work itself is executed, the required capabilities of the workforce and the business risks of work models, both old and new.
Today’s leaders must have
- The vision to anticipate how technology could disrupt their business model and the associated costs
- The skill to mobilise their businesses for change
- The ability to encourage a culture of collaboration in an increasingly democratised workplace where ‘formal’ power is diminishing
Managing that will require a new type of leadership and new methods of developing those chosen to lead, a fact that has not gone unnoticed.
Transportation sector keenly feels the workplace changes
In the recently released Willis Towers Watson Transportation Risk Index, senior executives from across the global air transport sector rated a ‘lack of potential leaders and succession planning’ as the biggest talent management risk facing their businesses over the next 10 years. For the sea sector the top concern is ‘staff retention,’ and for land transport a ‘lack of skilled labour and mobility’ is seen as the biggest threat.
The more progressive organisations are adjusting their human resource strategies to address the new dynamics of the workplace. On a very basic level, many businesses are attempting to strike the right balance between buying “native digital” leaders and developing existing ones. Others are exploring the potential of open organizational and community talent marketplaces.
Business leaders, particularly those who work for multinationals, have long struggled to match the supply of skills with the fluctuating, contract-driven demand for specific skillsets in specific locations.
In part because the Internet has proven to be an efficient transporter of talent, the marketplace model is showing some early promise at solving the imbalance. Reorganising the workforce into pools of specific skillsets – unbound by geography, business stream or industry segment — can accelerate work delivery by matching demand with supply at the skill, assignment and job levels.
The model can be expanded to include clients and partners, potentially delivering on both organisational needs and employee fulfillment for an increasingly demanding workforce. A marketplace-learning model used to develop leaders has similar potential.
But a corporate focus on developing responsible leadership can no longer be the exclusive domain of ‘progressive’ organisations. Executive stewardship of work, whether performed by employees, independent contractors or talent on a platform, is built into most modern management standards that govern product quality and workplace safety. As such, it is a foundation of good business practice.
Still, corporate recognition of the risks and benefits of corporate talent management – from employee motivation to leadership development – still has a way to go. When the Index gauged the perceptions of 350 C-suite executives from the transport sector late last year, the risks associated with ‘talent management and the complexities of the global workforce’ ranked last in every region except the Middle East and Africa, where they ranked fourth of the five megatrends.
Perhaps Davos will serve to sharpen the collective corporate focus.