Bill Jensen, CEO, Jensen Group
My team and I spent the past few years researching the future of work. We interviewed thousands of leaders from across the globe, asking “What are the toughest choices you must make to create the best possible future for your firm?”
I was quickly schooled in global tough-choice metaphors. Spanish leaders spoke of standing “between the sword and the wall.” Humanists across the world used the phrase, Sophie’s choice. And the Swedes spoke of “sitting in a fox trap,” the kind where two doors close on you after opposing forces come at you.
So I must share that you have my admiration! Clearly, you have it tough. Even your best choices carry hard-to-manage challenges.
OK…Enough sucking up. You wanted this role, so let’s deal with what it will take to lead your organization into the future.
It’s the People!
Eighty-six percent of leaders around the world said that their toughest choices revolved around how to free people to succeed and maximize their potential.
The problem is not lack of people-focus. Most every leader got that, lived that. It’s that most of today’s corporate hierarchies and the ways of managing people and performance are stuck in the 20th century. (Download study here.)
We have hit the limits of human capacity using 20th century approaches. Our workforce is maxed out, and yet the need for morebetterfaster keeps pushing them beyond human tolerances. Amazon recently learned this the hard way, with the New York Times’s blistering exposé on its “bruising workplace” practices. Founder Jeff Bezos’s response: “the article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know.”
You face the same challenges as Bezos. Once any leader is more than one level removed from frontline work, it is easy to become blind to the human costs of today’s insane pressure to perform.
The Toughest Choice
It’s the classic innovator’s dilemma, applied to people and performance systems. To create the future, leaders must reimagine and completely disrupt today’s hierarchies, people and performance systems, even if they believe those systems still work.
Like Accenture just did in eliminating performance reviews for its 330,000 people. Or like Starbucks did in paying for their workers’ college tuition. Or like how Google just restructured the entire company to free its “moonshot” ideas to grow. Or like how SAS goes far beyond great employee benefits, to where “trust above all things” is the most treasured company value.
How do leaders disrupt systems that, even if people are maxed out, still deliver predictable returns? Where do those decisions and that courage come from? To uncover that secret, we dug deeper. We asked leaders how they make tough decisions with personal questions like, “What makes you, you?”
What we found was that after all the analysis, due diligence, and planning was done, every leader used their gut — their values and their instincts. And to muster the courage to make big plays based on their gut, they each leveraged a deeply personal experience from their past.
A crucible moment in their lives. One moment from their past where they previously found the courage to push far beyond their comfort zone.
Those moments were almost always very personal: surviving cancer, the birth of a child, escaping a war zone, leaving their homeland, keeping a deathbed promise, standing up to a bully, the pain of extreme poverty, an aha that changed their life.
So what I can share with you about how to build the workplace of the future, about how to make the tough choices you need to make, is this…
First, whatever you need to do will be outside of your comfort zone. Tough leadership decisions are about embracing the innovator’s dilemma.
Second, after all the analysis and due diligence is done, your gut and your values will tell you what decision to make. My hope is that your values include changing how your organization will increase human capacity over the coming decade.
Finally, you’ll need to find the courage to implement unproven and disruptive ideas. All of which will put your ass on the line; some of which cannot be risk-mitigated.
The courage to pull that off will come from something deeply personal to you, something that has already tested your resolve.
Tap into that, and you can build any future you can dream!
[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
About the Author
Bill Jensen is CEO of the Jensen Group, a New Jersey-based change consulting firm, focused on the future of work. His next book, Future Strong, debuts October 15, 2015. For more information, please visit www.simplerwork.com.