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Better management in digital times

Where to start with better management in digital times? Leveraging the "people increment".

It’s about the potential that lays within people! And it’s about leaders who are able to leverage it with all the new challenges of the digital age. The good news is, it all starts with "the man in the mirror" if you are ready and willing to!

Having moved out of the "corporate world" gives me a great opportunity to look at Human Resources Management, which used to be the core of my business for many years, from a different angle. Therefore, I would like to share some thoughts that recently crossed my mind.

When you look at the big strategy documents corporations produce – often with spending a high amount of money for consultancy companies – you wonder why is there so little about utilizing the capabilities people in these organisations have. Most companies would at least have a reference to people in their mission-vision statement, but we all also know how relevant those statements are, because senior leadership often would not care less, when "the real business" needs to be done.

What’s about all the underutilized potential in people, when setting up a business plan, preparing for future challenges or fighting a critical situation? I am fascinated by the thought of all we can do to leverage what I call the "PEOPLE INCREMENT"!

Visualize a sine wave depicting your corporate life cycle, the progress in your change program or simply your emotional flow. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to even further lift the high and soften out the low? This I believe is the difference people can make and the "increment" that can be achieved through them. It is probably not that easy to measure how big this increment is. But isn’t it enough if it generates the one idea that gets you into a better position compared to your competitors or mobilizes the extra energy in people when you must get in a fire fighting mode?

There are of course several factors that significantly impact the "people increment". In my opinion the most important is leadership. Numerous books about leadership have been written by CEOs or senior managers, describing their perspective, however, I am not aware of something similar written by their subordinates. Is it true that leaders just know what is right by nature, and the rest is to be led and must follow? I believe that situation fortunately has changed meanwhile. Technological progress and the economic changes we have been seeing since the nineties of last century had an impact on people (e.g. millennials, generation Z). Could former leaders to a high degree predict the future based on past developments, this is not possible anymore today. Digitalisation also gets its imprints on leadership and engraves it deeper and deeper. We now know much more about how our brain works and how much emotions and the subconscious impacts our decision making. However, many senior managers still neglect the impact digitalisation and emotions have on good leadership!

Unfortunately, with leading people it’s not as easy and simple as many senior managers would like it to be. However, there is a point where everybody can start! Read a great line of lyrics in a popular song from Michael Jackson that depicts it, it says: "… I’m starting with the man in the mirror …"! Probably almost all senior managers would agree, still, how many of them really get into action with themselves?

In my experience it is a matter of fact that the higher you move up the ranks the less feedback you get. I also have observed many senior managers losing openness, self-awareness and the ability to reflect their behaviours on the way up their career ladder.
The topic of digitization is ubiquitous in management today and right so, as the consequences effect people a lot and leadership as well. Some leaders already recognize and admit that there is a need to acquire new "digital" leadership competences. However, what these competences are, there is still a lot of uncertainty around.

One key feature in the digital world is transparency. Information is all around and available to everybody nowadays. The old rule of "knowledge is power" does not apply anymore and many managers struggle with that. In a world where secrets don’t last long, not surprisingly "building transparency and openness" becomes a key digital leadership competence (People Centered Transformation. Adpat2Digital Copyright 2013 - 2019). However, this competence requires a very high degree of self-awareness. So, no wonder – as described above – most senior managers also struggle with "digital" leadership.

There are many reasons why senior managers hesitate to start "… with the man in the mirror". Excluding the among top management highly represented group of "narcistic personalities" – who anyway believe the world needs to change but not them – senior managers in my experience often are afraid of asking other people around them for "comments" or even feedback on their actions. Insecurity, the fear of criticism or rejection – not being "loved" - prevent development.

Even if senior managers lack the courage asking others for feedback, they still not lost. One way to overcome that hurdle is starting with a personality analysis. This normally is a psychometric test, but testing does not sound that "nice" to senior managers. Although there are quite a few tests available in the internet also for free, I would recommend using them with a skilled person to help with the interpretation of results. Most of them are based on Carl Jung’s theory of preferences and use 4 categories in the personality models (e.g. MBTI, FIRO-B) newer ones like Facet5 add a 5th element (emotionality) better reflecting the latest results in neuroscience research. Also test systems using latest developments of AI come in use more and more. It’s fascinating what algorithms already can read in your speech.

So, there is hope for the leaders and their people! Starting with an "analysis" is a first step to achieving higher self-awareness. This is a must for leaders in a today’s world to actively manage one of the new digital leadership competences: Openness and transparency!

Of course, it will be only a first step to better leadership, but isn’t it worth targeting and leveraging the PEOPLE INCREMENT for your company?

If you want to get deeper into that topic, contact me!

– Published on LinkedIn on September 21, 2019

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