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Judith Germain

The Maverick Paradox

Maverick Catalyst

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Transformational leadership: how HR can strategise, innovate and execute the future of work

Testing times require new skills and leaders who can strategise, innovate and execute.

We’re all aware that unparalleled changes are occurring in society right now and this is also affecting our individual mindsets. It’s never been more important for leaders to have the right skills to strategise, innovate and execute, and HR has a significant role to play in this process.

Effective leaders understand that to strategise, innovate and execute is a process that happens concurrently, not sequentially.

When you are living and working in a complex, fast moving environment, you cannot use the tools of the past to solve the problems of the present. The problem is that many organisations are not equipped for this. Organisations have managed to train leadership teams to rely on the past to predict the future – they look to the stable and accepted ‘truths’, to precedent, to build the future. This is not going to work for the situation we now find ourselves in. What we need now are independent thinkers, those who can design new solutions from unrelated components. We need to empower individuals to be active change eager leaders, regardless of where they sit in the hierarchy.

Why is this decade different from the last?

It’s clear that we are going through immense societal change, technological advances, and there is now more personal introspection. We have also woken up to the idea that we can no longer balance work and our personal lives – we need to blend it so that our work and personal life are synergistic. We want our leaders to be trusted and trustworthy, and we want to bring our whole selves to work.

That’s a lot of demands, especially as it’s being driven by the youngest members of the workplace. Late millennials and generation Z employees are beginning to understand that they have power, but are, at the moment, unsure how to wield it. They know what they want and need, but not how to obtain it.

If your organisation is to survive, you are going to need to let go of your power and harness the growth in theirs. Trust me, if you do it right, your organisation will not just survive – it will thrive and be the envy of your competitors.

The cycle of transformation

Transformation cannot commence, be sustained, or implemented without people – that is a given. Recognising how people are treated, aligned, and understood, is inherent in that process.

In the modern workplace there is much to transform, however before you can begin you need to understand the environment that you are operating in and assess whether change is necessary. If you deem it is, then you need to ask how fast does the change need to happen, and do you have change eager people? There are three key things that need to be done to move forward.

1. Strategise

With any change you want to see, the first place to start is with strategy. This is often confused with either (a) strategic planning or (b) what I call small ‘s’ strategy. This type of strategy is the strategy formed by having an idea and looking for ways to implement it without referring to the big picture. The big ‘S’ strategy encompasses what you want to achieve as a whole.

Effective leaders recognise that the strategies that work have short-term components that are measurable and holistic in nature. They understand that five year strategic plans are a nonsense in volatile environments, especially if they are written and forgotten, and are siloed in nature. Things move too fast for a strategy to be static.

What they do believe in strongly is setting a strategic direction with detailed milestones. This allows for the complexity and the changeable nature of the current environment to occur, without destabilising the strategy. Strategic planning can only occur once the strategic direction is set.

I am increasingly being asked to help organisations enable their leadership teams to master the art of strategic thinking – rather than leading with strategic plans. Strategic plans work on what’s there, strategic thinking works on what might be, what is coming and what we have, before synergising a strategic direction and tactical strategy to success. Strategic thinking also ensures that they are interventions in place to ensure a change eager workforce.

2. Innovate

The ability to innovate can at times seem at odds with what the organisation believes it needs. Innovation can often be delegated to creative departments (e.g. R&D or marketing), when in fact it needs to be in the DNA of every worker in the organisation.

Innovation is often seen as a big thing – which it is – but it is also a small thing. HR should be encouraging leaders to enable employees to seek innovation in the small things. For example, if I changed this form, how would this improve things? If I changed the process between payroll and HR, would people get paid quicker?

Another reason to have a culture of innovation is because it automatically creates a more curious environment. People who are curious are also inventive – they see possibilities, they are agile and inclusive. They are change eager and engaged. They burn out less and have fun collaborating with others; silos cease to exist, and employees, leaders and organisations grow into what they could be. Hybrid organisations become easier to lead and more productive.

3. Execute

This is the most common area that leadership teams fail. Implementing plans is of course important, however, if you are implementing something that will not solve the problem it was set up to solve, then you are not executing well. All too often leaders rush to implement things without considering if it will, in fact, make a situation worse.

Knowing your strategic direction, therefore, and how you are going to change the things you set out to change is all-important. You should constantly be checking that proposed solutions will work, before you enter the process of consultation, alignment and engagement/disengagement.

Effective leaders understand that to strategise, innovate and execute is a process that happens concurrently, not sequentially. You have to consider all aspects at the same time.

To achieve different results to what you’ve had before, different behaviours are required from leadership teams and employees. Only by changing our mindsets and actions accordingly can we see true progress.

Interested in this topic? Read Why leadership is the most critical skill HR needs to develop in a constantly changing world.

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Judith Germain

Maverick Catalyst

Read more from Judith Germain
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