Future of Work: Four Shifts Leaders Must Focus on

Talking about the impending shifts like automation, robotics, disruptions and uncertainties in our world of work is almost clichéd.

What seems like a problem is also an opportunity to do the thing that makes us human – to change our attitudes and fixed beliefs about how we have traditionally experienced work. It is this shift in how we see the world around us that truly enables us to deal with it constructively.

In this context, I read an excellent post by Kenneth Mikkelsen titled “Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes” at Drucker Forum blog. Here is a snippet from the post:

Leaders, like anyone else, are habitual beings that protect their worldview and the meaning they derive from it. Peter Drucker understood that better than most people. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship he dedicated a chapter to incongruities, the mental gaps between perception and reality. Drucker saw these gaps as an invitation to innovate. At its core, entrepreneurship is at about exploring such opportunity spaces to create something new, something different.

The post further outlines four shifts leaders must focus on to deal with slides and shifts around us. Here is a sketch note version of ideas presented in the post.

Related Posts at QAspire:

Social Mindset: A Key to Engaging People

It is more than obvious now that the way people feel about their workplace has direct material impact on performance of the business. This simple equation gets even more complex when we think of forces that are fundamentally changing how we work. Our workplace conversations today are dominated by topics like increasing globalization, economic uncertainties, automation, disruptive innovations, social technologies, generational shifts, mobility, people analytics, gig economy and such.

Newer generations at workplace demand different experiences and therefore, organizations are challenged constantly to move beyond traditional engagement programs and think of engagement more holistically. There is plenty of conversation happening today around moving from employee engagement to employee experience, role of design thinking in driving people experiences and creating a differentiating employer brand experience.

These are all worthy topics to take the conversation of talent engagement forward but I think that none of this will be effective in engaging talent unless we address something very fundamental underlying all of these ideas. We live in social, hyper-connected and super-transparent world and therefore, adopting a “social mindset” is and will remain a killer app for engaging people.

Social mindset is about focusing on people more than focusing on process and having a belief that magic happens when:

  • We create ecosystems where good people can thrive
  • People are aligned to purpose and are clear about how their work contributes to larger objectives
  • People have tools and communities to learn what they want to learn and when they want to learn
  • Leaders play an active role in building ecosystems for high performance

Real engagement happens when we focus, not on generating engagement, but doing right things that increase human engagement.

To be able to adopt a social mindset, leaders need to be equipped with deep understanding of how social, networked and self-evolving structures work. Only then can organizational leaders facilitate effective engagement of talent to meet organizational objectives. This is conversation that goes way beyond HR teams focusing narrowly on “employee engagement programs”. This is a more holistic conversation, and one that really engages talent by integrating work design, culture, rewards, learning and career development to deliver superior employee experience. Let us take a deeper look at how social mindset enables each of these and what it means in practical terms:

Work Design: People need a conducive space to perform and how work really gets done is a key driver for engagement. Technology advances have transformed how work is performed and designing work in a way that engages people is a real challenge and opportunity. Organizations have to relentlessly clarify purpose, how an individual’s work enables achievement of purpose and provide autonomy to team members to execute their ideas. People derive sense of control when they have space to do the work in their own unique way and execute their ideas. Social mindset plays a huge role in enabling people to perform. Traditional “once-a-year” feedback mechanisms only disable people. Real enablement happens when people get frequent feedbacks and support throughout the year. Enablement is also about involving people in collaborative problem solving, making goals transparent, seeking their feedback and most importantly, acting on that feedback. The design of organization and work should enable and encourage people to pursue non-linear career paths. Reducing organizational layers, building small teams and empowering them to self-organize go a long way in engaging talent on a longer run.

Alignment and Clarity: In an information intensive world, real empowerment to people is all about seamless communication across different clusters of organizational network. When communication channels are open, people have greater opportunity to clarify their concerns, know the strategic direction and align their local decision making accordingly. Organizations are increasingly using enterprise social networks like Yammer, Microsoft Skype for Teams and Slack to facilitate these critical conversations. Using social tools to not just broadcast but engage in a dialogue is a great way to also build a compelling employer brand. Communication and clarity across the board works like grease to reduce friction, enable clarity and therefore, improve engagement.

Social Learning: People who get the required support to do their work better tend to be better engaged. We have moved beyond traditional one-way forms of training (learning events) to continuous streams of on-demand learning (learning journey) that combine synchronous and asynchronous forms of learning. People don’t go to classrooms when they want to learn – they go to corporate learning management systems, micro-learning platforms like Twitter, Enterprise social networks like Yammer and so on. Enabling social learning is about encouraging people to share their work, get feedback, align their practices and learn from these experiences. It is about building communities of practice and encouraging people to work out loud. For this to happen, leaders have to set the right example and become engaged social learners themselves. When organizations get this right, they build a solid employer brand (reputation) while engaging with their prospective talent pools on external social networks.

Creating Ecosystems of High Performance: Real engagement happens when people are able to play to their potential and deliver superior performances. Effective leadership that works hard to build trust, respects people, engages in seamless conversations and treats people as colleagues and not as “resources” goes a long way in building a performance culture. Social mindset and leadership is about building a fabric of relationships between clusters of networks in organization to facilitate collaboration and performance. It is therefore so vital for leaders to walk an extra mile to clarify goals, communicate, build relationships, foster trust, deliver feedback early and often and set right examples.

Social mindset has existed in our societies and communities since ages but often forgotten in the maze of organizational layers, tight bound hierarchies, complex processes and boxed responsibilities that inhibit shared understanding and learning.

Human beings are fundamentally social and therefore, understanding of how social structures work is easy. It is all around us.

It is often in doing things we know that we stumble the most!


This article originally appeared as Cover Story in PeopleMatters Magazine April 2017 Edition


Also check out: Happy to have contributed a sketchnote to the re-published version of “The Best Leaders are Constant Learners” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche at HBRAscend.in – a Harvard Business Review publication.

Dwell in Possibility

Dwell in possibility”, borrowed from Emily Dickinson is one theme that is guided me so far and will continue to guide me in the future. 

Every single day brings along a world of possibilities and one thing that determines what we see and how we see things is out own attitude. If you look for problems and constraints, you will always find them – even in the best of situations.

Possibility thinking is an attitude of seeing things and asking, “What’s possible here?” and then working to bring those possibilities to life. Because, ultimately all human progress depends on ability to see possibilities and make them happen.

In my own career, the mindset shift from constraints to possibilities has helped me immensely and continues to help. How do you dwell in possibilities? Here are a few things to consider:

  • It starts with a belief that possibilities (and solutions) exists. It is not about denying constraints but working your way around constraints.
  • It is about persistence in looking for answers when you are unable to find straightforward solutions to constraints.
  • It is about having an eye for what’s working and how can that be amplified as much as it is about knowing what falls in your circle of influence.
  • It is about learning to live with uncertainty and still acting with confidence.
  • It is about realization that things don’t have to be the way they are and that making a change is a possibility.
  • It is about being able to challenge the status-quo knowing that there are better ways of doing things.
  • It is all about execution putting all your energy out there to take the right next steps.
  • It is about riding the waves of change rather than being crushed by it.
  • It is about consciously pursuing the path of your heart and go where it takes you – even if it means living on the edge. Because as Seth Godin says, “If you can’t fail, it doesn’t matter.” 
  • It is about moving beyond our best and being prepared to fail fast, early and often to succeed eventually. Having high expectations from the self and from others is vital because making possibilities happen is hard work.
  • It is about being impeccable with your words (one of the four agreements)  because our choice of words create our possibilities.
  • It is about a strong desire to make a positive difference and contribution in your own life but making a difference to others (your people, organization, teams, family, friends etc.)
  • Living in possibilities is a mindset of serving others by working with them, collaborating with them and finding people who can be your allies in making things happen.

It seems like the only option we have to truly steer ourselves forward is to embrace the mindset of possibility and abundance. Then why not commit to live by the words of Emily Dickinson and “dwell in possibility”?

A worthy goal for 2017 and beyond.

Also Read at QAspire:

In the sketch: Ancient 16th century windmills from Zaanse Schans, The Netherlands (illustrated from my visit there in Dec 2016).

Mindset Shifts For Organizational Transformation

Businesses are struggling to keep the pace with rapid rate of change and disruption around. To keep up with the change, businesses try to diversify into newer areas, build products and services to cater to new market needs and innovate. Organizations on their transformation journeys cannot afford to rely only on the technology innovations because innovation is a result of something more deeper – innovation is a result of mindset, behavioral constructs, leadership and culture.

At ThoughtWorks blog, Aaron Sachs and Anupam Kundu have written an excellent post titled “The Unfinished Business of Organizational Transformation” where they outline the mindset shifts required when transforming the organizations to be more adaptable and agile.

(HT to Helen Bevan for sharing the post.)

While you can read the full post here (highly recommended), I created a quick sketch note to outline the shifts in our mindset and behavioral constructs to nurture change and enable organizational transformation.

Related Posts and Sketch notes:

The Circle of Influence

Yes, we all are concerned about so many things. From economy, inflation, politics, our own health, our mortgages, future of our kids and the list goes on. In businesses where things are in a constant state of flux, things get worse. 

Acknowledging these concerns is important but constantly spending our scarce energy only on these concerns is futile. When faced with situations, challenges and concerns, it may be useful to ask the following questions:

  • Can I do something about it myself? Is it under my direct control? Is the onus of resolution or change on me? (Direct control)
  • If not, can I influence someone who can address/solve/change this? (Influence)

This is our circle of influence*. Anything outside this is a circle of concern. We can remain concerned about it but may not be able to do anything much – except for adapting to these situations and choosing our response in line with these concerns.

In organizations, a LOT of time is spent on discussing about things outside the circle of influence – and it is a waste. When the same energy is utilized to address things within our circle of influence, progress happens. As we do more within our circles of influence, the circle expands. We become proactive when we understand our circle of influence.

Focusing on circle of concern alone is negative energy that breeds scarcity mindset. But acknowledging concerns and then focusing on your circle of influence opens up possibilities and fosters growth. It is abundant.

“Try to Absorb what is useful, Discard what is useless, and Add what is essentially your own.” – Bruce Lee

Once you have identified your circle of influence, it is important to also act on it. When you can solve something, you must solve it without letting your worries and concerns interfere. Knowing that something is in your circle of influence and not doing anything about it is a real disservice (to yourself, your teams and your organization).

This is even more critical when people look up to you as a leader.

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* Stephen Covey defined circle of influence in his iconic self help book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. (1989)”

Focus on Relationships and Tale of Two Leaders

Consider the following tale of two sales leaders who wanted to be successful:

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In his quest to achieve his sales targets, Peter was overly focused on "closing the sale". When in front of a customer, he often focused on what the "next steps" would be. He sold from the mindset of "What all can be sold to this customer out of all my services?" and tried to maximize his sales. He would constantly try to fit his services and convince customer that they really needed it. He believed that sales was all about selling ice cubes in Antarctica! He danced in joy when he closed a sale – and would then focus his energies completely on next sales closure. Peter was successful on a short-term, but his success was often short-lived. He wondered ‘Why?’

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Jack, on the other hand, believed in "building a relationship". When a sale was closed, he considered it as a beginning of a relationship. When in front of a customer, he mostly focused on "understanding/listening" what customer had to say. He sold from the mindset of "What are your problems and how can my services solve them?" and tried to map services with real problems. He believed that sales was all about building relationship through delivery of "value". Without getting overwhelmed (or overjoyed) about the sales closure, he focused his energy to communicate and align people for success. Jack was considered ‘slow’ initially, but he knew he had built a foundation of great relationships for a long term.

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The difference between Peter and Jack was that of the mindset – of purpose and of clarity. Jack knew that business happens and reputation is built only when you solve "real" problems of your customer. For that, first step is to understand and carefully listen. That is the starting point of all relationships. The difference between their mindsets is same as the difference between "hearing" and "listening", between "watching" and "seeing".

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Note: This post is a continuation of my first post “Focus on Effectiveness and Tale of Two Managers” – written on same lines, but with a different message. Check it out if you haven’t read it yet!