Thursday, 21 January 2010

Kenexa Leadership seminar: leading change; changing leadership


   Busy day today with a couple of afternoon appointments following a seminar on leadership hosted by Kenexa, ‘The Science of Outcomes’.  Despite the title, the key theme for me was the emerging / additional aspects of leadership.  MC’d by Kenexa’s Director of Consulting, Dave Millner, the presentations focused on:



Leadership in a Social World

Matt Alder (recruiting futurologist, who I met recently at a Changeboard event, and will be working with again soon at TRU London 2) presented on social media and the connected organisation.

Social media is changing the way people buy things, the way they complain, and the nature of brands (“it’s like word of mouth on steroids”).

It’s changing corporate communication, recruitment and other HR practices.  In fact, it affects every area of your organisation – the opportunities are enormous.

So it’s a strategic issue, not a policy one (although having an appropriate social media policy is important too).  And the threats of not participating significantly outweigh the threats of doing so.

In response to my question, Matt explained that in his view, one new challenge for leadership in this environment is about responding to the connected generation (Gen Y) who are used to using these new social channels.  This requires leaders to understand the opportunities provided by the new techniques which are fuelling these generational differences.


For more on social media and the connected [social] business, see my other blog, Social Advantage.

And for comments on leadership in this environment, see my reviews of Emmanuel Gobillot’s two books.



Developing Leaders in Emerging Markets

Tommy Weir (VP of Kenexa’s Leadership Solutions and author of CEO Shift who I met at his former employer, Nakheel, on one of my trips to Dubai, and is pictured above) presented on what expat (and local) leaders need to understand about leading in emerging markets.

Just as with developed markets, success in leadership is about knowing your employees, and there are some considerable differences in employee perspectives in countries like UAE, China etc:

  • A youth bulge vs an aging population
  • A group orientation (in which life is designed to be a group) vs an individual orientation
  • A family mentality to business (where business has until very recently been conducted in an agrarian setting and in a family context) vs a corporate mentality
  • Informal learning (learning in small settings over a cup of tea) vs formal learning
  • Leader vs employee-centric (patriarchal societies in which an elder person has more status).



Changing Requirements

So if employees are different do leaders need to do something different?  Clearly, yes.  Tommy Weir took us through the following changes, which I think apply to the new social world as well:



Things aren’t necessarily going to be at your finger tips – you need the ability to connect different piece of information (think about the imagination needed to create the man-made islands in Dubai.



You need to know how to hold onto your talent.  Matt’s connected generation are used to pressing the reset button when playing computer games – and they have similar expectations in organisations too (in both developed and emerging markets).


Multilingual in one language

Just because we’re all talking same language doesn’t mean we have the same understanding.


Rapid talent developer

Promotions are having to take place at a very early age (either because this is the only way to sustain growth, and / or because this is the expectation of the new workforce).  This increases risk – leaders need to be able to get talent developed faster – by starting earlier / condensing development or mitigating the extra risks.



The Paradox of Leadership Potential

There are some opposing trends too.  Tommy suggested leaders in emerging markets need to have abilities in navigation – they need to be expert in giving direction in an ambiguous environment.  In the social world, leaders need to avoid giving direction, and enabling the workforce to make decisions for themselves.

So how do you handle leadership in social and emerging businesses?  There are no easy answers to this one, but it’s clearly possible as I think social media’s developing nicely in the UAE at least (see my interview with H2.0).

But I think the tension between the two trends also emphasises the complexity and ambiguity involved in developing leadership skills and in particular, the difficulty predicting how these skills are going to change…


John Mahoney-Phillips (Global Head of Human Capital at UBS, who Sandy Campbell introduced me to briefly quite a few years ago) referred to this difficulty in predicting leadership requirements as one reason why traditional ‘9 box’ approaches to performance and potential have significant problems, and also why many organisations aren’t getting huge returns on their investments in talent.

His / Kenexa’s new Leadership Potential Quotient tool focuses instead on the attributes of individuals now which may enable them to reach leadership roles in the future:






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  • jon  [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com



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