Wednesday 15 May 2013

#ECTalent: Creating a Mobile, Agile Workforce

Wuhou Temple.jpg  I had thought I was going to be in China straight after my session in Malaysia, but that trip has been delayed to August so I am going to be at the Economist's Talent Management Summit on Tuesday 21 May now.  Woohoo!  (not Wuhou :-( ).

This year's event focuses on 'creating a mobile, agile workforce'.  So the Economist has clearly selected a very important, and increasingly topical, theme again.  I'll be blogging from the conference as I have done for the last couple of years but here are my top three high level thoughts on what I think should be some of the key issues to come up:

1.   Neither mobile nor agile are about technology or infrastructure but attitude and behaviour.

2.   The behaviour change isn't about replacing one set of best practice behaviours with another set of better practices, it's about clearly understanding what needs to be different and then making a small but important set of changes to align around this.

3.   Generating the desired behaviour change isn't easy.  Old traditions and ways of working are hard to change.


I've already posted on this last point in connection to a couple of things I'm involved in or paying attention to - eg the CIPD / MIX's hackathon, the CIPD's 100 thoughts and the Engage for Success movement.  However I've criticised the way these are being implemented* (suggesting that this is being done in a non-agile / adaptable sort of way) and I haven't spelled out how I think they should be executed differently - which obviously has a link to how mobile, agile businesses need to run as well.  So here are my suggestions:

1.   Leaders need to get out of way.  They don't need to do everything themselves, and in fact doing this detracts from the ability of followers to do things for themselves - it makes the entity (hackthon, movement, community, organisation…) less adaptable, not more.  It's not you - it's us.

  • Peter Cheese / Gary Hamel - let us do the hangouts, or at least let us hangout with you and stop hogging the front page.
  • Peter / your CIPD colleagues - stop making special invitations.  It makes the other contributors seem / feel less valued.  If special people can't be bothered to contribute off their own backs they're maybe not so special after all.
  • David McLeod / Nita Clarke - let the movement do the presentations.  I mean give us the slides if you must, though perhaps we can all co-create them.  But let us take the movement forward.  You're over exposed, and whilst the movement's all about you, it's not able to grow.  You've already earned your OBEs - get off the stage.
  • Business leaders - ask your staff about what your organisation needs, listen to them and try to do what they suggest.  And as much as possible, let them take things forward.


2.   When leaders intervene they need to do so in an enabling sort of way.  The role of leaders isn't to provide expert insight, it's to facilitate and encourage others to provide theirs - shaping, building on or challenging these if they need.  Their focus needs to be managing the community not providing all the content.  Wait, back off and comment when you think someone's missed a point - and nobody else is stepping in.  Or come in to recognise those you think are contributing great insights.

Now I will admit that David and Nita do some of this rather well.  Though you probably don't need to be on so many of the movement's podcasts - so spend the time helping find other members of, or people associated with, the movement to be guests, or to co-host some of the shows too.

Peter, Gary (and most of the other hackathon coaches and guides) - we see nothing.  If you can't be bothered commenting on other people's suggestions, even when they directly ask you for yours, you've missed the point I'm afraid.  Well, you both clearly understand the future of management - time to start acting like it too!


3.   This one is a smaller point but when you do ask for opinions, ask about what's important, and what you want really want to know.  Don't ask dumb questions! (and don't provide the answer when you do):

Eg: "Is your organisation changing as fast as the world around it?

Let's face it, for most organisations, the answer is no."


Err, right.  Like that's going to generate a lot of comments then!


4.   This one is more of a personal reflection but think carefully about who you include / exclude.  As someone who has participated in a few hackathons previously and is deeply involved in this agenda I was bound to get involved.  If I'd be invited to be a coach / guide I'd have been more likely to have got on board.

This isn't an issue for me (really - I've got lots of other things to do) but since I haven't been involved it's much easier to snark from the sidelines.  Both the MIX and the CIPD know that I'm a trouble maker (ahem!) so it shouldn't have been that hard.

That's the problem with hierarchy really - not that it naturally constrains adaptability (and implemented well, I don't think it does.)  But that as soon as you put people at the top, you place others at the bottom, and the people at the bottom are never going to feel the same way about the initiative / organisation as people at the top.

(It also makes it more important that the people at the top exhibit the very best behaviours whether that's not cheating their expenses or not abusing their status as a guide.)


* Note I'm a big supporter of all these things (the Engage for Success movement, the CIPD / MIX's hackathon and the CIPD's 100 thoughts) - I just think they could have been done better if they were being done in more agile / adaptable way.  And these are current initiatives focusing on creating agility and adaptability.  If they can't rise to the opportunity, what hope do our organisations have?

Well quite a lot hopefully - but I think the above illustrates how hard generating more adaptable behaviours can be.

Anyway, more on this probably from the Economist Talent Management Summit next week!


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