As part of our twice-yearly UK business review and Values Awards ceremony, I recently took to the stage in front of our people and said that collectively as a senior leadership team, we needed to do more for them. Unusual? Perhaps. Typically, ‘the management’ stands up and asks for more effort and commitment from the ‘workforce’, but we were saying the opposite – as a leadership team we acknowledged that we needed to do more for our people, and I felt more empowered as a leader as a result of doing it.
The reason we felt we needed to say this was because as succinctly defined by the military acronym, we are now living in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous), and we as a company are operating in a VUCA sector across VUCA markets in a VUCA geo-political environment, and we might as well all get used to it. What do you see on the horizon that makes you think predictability, harmony and rationality is on the way? For me, the most successful businesses are going to be the ones who equip and empower their people to operate amidst uncertainty and ambiguity, readying themselves to take advantage of the opportunities that a VUCA world can provide.
As a business, consulting services (business and technical) are one of the things we offer, but we also provide design, execution and managed services to our clients. However, we are now moving the business towards becoming an ‘ideas factory’, driven by an ideation culture that will create solutions with defined outcomes for our clients, matched to a scalable and predictable delivery engine, to help enable them to survive and prosper in the VUCA world.
But in order to do that, we as a leadership team need to help our people by facilitating a culture and environment that allows both the ‘entrepreneurs’ and the ‘engineers’ to be recognised and valued for the different but complementary things they both bring to the business.
As such, we have committed ourselves to deliver ‘the New people deal’, which will provide the following to all of our people, and help them succeed in the VUCA world:
- 1. A change in our operating model that gives our ‘intrepreneurs’ (…as well as those who haven’t joined us just yet) the support, focus and freedom needed to grow, along with the authority and ability required to influence with what and how we go to market. We will also ensure they have the ability to leverage our onshore and nearshore cross competency talent pools both quickly and easily.
- 2. Creation of five different development paths enabling our talent to choose the path that matches their own individual strengths and aspirations and enabling our intrepreneurs, consultants and delivery specialists to find their true path. These development paths will in turn align directly to our new operating model and will offer our people role mobility and provide them with different combinations of variety, breadth and depth, from practitioner through to specialist, as well as still offering the traditional routes for growth through people and delivery management.
- 3. Creating a ‘3D’ learning and development framework to enable our people to operate and succeed in a VUCA world. The L&D framework will be directly aligned to the five new development paths, with the three dimensions consisting of career development competencies, technical and domain skills, as well as critical ‘soft’ skills such as leadership, communication, ideation, commercial knowledge, consulting and delivery.
- 4. Adapting and strengthening our talent selection process for the VUCA world, where the ability to learn and adapt to new situations will be critical and where leadership will be assumed based on situation and circumstance, rather than assigned through a rigid hierarchy. So cognitive and behavioural profiling and assessment will have an equal importance in our decision-making about who we select to join us, in addition to the traditional criteria of technical and domain skills.
- 5. Actively empowering and encouraging every person at every level of the business to assume a leadership role and to use their voice if they aren’t receiving the mentoring, support or recognition they require and deserve to help them grow and develop both personally and professionally.
Another small but equally important decision we have taken is to introduce an optional dress policy. Why is that important? Because the talent and skills required for the VUCA world aren’t necessarily going to be the same as the talent and skills required for the ‘old’ world. As such, we want to attract the talented and creative people who might have previously steered away from professional services because of the ‘suit and tie’ culture and also because we want our people to express their creativity and personality, which are key in an innovative culture.
But beware. In the VUCA world, as well as the ‘New people deal’, there is also a ‘New leader deal’, and that means focussing on creating an environment and culture that allows your people to realise their full potential. So clear the obstacles in their path and provide them with the vision, direction and confidence they need, offer them support as and when they need it, remove the fear of failure and then step out of their way.
In short, lead your people more and manage them less.