Liza Strong, International Head of Talent Development at DLA Piper, joined Cirrus CEO Dr Simon Hayward to talk about 2020’s biggest leadership challenges during a special webinar on 29 January.

If you missed the webinar, don’t worry. We’ve captured the highlights so you can benefit from Liza and Simon’s insights.

Cirrus reviewed research from thought-leading organisations including the World Economic Forum, the CIPD, Gartner and BCG’s Henderson Institute to identify the greatest challenges facing leaders as we enter a new era of complexity and uncertainty. From this research we identified four very clear themes.

We began the webinar by asking participants to vote on which of the four themes represented the biggest challenge for them:

• 43% said they wanted to become more agile
• 30% wanted to develop future-focused skills
• 19% selected digital and technological advances
• 6% highlighted social responsibility

Accelerate agile team working

In an era of uncertainty and complexity, research shows that the need for adaptable, agile teams is greater than ever. While many organisations accept the benefits of agile team working in principle, many also struggle with the legacy of hierarchical structures which can be difficult to overcome.

Simon has carried out wide-ranging research into agile team working and he encouraged us to think about the team as a focus for learning and development. Teams are central to agile working and increased collaboration. Agile team working can drive innovation. To support this, we need to encourage greater curiosity and learning ability.

Liza also talked about how flexible working can create opportunities for teams to become more agile by helping to change people approach work, their work patterns, and the ways teams interact.

Simon advised that if you are part of an organisation where there are barriers to agile team working, consider introducing agile team working in pockets. Monitor its impact and share it with senior leaders to demonstrate its effectiveness.

Deal with the digital tipping point

Digital disruption and the pace of technological change continues to transform our working lives. Research shows that AI, automation and the emphasis on data interpretation will become more mainstream in 2020.

EY research suggests that when it comes to making the most of AI and automation, there is a great deal of untapped opportunity for HR.

Liza talked about how HR and L&D leaders can make the most of the vast amount of data and insights that AI and automation presents.

For example, we now have lots of data to help us understand significant demographic changes and the multi-generational workforce. HR leaders can draw on this rich data to plan and predict for a future labour market that is constantly changing. If the volume of data is overwhelming, prioritise what you need to know, and then look at where you can gain the most valuable insights.

As we automate more tasks, we can free people up to be more strategic and innovative. As Deloitte say in their ‘Future of Work’ report, we can use advances in technology not just to drive efficiency, but also to increase value and meaning. HR and L&D specialists are ideally placed to help organisations make the most of the digital tipping point.

Develop future-focused skills

One of the most concerning themes to emerge is just how unprepared so many organisations are to face the future as the pace of change increases. Recent Gartner research found that 46% of HR leaders say employees lack the skills necessary to drive future performance.

The digital age increases the need not only for digital literacy but also for very ‘human’ skills such as creativity and innovation.

As McKinsey and others have highlighted, there are some jobs computers do well, and some areas where human beings excel. Skills such as imagination, creative analysis, and strategic thinking are hard to automate and will become highly valued. The hardest activities to automate are those that involve managing and developing people or that apply expertise to decision making, planning, or creative work.

We also need to think about how people learn as the workplace evolves in our fast-moving, complex world. Many want to create their own learning journeys through a blend of face-to-face, virtual, digital, coaching, and immersive opportunities.

Serve society as well as shareholders

Although researchers highlight the need for business to serve society as well as shareholders as one of 2020’s biggest business challenges, only 6% of our webinar participants selected this as their top priority.

A recent PwC survey found that 64% of UK CEOs believe climate change poses a threat to their business. This has leapt up from 44% in 2019.

Liza talked about the need for business leaders to move beyond traditional corporate social responsibility and think more widely about their impact on society and what purpose they serve beyond making money.

More and more customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders now expect organisations to have a social conscience and to demonstrate what they are doing in this area.

Liza highlighted the increasing importance of character-based leadership, which transcends what we have become familiar with in terms of integrity and ethics in order to truly differentiate great leaders. People’s expectations of leaders and organisations are changing. We want our leaders to be more open and more accessible. HR needs the courage to hold leaders to account and to help them listen when challenged by others.

Want to know more?

These are just a few highlights from a very interesting webinar. We’re currently editing the webinar recording so you can listen to Liza and Simon’s insights in full. If you’d like us to email you a link, let us know. We’ll send it to you as soon as it’s ready.

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