Perspective: Shift mindset and re-imagine your future talent solutions

Written by
Ian C. Woodward, Professor, INSEAD

16 Feb 2021

16 Feb 2021 • by Ian C. Woodward, Professor, INSEAD

An evolving mindset towards leadership and recruitment is a must in changing times. Ian C. Woodward explores the way forward.

The 21st century is a time of “firestorm disruption”. High velocity, transformative changes to the way people are living, working, consuming and doing business - driven by digitisation, technology, innovation and new business models.

To develop the strategic options needed to take advantage of firestorm disruption, we urge a high-priority shift in mindsets for strategic leadership thinking based on the research in our book, The Phoenix Encounter Method: Lead Like Your Business Is On Fire! 

That research identified many trends requiring different thinking at the leadership table. COVID-19 is significantly accelerating almost all of these. To help the mindset switch, we advocated the leadership habit of proactively scanning the environment well beyond one's industry and geography to generate different, and often radical options.

Looking further afield

For example, a future-facing view of talent capabilities must be included in the strategic debate for all senior leaders. We came across some leaders whose mindset allowed that. We also found a lot of leaders whose thinking was trapped in the past.

Consider for a moment the potential impact of future faster-evolving mobile talent pools for your talent solutions agenda – and what mindset is needed to reimagine these.

COVID-19 has forced a dramatically greater utilisation of remote and virtual work. This trend was already there – in the US, telecommuting with enterprise employees (not self-employed) had more than doubled in the decade before COVID-19. The proportion of gig economy independent workers employed by multiple organizations also increased. Post-pandemic it is hard to imagine a sizeable proportion of the talent pool not wanting more flexibility. This would necessitate transforming workplace policies as well as government regulations.

High value skills to replace structured tasks

Business disruption’s most potent change agent has been technology. Obvious COVID-19 impacts include dramatic increases in video communication and e-business activity (commerce, operational processes and collaboration systems). But COVID-19 is also accelerating use of technologies like AI and robotics. More future jobs will be transformed with technology-enabled automation taking over structured and predictable tasks. 2019 research suggested that 30% of workplace tasks could be automated by the mid-2030’s. COVID-19 will bring this much closer. This makes the talent agenda even more acute as those who have higher value skills like strategic thinking and problem solving combined with emotional intelligence and leadership capacity will be in even greater demand.

Diversity (gender, cultural, intergenerational) is crucial to widening and deepening talent pools. COVID-19 digital transformation will increase the global mobility velocity of diverse talent. Talent pools are wider, but so are potential global individual work choices. 

For example, my 2018 research highlighted the paramount importance to the younger Generation Z as well as to millennials, of a higher sense of purpose; psychologically safe team-based collaboration; as well as enhanced personal learning, growth, development and promotion opportunities. The mindsets of these generations are infrequently at the table of older leadership teams. In a current research project, early evidence indicates that younger talent is wanting much more personalised support and flexibility at a time of forced remote working, and potential changes in employer sponsored benefits to meet their own desires (such as recreation activities to better manage the remote work/life balance).

Individual purpose more important than ever

Future talent solutions can utilise the advantages of remote work experiences in terms of productivity, colleague communication, collaboration and flexibility. They must also account for highlighted challenges such as achieving a common sense of purpose, feelings of isolation and lack of appreciation, and the sense that controlling one’s own work/life priorities is compromised.

The mindset of leaders for the post COVID-19 talent debate must not be: “return to business-as-usual.” But rather, “how should we work in the future, what talent will we need, and what will this talent want?”  

The overused phrase in leadership speeches has to expand: “our people are our most valuable, mobile, flexible and individually cared for asset.” This is a new leadership mindset for many.

Ian C. Woodward is a professor of management practice at INSEAD, director of its flagship leadership course, the “Advanced Management Programme”, and co-author of the book: The Phoenix Encounter Method: Lead Like Your Business Is On Fire! 

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