Leadership lessons from Leonardo

In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci sent a job application letter to Ludovico Sforza, the archduke of Milan. Knowing his future employer was enmeshed in frequent military battles, the letter described Leonardo’s prowess at designing war machines, diverting rivers, building bridges, and designing weapons. He concluded his resume with the greatest understatement in art history: “I can also do … painting.”1 Indeed.
A pioneer in disciplines including fluid dynamics, optics, cartography, engineering, aviation, and anatomy, it was Leonardo’s ability to bring his science to art—and his art to science—that distinguished him in such a range of fields.

Leadership in these complex times similarly requires an adept mix of art and science—gut instinct balanced with data-driven decision-making, creativity coupled with systems thinking. And we can look to the works—and workstyle—of this Renaissance master to glean insights on how to deftly blend art and science in our own leadership.

“Principles for the development of a complete mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses—especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”2

  • Leonardo da Vinci

Lessons from Leonardo were already apparent in one of his earliest paintings, the Ginevra de’ Benci, a portrait of a 16-year-old Italian aristocrat3 currently exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It’s believed to have been painted between 1474 and 1478, and is the only painting by Leonardo in the Americas.
Exploring this painting reveals five lessons in leadership.

Find unexpected connections
In the Ginevra, Leonardo enhanced the realism of the portrait by making unexpected connections across multiple disciplines. For example:

Optics: Into the early Renaissance, most paintings were flat and two-dimensional. Because of Leonardo’s painstaking studies of the geometry of optics, he was one of the first major artists to achieve visual depth via one-point perspective4 by painting with reference to a single vanishing point on the horizon.

The artist also recognized atmospheric perspective: Objects that are farther in the distance appear to have less distinct edges, and a color shift toward blue occurs due to the atmosphere—both of which appear in the distance in the Ginevra. Leonardo’s observation skills may have been well-honed at a young age since both phenomena were apparent when viewing the town of Vinci from the porch of his birthplace.5

Fluid dynamics: Leonardo was also committed to the study of fluid dynamics.6 His journals abound with sketches of the flow of water—such as around the abutments of a bridge spanning the Arno River—and his famous whirlpool in The Maelstrom. The curls of Ginevra’s hair mimic multiple such water studies, an image Leonardo also emulated in the curls of the angels’ hair in his famous Virgin of the Rocks.
Psychology and physiology: Leonardo even connected the dots (apologies to the Impressionists) with psychology and physiology. Through dissection, he learned about the 27 different muscle structures in the face. By painting the faint nuances of those muscles in Ginevra’s face, he was able to communicate lifelike emotion.7

While you might not turn to fluid dynamics or physiology in your day-to-day work, Leonardo demonstrated that finding unexpected connections requires a leader to intentionally engage nontraditional disciplines. Research finds that “there’s great power in bringing together people who work in fields that are different from one another yet that are analogous on a deep structural level.”8 For example, philosophy has much to contribute to business, and some corporations now engage epistemological philosophers to advance AI and cognitive capabilities, and ethicists to help with purpose and moral decision-making amidst complex societal challenges.9

Challenge your frame
The Ginevra’s provenance demonstrates the damage leaders can cause when they try to fit every issue into their own frame. The Ginevra is displayed in a 15-inch by 15-inch square frame, but removing the painting from the frame reveals that the painting was sawed off on its right side and bottom. A significant portion of one of the greatest art pieces in the world was destroyed, presumably because it didn’t fit into an owner’s predefined frame. Art experts have tried to determine what the original painting may have looked like by connecting the dots between Ginevra’s silhouette and a related sketch of a woman’s hands found in Leonardo’s journals.10 Imagine how this expanded view could have added to the emotions evoked by the painting just by the positioning of this young woman’s hands.

Leaders should consider challenging the strategic frames within which their organization operates and redraw those frames out of either opportunity or necessity. During the pandemic, Airbnb broadened its frame from booking vacation rentals to providing virtual travel experiences. Uber expanded its frame from moving people to moving food too. And medical doctors globally redrew the physical boundaries of diagnosis and treatment from office to home via telehealth.

Sometimes organizations also need to tighten their strategic frames. Since its inception, Zoom prioritized the ease of customer experience, such as by displaying the meeting ID in the upper corner of the screen to share with new invitees. In the early days of the pandemic, the virtual meeting provider had to rapidly redraw its boundaries to tighten security and confidentiality when users—including world leaders—began sharing screenshots on social media of their virtual meetings during lockdown, unintentionally revealing their meeting IDs.11

See through others’ experiences
What a viewer sees in the Ginevra depends on the lens they bring to the painting. An artist may notice techniques perfected by Leonardo to depict depth, such as chiaroscuro (the use of shadows based on how light falls on images) and sfumato (smokiness rather than hard lines on the subject’s jaw). A symbolist might recognize how Leonardo was communicating the subject’s character: The church steeple represented piety and the juniper branch was a sign of virtue in Italian culture.12 A Latin scholar might notice not just symbolism but also playful humor, the Latin word for juniper (ginepra) being a play on the subject’s name.13 And a forensic investigator may be intrigued to find Leonardo’s fingerprint embedded behind Ginevra’s right shoulder.

Stepping into someone else’s experience opens our own eyes as leaders to a richer depth of insights. Each year on Founder’s Day, the McDonald’s corporate office empties and its senior leaders work at the grills, front counters, fry stations, and drive-through windows of hundreds of their restaurants around the world—giving them a chance to see the experience from customers’ and store associates’ vantage points.14

Similarly, experiencing diverse strengths, skill sets, and viewpoints can help illuminate new ideas. The Santa Fe Institute, a research center focused on the study of complex systems, brings together business, scientific, educational, and other leaders, connecting multiple lived experiences and mindsets to “understand and unify the underlying, shared patterns in complex physical, biological, social, cultural, technological”15 systems in pursuit of a common goal.

Notice—and make use of—the patterns
Patterns and rhythms are replete in mathematics, nature, and design. One such pattern—the golden rectangle16—is considered to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing and calming figures to the eye, and therefore, architects and designers have embraced it for centuries. Structures such as the Parthenon17 and the Taj Mahal exhibit this underlying pattern, and even today’s 16:9 TV screen approximates it.

Leonardo composed Ginevra’s portrait so that her face and bodice form a golden rectangle, and a bisection of the rectangle goes through her dominant eye. Further, we see a similar pattern in Leonardo’s two other well-known female portraits, the Lady with the Ermine and the Mona Lisa.18 Leonardo recognized that by embracing these natural patterns and reproducing them in his paintings, he could amplify the impact and aesthetics of his art. He was such an expert on the use of geometry in art that he illustrated Luca Paciolo’s classic bookThe Divine Proportion (the title being a synonym for the golden ratio).19

Notice and be conscious of the patterns that enable you, and those that impede you. We’re surrounded by patterns and rhythms: Company culture is a pattern; team structures are patterns; operating models are patterns. They’re all designed to bring structure, order, and consistency to an organization. Patterns can also be unhealthy, such as organizational silos (which tended to fall during the pandemic but are rapidly being rebuilt in many organizations). As leaders, we need to embrace the constructive patterns and ask what else they enable us to do, while naming the destructive patterns so that they can be dismantled.

For our own personal leadership journeys, rhythms are critical. How much of the fatigue and imbalance we often sense as leaders is a function of our fighting against natural rhythms such as sleep cycles, healthy eating patterns, and regularly disconnecting? In The Power of Full Engagement, the authors argue that the key to productivity is not time management but energy management. Their studies of multiple high-performing executives reveal that the “richest, happiest, and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal.”20

Look around the corner
The Ginevra is Leonardo’s only artwork painted on both sides. The back of the poplar panel is adorned with the words, “Beauty adorns virtue,” written in Latin against a backdrop of juniper and palm fronds. Although Ginevra’s visage greets visitors upon entering the gallery, the painting is mounted on a floating wall so that patrons can walk around it to view the reverse. Regrettably, many visitors to the gallery don’t “look around the corner” and, therefore, miss half of Leonardo’s paintings exhibited in the Americas.

Get up, walk around, and both literally and metaphorically look around the corners of your own organization and industry to evade orthodoxy, pinpoint risks, and enhance performance. As my colleagues Steve Goldbach and Geoff Tuff describe, “Innovation lore is littered with stories of brilliant minds coming to disrupt industry norms by seeing past [orthodoxy],”21 citing as an example the “corners” that traditional watchmakers failed to look around while smartwatches became the bestselling timepiece in the industry in just two years.22 In strategy workshops for our clients, we often have one breakout group assume the role of the C-suite of the biggest competitor—or a company in a totally different industry—to strategize how to disrupt the company from that new perspective. It’s an excellent exercise to become aware of preconceived barriers and corners.

To the best of our knowledge, Leonardo da Vinci never built or tested any of the designs he penned in his journals. In fact, the multiple war machines and weapons he described in his letter to Sforza were all conceptual, and Leonardo was considered a pacifist. Yet almost 500 years after his death, MRI technology proved that Leonardo’s journal drawing of a tripartite heart valve accurately depicted the workings of the circulatory system.23 Wings that he designed after thousands of hours of observing birds in flight were proven airworthy on a test flight captured by a National Geographic Society photographer in 2000.24 And an Italian loom that was posthumously built to Leonardo’s specifications in the 17th century is still weaving fine fabrics in Tuscany,25 the only known design of Leonardo’s in regular operation.

Leonardo offers us, as leaders, simple but profound wisdom for seeking the convergence of art and science: “It is useful to constantly observe, note, and consider.”26 His advice is as understated as his resume.

Brenna Sniderman of Deloitte’s Center for Integrated Research contributed to this article.


Beyond the job

ver since Adam Smith wrote about the division of labor over a century ago, jobs have been the dominating structure for organizing work. Managers give feedback, hire, promote, and organize their teams around people in “jobs”—discrete sets of fixed responsibilities. We write job descriptions, set compensation levels, create organizational charts, assign training, and manage performance—all around these predefined jobs.

But the very notion of the job is increasingly becoming a relic of the industrial era. This approach worked well when organizations were stable and predictable, and when they competed more on scalable efficiency than on speed, innovation, and agility.
If there’s a single thread running through the narratives on the future of work, it’s that we’re moving away from the mechanistic, industrial models of the past to a more fluid, human, and digital future in which our organizations, people, and work organically adapt in real time—and one with an ever-expanding portfolio of stakeholders, workforces, work options, workplaces, and strategic futures that can no longer be categorized into simple boxes. To adapt to a changing world, we need to build something far more fit for a world in which speed, agility, and innovation rule the day, and in which people expect more meaning, choice, growth, and autonomy at work.

In recent years, the thinking on the future of work has focused on the need to reconfigure jobs—not to reimagine or replace them entirely. The reasoning goes like this: As alternative approaches to work have emerged such as artificial intelligence, automation, and off-balance-sheet talent, we need to disaggregate the job into component tasks, determine which tasks can be performed more optimally by smart machines or alternative talent outside of the organization’s walls, and then reassemble the remaining tasks with new ones to create a newly reconfigured job. Employees are then reskilled, upskilled, or outskilled to once again meet the needs of the newly reconfigured job, with automation substituting for, augmenting, or transforming the human worker’s role (figure 1).

Figure 1. Work beyond jobs
But this approach is a top-down, engineering-like approach still rooted in a mechanistic mindset that doesn’t give workers much choice or agency. Too often, the focus is on chasing efficiency and cost reduction instead of opening up new opportunities to unlock growth and value. And the world is simply changing too fast to go through this process again and again each time a new technology emerges, markets shift, or new opportunities emerge.

If anything has shown the need for greater agility, it has been the pandemic. Forced to become more agile, organizations fluidly moved people to where the work was; created agile, cross-functional SWAT teams to tackle complex problems; and experimented with new work models. For many of us, the pandemic enabled work to become more emergent than engineered.

How do we go about organizing work beyond the constraints of the traditional job in a way that creates a kind of dynamic stability that unleashes the potential of both organizations and people at scale and speed?

To move beyond the industrialization of work and jobs, organizations are generally moving in two directions. In one, organizations seek to atomize the work and the worker, deconstructing both into their component parts (tasks or projects, skills and capabilities), and then using new advances in technology to rapidly match the “pieces” of work and worker based on evolving needs and interests. The other direction seeks to organize work by creating very broad commitments to problems to be solved, outcomes to be achieved, or new sources of value to be created, essentially providing guardrails for workers in terms of the broad “what” of work but giving them the freedom and autonomy to choose the “how” (figure 1).

Fractionalizing work into component tasks can lend itself to farming out work to gig or other off-balance-sheet workers, thereby undermining the stability, purpose, opportunities for growth, and stable income achieved through employment that most workers desire. For this reason, we aren’t going to discuss gig economy options here, preferring to look at how organizations can create stable homes for workers as employees, and as part of their commitment to stakeholder capitalism, while still empowering them with the autonomy, agency, and choice that many enjoy as gig workers.

In reality, these are two ends of a fluid spectrum of options, with many alternatives in between. Organizations will want to use different options for different workforces or businesses. Indeed, there’s still a place for traditional jobs in most organizations, but that should be perceived as one of many options for organizations (figure 2).

Figure 2. The multitude of options beyond the job
Fractionalize work and the workforce
Unbundling work from the job and dividing it into component pieces unleashes people’s ability to swarm: to dynamically flow to the work by taking on short-term challenges, opportunities, tasks, projects, or assignments that span job titles and departments. Unboxing people from jobs and deconstructing them into their full range of skills, experience, and interests enables them to be seen as unique individuals beyond their job descriptions, with significant diversity, equity, and inclusion implications.

New technology developed by companies such as Eightfold AI, Gloat, and Hitch enable employees to have visibility into projects and assignments anywhere in an organization, and suggest and match potential opportunities based on interests, availability, and AI-inferred skills. This is partial fractionalization where employees maintain their standard job but can also take on additional work elsewhere as needed or desired.

Using such a project marketplace, employees at Tata Communications contribute to a project in addition to their core job responsibilities. HERE Technologies allows employees to carve out time from their core job responsibilities (for example, 5% or 20%, or sometimes 100% of their time) for the duration of the project or task, negotiated between managers. Kelley Steven-Waiss, former chief human resources officer of HERE and founder of Hitch.works, calls this the principle of “you get what you give”: You give the time of your employees to others, but you also get the ability to leverage talent from elsewhere in the organization.1

In large part, consulting firms work like this today, as do internal, project-based consulting groups or data science teams that are “rented” out to other functions in the firm. At Haier, the entire organization of more than 75,000 employees works in a fully fractionalized model, with an internal talent market that governs the deployment of talent focused on specific projects. The core organizational units are self-organizing, fluid microenterprises, each with 10 to 15 employees. All talent can join, start, or move to a microenterprise at will. Microenterprises are grouped into platforms, responsible for getting teams together and helping identify opportunities for collaboration. There are only three categories of employees—the platform owner, the microenterprise owner, and the entrepreneur—with no higher or lower rank.2

Haier also enables internal and external entrepreneurs (employees and independent contractors) to join microenterprises and platforms.3 We’re seeing signs of the convergence of types of talent marketplaces: internal talent marketplaces, external gig marketplaces, the cross-company talent exchanges that emerged in the pandemic, and even internal talent marketplaces that connect with one another.

Fractionalizing work is very useful in a fast-changing work environment, but it can risk over-indexing on skills, and the quantification of people and specialization—ultimately risking its goal of humanizing work entirely. Managers may only want to engage with employees who already have the proven skills they need, for example, sacrificing employee development.

It may also lead to what Tom Malone predicted back in 2011 as the dawning age of “hyperspecialization” in which work previously done by one person is divided into more specialized pieces done by multiple people, achieving improvements in quality, speed, and cost.4 The danger? People can become too specialized in specific skill areas, lack the incentive to grow and develop in new ways, or have little scope to improvise or add more value. Slicing work too thin can turn “that’s not my job” into “that’s not my task” and prevent people from having the big-picture view that enables them to spot opportunities that will reinvent the future.

With the right decision frameworks, culture, and guidelines, organizations can avoid such risks and accelerate workforce resilience, agility, and capability, and impact the future of work.5 Indeed, fractionalization is more of a wholesale operating model reinvention than it is a technology play, demanding an entirely new set of work, talent, and management practices to support it (figure 3).

Figure 3. New practices for fractionalizing work
Broaden work and the workforce
Instead of atomizing jobs into pieces, an alternative is to broaden them so that the focus is on the broad outcomes to be achieved or problems to be solved. With latitude in defining the “how” of work in pursuit of broad objectives, employees get the opportunity to take on bigger, more integrated roles and responsibilities that often cross functional boundaries and enable them to develop new skills and gain experience.

For decades, businesses have gradually embraced worker empowerment, with the move to DevOps, agile, intrapreneurship, teams of teams with distributed control and centralized coordination, self-management, edge-centric decision-making, and “teal organizations” all signaling a direction away from rigid jobs. Many organizations have broadened roles for limited periods of time—for example, through Hackathons, IdeaJams, and Google’s famous “20 percent time” for engineers to spend time on any project they feel will most benefit the company. So too is LinkedIn’s “InDays,” for which employees are given one day per month to focus on something they’re passionate about or that inspires them.6 But too often, organizations simply bolt these approaches onto legacy jobs and expectations.

A few organizations are fully embracing broadened roles, either at the individual or team level. Consider tomato processor Morning Star, where no one has a job title. Instead, each employee drafts their own outcomes and problems to be solved. For example, one worker’s personal mission is to turn tomatoes into juice in a way that’s highly efficient and environmentally responsible.

The statement then describes how they’ll work to achieve the objectives—including whom they collaborate with and what decision rights they have—and that description is then approved by coworkers. Only two management layers exist: the president, who makes strategic decisions, and everyone else. But the organization isn’t flat; authority (and pay) is based on expertise and value created rather than positional power.

“We believe you should do what you’re good at, so we don’t try to fit people into a job,” says Paul Green Jr., who led the company’s training and development efforts. “As a result, our people have broader and more complicated roles than elsewhere.”7 Employees are also held accountable by their peers. Several compensation committees, each composed of peers and elected by peers, work to validate self-assessments.

To help employees spot new opportunities and think like owners, Morning Star makes all financial data transparent to employees and invests in education that ensures that employees understand not only their costs, but also the value they’re creating. Results are impressive: Morning Star has grown its volume, revenue, and profit by double-digit percentages annually for the past two decades.8

ING Netherlands, in contrast, defines work around team outcomes rather than individual ones. Its organizational building block is multidisciplinary teams or squads—comprising a mix of marketing specialists, product and commercial specialists, user experience designers, data analysts, and IT engineers—all focused on a shared outcome.

Similar to Morning Star, each squad has to write down the purpose of what it’s working on, agree on a way of measuring the impact, and decide on how to manage its daily activities.

Squads are part of 13 tribes that address specific domains, such as mortgage services, securities, and private banking. Tribes meet quarterly to celebrate and learn from successes and failures, and align with the overall strategy and other tribes and squads. Chapters coordinate members of the same discipline—data analytics, say, or systems processes—who are scattered among squads.

To support the new model, ING introduced a new performance management program emphasizing ongoing feedback, the alignment of individual and organizational purpose, self-defined targets based on contributions to the team, and personal “stretch ambitions” to encourage innovation over incremental improvements. Broadened jobs meant that ING reduced the number of job types from approximately 85 to 15, including retiring the traditional full-time manager role. HR Director Maarten van Beek explains: “I strongly believe that, in future organizations, we need to match people’s skills with the jobs that need to be done. We have to move away from functions, fixed jobs, and function houses.”9

The opportunity to shed the notion of the job as a relic of the industrial era in favor of broadly defined roles has never been greater. Due to new advances in technology, we can arm every employee with the data and insights to make smarter decisions. The advent of human-machine collaboration means that work processes can become far more iterative in a test-and-learn cycle of work. As technology increasingly automates routine tasks, it frees people to apply their capabilities to creative problem-solving.

Even though advances in tech are making it easier to successfully broaden roles, there’s a countertrend on the rise: using automation and AI to more tightly control how people do their jobs and tasks that takes Tayloresque tracking and control to radical, new heights. Companies are now using AI to do everything from tracking and guiding a warehouse worker’s hand movements, to directing truck drivers’ routes and schedules, to providing differing call center scripts based on AI-categorized customer issues. Instead, companies should consider using AI to empower workers to make better decisions on their own and spot new opportunities.

Although broadening work grants more autonomy to employees, the trade-off is the abandonment of the idea that there’s one best way to do things. Instead, control is achieved through the clear articulation of broad outcomes, mutual accountability, transparent information-sharing, and strong cultural principles, values, and norms fostered through longer employee tenures. Rewards based on shared outcomes incent employees to creatively generate more value, but intrinsic motivation achieved through aligning work with purpose and passion is the real driver of performance (figure 4).

Figure 4. New practices for broadening work
It can also take quite a bit of coaching, cultural change, and hard work to engage employees in solving unanticipated problems and freely working toward outcomes. Many people prefer to think in terms of tangible, narrow rules and predefined tasks, and may be less comfortable with work that continually evolves based on specific contexts and challenges.

To transition, organizations can gradually expand the scope of the broadened role, start employees with predefined problems, and start providing the data, tools, and AI support to help employees make more of their own decisions. AI can even be used to help: Klick Health’s Genome machine learning technology, for example, analyzes every project at every stage in the firm, rewarding more responsibility to people who have demonstrated consistent competency and success.10

Compared to fractionalization, broadening work focuses more on nonroutine tasks and emergent work rather than on tasks and projects predefined by managers, boosting an organization’s “surface area” to innovate and adapt. Workers never fall into the trap of “that’s not my task or project.” But it may also be more difficult for employees to fluidly move around the organization, thereby making it harder to cross-pollinate ideas or smooth out differences in skill supply and demand.

Unlike fractionalization, the focus is less on specific hard skills and more on broad human capabilities such as the problem-solving, curiosity, and creativity necessary to identify problems and opportunities, and then develop, test, and iterate on solutions. Specific skills tend to be learned on the job and grow over time in the flow of work itself. Although people may not have the opportunity to use their full range of skills as they might with a fractionalized approach, neither do they risk being treated as fungible skills in a competitive marketplace. Instead of seeing the world as fractured but interchangeable parts to be configured and reconfigured at will, work and people are viewed more as dynamic systems.

Tiptoeing into the future of work
Moving beyond the job as the primary organizing construct for work is an audacious undertaking requiring a wholesale change in what it means to work, how we support it, and how we fundamentally view workers—and one that will upend the very structures and mindsets we’ve become habituated to since the dawn of the Second Industrial Revolution.

But jobs as we know them are a product of their time, a rigid solution that no longer serves today’s dynamic, more complex problems. We need entirely new approaches to mobilizing and coordinating human effort—moving from people boxed into jobs to roles built around the individual; from mechanistic to organic structures; and from workers viewed as “resources” or “capital” to workers as whole, complex contributors filled with potential.

Although it might be a daunting proposition to think about doing away with jobs entirely, you can tiptoe your way into the future of work. Start inching forward by experimenting with a hybrid option close to the traditional job. Pick your spot to experiment, focusing on where the organization might have challenges or pain points, where automation is freeing up extra capacity, or where change is happening so fast that talent practices can’t keep pace. Over time, gradually seek to further fractionalize or broaden work and try out different approaches for different types of work or workforces. Ultimately, you can use a variety of ways to organize work, pushing beyond “the job” to unleash agility and unprecedented value for your organization and employees.


What corporate training can learn from football

Learning from great sports leaders isn’t new for the business world. After all, sport, like business, is a combination of science and art. You apply a set of principles based on what works (call it strategy), but you never forget that you’re dealing with people – and getting individuals to express themselves through performance is critical.

In his book Wenger: My Life in Red and White, Arsene Wenger articulates a set of learnings from his career as one of the best football managers in history. Many of his key points are directly relevant to corporate training, job performance, and why a professional apprentice model is now emerging. For too long, we’ve had a significant gap between the way people are trained for jobs, and the work they’re then expected to do. Looking through the lens of football, this feels quite obvious.

You don’t know if you’ve got it until you play
It would be ridiculous to judge a footballer based on their ability to write about football. Imagine the absurdity of sending them to a classroom to learn about the game, assigning their playing time based on their essay scores, and then only seeing them on the pitch once they’ve finished studying. So why does corporate training do that?

Corporate training tends to pull people away from their jobs, give them a bunch of content, and judge them based on their performance in an artificial setting. What happens when the opposing team changes their offensive strategy? Or when the CEO needs a recommendation in a week, not six months?

The professional apprentice model is a lot like football. It means training happens in real time. Professional apprentices are full-time employees expected to deliver and perform. They’re doing a job, while getting ongoing training and coaching to inform it. How does the coach know if the person can perform in the real world? Well, because they’re performing in the real world – and the coach is directly responsible for making that happen.

On the pitch, not in a book, is where to look for performance
Wenger writes extensively about the nutrition innovations he brought to his players. The idea of getting players to eat healthily was so novel in his early days at Arsenal, players would head into matches chanting “we want our Mars bars!”. Of course, they eventually came around.

The point here is to separate learning content from learning application. Learning content has been conflated with education itself. But content is just content. It’s something you can read in a book or watch online. What matters in education is what actually happens in application. That’s why good instruction matters. We all know what it feels like to struggle through a science book, then have a brilliant instructor break it down for us in the lab. Imagine if we’d never had that lab. Imagine if footballers were told about healthy eating, but never went through the pain of switching from Mars bars to kale.

So how does this work in professional apprenticeships? Well, concepts are applied and revisited, applied and revisited, and judgement and nuance developed. Just as a great midfielder will learn to operate differently in every single set of circumstances, a professional apprentice learns to apply their skills in different situations as they master their own field.

You don’t need a classroom instructor – you need a coach
Imagine you’re suddenly asked to acquire new skills to help your company succeed under pressures from competitors. Would you want to learn from an instructor focused on giving you knowledge? Or would you want a coach: someone who’s done the job, is obsessed with the difference between good and great, and can offer real-time correction?

That’s how football works. Your coach is in the details. They watch videos and analyse your work. They’re not obsessed with knowledge, but performance. This isn’t the case for most business training.

Post-match report
Of course, good education and training must include instruction and analysis outside the day-to-day job. Effective learning requires us to practise some things before we jump in fully. But I don’t think it’s controversial to say our current system is pretty off balance. Instead, imagine a world where preparation and training for professional careers:

Happens in the context of your job
Focuses on performance as what matters and indicates success
Is delivered through coaching, personalised to you
It makes a lot of sense, and this world is coming sooner than you think.
Lisa Barrett is vice president of learning, innovation and operations at Multiverse

How to develop a high-impact team

“The Dream Team.” It was the name given to the 1992 US men’s Olympic basketball team composed of some of the greats of the game, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and John Stockton. We’ve seen dream teams in other sports, of course—Brazil’s 1970 football team that won the World Cup; the 1980 USSR Olympic ice hockey “red machine” team; and the US team that won the 2019 Women’s World Cup. We’ve seen dense concentrations of star talent working under the influence of strong leadership in other fields throughout history, too, such as the artists of the Italian Renaissance or the five-time Nobel laureates of the Curie family.

Cover art for Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact, by Liz Wiseman.

We also find dream teams inside our modern workplaces. The best leaders don’t just stumble upon such teams; they know how to build a dream team, even under challenging circumstances. And they do this not by focusing on one or two impact players but by carefully curating team members with the right mindset; developing them as individuals and as a team; and nurturing a robust, healthy culture.

When you’re a leader building a team, sometimes you can recruit and stack the deck in your favor; this is especially likely if you work in an organization that is actively bringing in new talent. However, few corporate managers have the luxury of handpicking and assembling their dream team from the start. More often, you must create your dream team by conjuring brilliance from a group of inherited employees. In this case, it’s your job to grow the talent you already have. To do this, you need to create an environment in which the right mindsets and behaviors can flourish, and then you need to implement five key coaching habits.

Creating safety that enables stretch
The best leaders cultivate a climate that is both comfortable and intense. They remove fear and provide the security that invites people to do their best thinking. At the same time, they establish an energizing, intense environment that demands people’s best efforts.

What occurs when you create only one of these conditions? What happens when you stretch people without first building a foundation of safety, trust, and respect? The onslaught of challenges produces debilitating anxiety rather than growth. On the other hand, if you foster a supportive environment but never ask others to do something truly difficult, your people feel appreciated but stagnant. People perform and grow best with equal doses of safety and stretch.

Five high-impact coaching habits
The following five leadership habits will encourage the right behavior in a team—the first two establish an environment of safety; the last three provide stretch.

Define the W.I.N. If you want the people on your team to venture beyond artificial job boundaries and do what’s needed, help them see what’s most important at any given time. Sharing strategic imperatives or annual objectives is a good start, but we all know these goals tend to evolve as the environment changes. You can help your team know where to focus by defining the W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) and keeping it front and center.

People perform and grow best with equal doses of safety and stretch.

For instance, when I was working as a vice president of Oracle University, the sheer volume of programs we ran made it difficult to keep our priorities straight. But we needed to shift our energy toward several new initiatives. Instead of calling a management meeting or distributing a document to all staff, I posted three top-priority initiatives on the door of my office. The list was short, probably no more than ten words. Letting people know what’s important doesn’t require elaborate presentations or expensive communication campaigns—you simply need to share what’s at the top of your mental to-do list.

Redefine leadership. Innovation is increasingly becoming a team sport, requiring diverse perspectives and collective intelligence. These innovation-focused teams tend to be ephemeral. They form, collaborate, and disband quickly. Team members need to be able to step up and step back with equal ease. To participate in this fast, fluid model of leadership, less assertive employees (and those uninterested in careers in management) will likely need help stepping up. To get these reluctant leaders to step up and then step back, provide a path of retreat. Show them that being a designated leader can be a temporary assignment, existing for the duration of a project or even for just a single meeting.

Some team members will need encouragement and support to become “step-up” leaders, but others will do so with ease. It can take work to then get them to step back and support others. You can help these people develop a more fluid leadership style by modeling healthy followership practices. Let them see you collaborating with a peer organization or contributing to a project led by someone below you in the management hierarchy. Show your team that you can work as passionately as a follower as you do as a leader and that excelling as a follower is part of growing as a leader.

Ask your people to stay until the job is done. If we want people who work for us to finish strong, we might need to insist that they finish one job before moving on to the next. Consider the story Dan Rose, chairman of Coatue Management, recounted on Twitter about what he learned while working at Amazon.

One week before Dan was scheduled to begin his new job, Diego Piacentini, Amazon’s worldwide head of retail and Dan’s future boss, called Dan into his office. “He explained [that] you don’t get rewarded with new opportunities when you’re doing a bad job,” Dan recounted. “He would allow me to join [the] Kindle team as soon as I got my current business back on track and hired a successor who was stronger than me.”

When we hold people accountable for finishing their work, we send a powerful message that their work matters and that we believe they are strong enough to stay in the game, even when things get tough.

Provide performance intel. People generally need two types of information to achieve top performance. The first is clear direction: What is the target, and why is it important? (In other words, the W.I.N.) The second is performance feedback: Am I hitting the target? Am I doing it right? Think of feedback as critical information—data that people need in order to calibrate and adjust their approach—rather than a critique. When feedback is simply much-needed information, and not a personal judgment, the feedback is easier to both share and receive. As my teenage son Josh recently said to me when I brushed off his repeated suggestion that I change a setting on my smartphone, “I’m not telling you you’re an idiot. I’m just giving you important information.”

State what you appreciate. In my research, I’ve been struck by the number of managers who admit that they’ve never communicated to the people who work for them what they most and least appreciate about what they do. Managers, if you want your staff members to make work light for you and others, make a practice of flagging behavior that you appreciate. When someone does something to make your work easier, say, “When you do X, it’s easier for me to do Y.”

Elise Noorda is the president of a 300-person youth symphony and choir in Las Vegas run entirely by volunteers. Just a few weeks before a performance, the atmosphere was tense because the teenagers were acting like teenagers, which frustrated the adult volunteers. That, in turn, made Elise’s management job even harder.

One night after rehearsal, while Elise was meeting with the adults, she spoke to Holly, a volunteer who managed the nightly mid-rehearsal snack break. “Holly, you’re doing a great job,” she said. “You feed 300 people in ten minutes and make it fun. When you create a fun atmosphere during the break, it helps the rest of the rehearsal go smoothly.” The next rehearsal fell on Halloween, and Holly took snack time to a whole new level: festive treats, spooky decorations, and a fog machine. The lightened atmosphere spread through the rest of the rehearsal. The entire team got the message and followed Holly’s example, keeping everyone’s temper down and spirits up for the rest of the season. Elise said, “I let Holly know, in front of a bunch of people, ‘Hey, I love what you’re doing,’ and it affected every area of our work.”

Sustaining a winning culture
As you create the right environment and implement these coaching habits, you will start to build something more powerful than a few strong players on your team. You will create a culture—a set of norms and values about how work gets done—that will persist long after your team disperses. Your culture will be filled with a sense of adventure and a productive combination of initiative and accountability. People will have the confidence they need to learn and innovate and the agility to adapt to moving targets. Your organization will have the collective strength to tackle hard problems, navigate ambiguous situations, and pursue opportunities.


What’s on the Minds of the Leaders Running the Fastest-Growing Companies in the U.S.


How Inc. 5000 Companies Have Funded Their Growth

79% funded mostly internally (revenue).
13% funded 50-50 internally and externally.
8% funded mostly externally (loans or fundraising).

Percentage of Inc. 5000 Companies That Expect to End 2021 Profitably

43: Percentage of companies that jumped on new opportunities and target markets during the pandemic
31: Percentage of companies whose growth will exceed expectations. Over a quarter of those businesses will blow past their projections by more than 100 percent.

Exit Plans

7% want to IPO.
64% want to sell.
12% want to pass their companies to family.
17% haven’t yet thought about an exit strategy.


Top 5 Biggest Challenges Now

Hiring and retaining employees: 60%
Managing fast growth: 58%
Staying focused: 30%
Improving risk management: 29%
Communicating with consumers via social media: 26%

Taking Care Of People

27% of CEOs are not the highest-paid people at their own companies.
33% plan to lead differently post-pandemic by being more visible and communicating more with employees.
15% plan to do more leadership development and succession planning.

During the recession, Inc. 5000 CEOs were more likely to make cuts elsewhere than head count:

59% cut expenses unrelated to salaries or hours.
42% delayed or cut executive pay.
17% reduced head count.
14% delayed payments to vendors or lenders.


Biggest Workforce Challenge Now

42% Burnout
23% Employee churn
22% Lost social capital
49% plan to increase employees’ ability to work from home.

Inc. 5000 companies are actively working to diversify their teams:

51% are expanding their talent sources.
34% are identifying and developing diverse high performers already in the company.
30% have created a formal strategy to boost diversity.
28% are contacting schools and social organizations to build a new talent pipeline.
20% have reworked job descriptions to eliminate bias.
5% have added more diversity to their boards.

What’s it like running one of the fastest-growing businesses in the U.S.? Inc. 5000 honorees reveal their biggest insights and struggles.

My hardest challenge during the pandemic: “Loneliness.” –David Regn, Stream Companies (No. 3,869)

The biggest myth about being an entrepreneur: “That you don’t report to anyone. You still report to clients, your board, your colleagues, your family.” –Jaymie A. Scotto Cutaia, Jaymie Scotto & Associates (No. 3,810)

The recurring nightmare I have about my company: “Missing payroll.” –Yoshio Osaki, IDG Consulting (No. 4,421)

The “most overrated leadership skill” repeatedly cited by Inc. 5000 CEOs: Charisma.

The most difficult thing to explain to employees about my business: “It is OK to make a mistake, and we need to push as close to failure as possible so we can know our bandwidth and boundaries for success.” –LaShondra Mercurius, JLM Strategic Talent Partners (No. 4,750)

The craziest tactic I’ve used to grow, win business, or defend my company against competitors: “I worked as a 4:30-to-9 a.m. shelf stocker at the retailer I wanted to get into so I could learn the products and see what was selling.” –Lauren Greenwood, YouCopia (No. 3,594)

My best moment coming out of the pandemic: “Learning to trust my leaders and people to do great work and seeing people step up and lead this company without needing me nearly as often.” –Jacob Baadsgaard, Disruptive Advertising (No. 2,926)

Source : https://www.inc.com/magazine/202109/lindsay-blakely/ceo-survey-people-management-inc-5000-2021.html

How to deal with passive-aggressive behavior

Passive-aggressive behaviour is quite common and it most likely that you have worked or lived with someone who is a habitual passive aggressor. When you anticipate and prepare for passive-aggressive behaviour, it will not catch you off guard. You will know it is about to happen because you will have played out scenarios in your head to determine what your course of action will be. If you combat passive-aggressive behaviour with more passive aggressive behaviour, you’ll get nowhere.

Addressing the behaviour

Passive-aggressive behaviour needs to be addressed for it to stop. Often, it manifests out of a triggered ego. The key is to find a way to disarm the other person’s ego as well as your own.When dealing with a passive-aggressive individual, remember that whatever they are feeling is true to them. All feelings are okay. However, all behaviours are not.

Knowing your own personality type and those of others will help you to react in a more positive and insightful way when faced with unknown situations

For example, let’s say your boss is constantly critical of your work but never delivers any concrete feedback. They continually tell you what a bad job you’re doing but don’t tell you exactly how or why. This is passive-aggressive behaviour. As your supervisor, they should guide you to and help you to improve. Instead, they are harbouring ill feelings towards you. Maybe you remind them of someone in their past. Maybe there is something you do around the office that really annoys them. You may never know the real reason, but you should confront them about it. Instead of calling your boss out on their behaviour, talk with an even tone and request concrete feedback on your work. When we lower our own ego, we present ourselves as someone who wants to improve and do better. If we do not challenge the passive aggressive individual, but ask for guidance, their ego will begin to disarm. They will (in most cases) come back to their rational self.

The passive-aggressor within you

What if you are the passive-aggressor? What are some ways you can recognise the challenge and disarm your own ego? Passive-aggression bubbles to the surface when we feel we are in competition with someone. Perhaps we feel a colleague gets away with murder and is treated with great favouritism. Maybe it is because we bump heads with someone who has different viewpoints. The fundamental motivation is a sense of competition whether we realise it or not.


Apart from competition, passive aggressive behaviours are also triggered by insecurity often brought about by misunderstandings. Maybe a colleague feels you don’t value their work or that you or are being overly critical or punitive. If you have to give feedback or advice, the key is do this gradually, so that the person on the receiving end stays engaged, rational, and attentive. As soon as a person goes into defensive mode, the rational mind will stop working and will not listen creating unnecessary stress and strain. Giving genuine compliments and starting on a positive note helps to dissipate the aggression and fight mode in your counterpart. It also helps them to feel secure and disarms the ego opening the stage for positive, construction conversations.

Passive-aggressive behaviour can also be triggered by fear of the unknown and feeling out of control. When people are faced with the unknown it often shakes their feelings of control. Response to the unknown is influenced by personality types. For example, judging types like to have things planned out. They don’t like to rush or do anything last minute. Meanwhile, perceiving types like to wing things and they trust everything will work out. Knowing your own personality type and those of others will help you to react in a more positive and insightful way when faced with unknown situations.

When there is a misunderstanding between two people, it may also lead to passive-aggressive behaviour. Maybe a colleague feels you don’t value their work or that you are being overly critical or punitive. If you must give feedback or advice, the key is do this gradually, so that the person on the receiving end stays engaged, rational, and attentive. As soon as a person goes into defensive mode, the rational mind will stop working and will not listen creating unnecessary stress and strain. Giving genuine compliments and starting on a positive note helps to dissipate the aggression and fight mode in your counterpart and disarms the ego opening the stage for positive, construction conversations.

Going forward

Now you have a better idea of where passive-aggression manifests from. It stems from insecurity, competition and a lack of control. The key is to recognise these triggers both in yourself and those around you. This takes time and effort and is a lifelong journey, but with practice and patience, you can succeed.


From Workforce Management to Optimization: The Evolving Roles of HR and Operations

“The only constant in life is change” is arguably the understatement of the decade—and will continue to be all too true in the years to come.

The labor market has gone from one extreme to another—to another. In 2019, the U.S. unemployment rate was the lowest since 1969 at 3.5%, but a year later at the onset of the pandemic, the rate jumped to a whopping 14.7%. Now the U.S. and global economy are recovering faster than the rebound after the Great Recession, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
On top of losing jobs, the pandemic forced many workers to leave the workforce. With labor scarce, many businesses large and small have been struggling to recover. They’re coping with the unprecedented challenges by offering hiring incentives: increased base pay for new hires, flexibility for employees to set their own hours, and tuition subsidies. In the meantime, struggling businesses continue to limit their operating hours and stretch the staff they have on hand.
Adapting to change has always been accounted for in workforce management, but what hasn’t been accounted for is adapting to an accelerated pace of change.

And yet, there are companies that have been able to thrive, all the while facing the same challenges of enduring labor shortages and competition for talent. Among the most successful are those that have embraced workforce optimization.

How does that differ from workforce management? Most workforce management systems focus on tracking and counting—they’re basically static systems that struggle to adapt to an accelerated pace of change. Companies that looked to optimize their workforce, rather than just manage it, were able to quickly respond to shifts in the labor market and disruptions to the business. Their operations could rapidly shift their service delivery models, reassign workers to different roles, and manage their operations remotely.
Simply put, workforce optimization is the next evolution of workforce management. Operational leaders who embrace this transformation put their organizations in a position to navigate change and embrace new opportunities.
In this blog, we explore the evolution of workforce management into workforce optimization and its impact on how operational leaders execute their organization’s business strategy.
What Is Workforce Management, and How Is It Different From Workforce Optimization?
At a basic level, workforce management is about processes that maximize workforce performance and productivity. Workforce management tools tend to focus on employee scheduling, time tracking, and attendance management. Workforce management software sometimes includes tools that forecast the amount of staff resources needed to meet new demands on a business, such as a new project or seasonal traffic.
The role of workforce management is evolving alongside the shift in the fundamental nature of work.

Here’s another way to think about it: Workforce management focuses on outcomes that include efficiency and productivity.

But what happens in the event of unprecedented demands on the business?
That’s where workforce optimization enters the picture.
Workforce optimization is a strategy that focuses on agility, insights, and experience. Put another way, it’s the lever in how companies drive continuity and profitability through any type of change.
Executing a workforce optimization strategy combines the efficiency of automated workforce management with the flexibility of an agile, skills-based talent approach. Workforce optimization software is the integration of workforce management applications with HR and operations solutions—such as talent management, recruiting, benefits, compensation, skills management, employee experience, and planning and analytics.
Workforce management fits the needs of the business if the only requirements are to manage people and processes. However, since operational leaders are being tasked to do more, they’ll need a solution that enables them to function as business leaders who can align workforce operations with the company strategy. That’s why standard workforce management tools are no longer a fit in the new world of constant change. Instead, workforce optimization is how operational leaders help their companies to not just respond but actually thrive in rapidly changing environments.
What Is the Role of Workforce Management?
A shift in the fundamental nature of work and the acceleration of new technology continue to change how work gets done. As a result, the shift has transformed the value of workers in an organization. They’re no longer seen as an expense necessary to running the business. Instead, workers are seen as the company’s most valuable resource, the competitive advantage in how the work gets done. They’re contributing their knowledge and skills to the organization. They’re coming up with innovative ideas that impact the bottom line. They’re on the front lines providing positive customer experiences.
The role of workforce management is evolving alongside the shift in the fundamental nature of work, both headed toward taking a holistic approach to operational processes and employee productivity. That means the results or the output of employees, which tends to be an operational focus, is highly dependent on HR strategies for employee engagement, employee retention, and even the talent pipeline.
Obviously, static, siloed HR and workforce management systems can’t keep up with the continuous change. Managing a company’s most valuable resource requires operations and human resources to partner together. Their collective ability to address workforce challenges and opportunities is how the evolving role of workforce management supports the new world of work.
Here are seven areas where HR and operation leaders must collaborate to meet the demands of workforce management in a disruptive labor market:
Make every worker count and every worker feel counted. Employee engagement, which has historically been an HR responsibility, and employee productivity, which historically has been an operations metric, are both critical in demonstrating how employees contribute to the organization’s strategy and the company bottom line. The labor shortage and competition for workers have been fueled by the disconnect of these goals. Workers who aren’t feeling valued are leaving for other companies and even changing industries. Organizations need to optimize the productivity of every single worker and also make every worker feel like they matter. HR and operational leaders must share that two-part priority.

Create a foundation of shared data. Operations and HR need to be able to make decisions in real time and in changing business conditions, but that becomes nearly impossible when data isn’t accessible. All too often, the data needed to make critical operations decisions is spread across disparate systems that operational leaders and managers don’t have access to. Managers especially need to access data aligned to their flow of work because they’re optimizing their workforce as conditions change, even as frequently as day to day.

Emphasize operational agility. The changing business landscape affects not just how work gets done, but also how to respond to change. Both HR and operational leaders need agile technology so they can continuously recalibrate how they drive efficiency and productivity, whether that’s redeploying workers to different locations or roles, quickly adjusting schedules to respond to changing labor demand, or teeing up teams to support new business models.

Develop future-ready skills. Workforce management is more than predicting staffing needs. Operational leaders also need to assess if the skills of their workforce can meet the organization’s strategy, and if not, make plans to mitigate the skills gaps through upskilling in partnership with HR leaders. Skills-based hiring is helping to deepen the talent pool, improve retention, and build a culture of continuous learning. Both HR and operational leaders must work together to understand the skills that need to be redeployed to other parts of the business and the skills needed for the future.

Empower workers with a worker-first culture. The pandemic put the health and safety of employees top of mind. Companies shifted their employees to remote work or created alternate working arrangements to empower them to do their job in the face of change. That flexibility and increased self-sufficiency needs to continue in the new world of work, even in industries heavily dependent on hourly workers (such as hospitality, retail, or manufacturing) to meet business demand. Empowering workers with control over their scheduling—such as selecting their own hours, location, or roles—is critical in meeting the needs of employees and the demands of the business.

Leverage automation and artificial intelligence (AI). What was once thought of as leading-edge has now become mainstream to building operational agility and resiliency. Adoption of automation, machine learning, and AI boomed during the pandemic when companies adhered to social-distancing directives—meaning fewer workers on-site—yet needed to keep up with the surge in business demand. Moving forward, HR and operational leaders will need to continue to leverage these technologies in ways that will empower their workforce in the face of change.

Identify operational-impact metrics. The change in how work gets done is transforming how workforce management gets measured. Consider when the COVID-19 guidelines forced restaurants to close indoor dining and business shifted to curbside or drive-thru service. The new business model required operational leaders to quickly identify new performance indicators that could accurately assess productivity, forecast required staffing, and more. And so, operational managers and leaders need access to real-time productivity-related data, such as sales per hour and schedule optimization scores (measuring the quality of schedule in meeting labor demands and worker needs), and also metrics that measure the well-being of their teams. Combined with traditional HR metrics like employee retention, absenteeism, and even overtime—all potential indicators of employee burnout, and consequently, lost revenue—real-time productivity data can help leaders keep and grow their workforce.

Operations and HR will need to partner more strongly than before to overcome the static workforce management made for a world that no longer exists.
How Do You Optimize a Workforce?
Even though the need to optimize the workforce has largely been spurred by the pandemic, efficiency and agility are necessary no matter what comes next, whether the event is a global disruption or a new market opportunity.
But what was the difference between companies that navigated change and those that struggled? The difference lies in the details, or rather, visibility into the details. And those details are what help companies optimize their workforce:
Accuracy. Workforce optimization focuses on using real-time workforce data to enable operational leaders to make proactive decisions. According to the McKinsey report “Future of Retail Operations: Winning in a Digital Era,” taking a data-driven approach to labor scheduling and budgeting captures between 4% and 12% in cost savings.

Flexibility. Workforce optimization solutions leverage configurable business processes powered by flexible technology to support continuous change and agility. “Organizations that are able to optimize their scheduling processes reduce total payroll spend by more than 5% on average,” according to Nucleus Research.

Transparency. Insight into payroll, talent, finance, and workforce management data accelerates decision making. Consider this: According to McKinsey, “retailers that don’t proactively adapt to changing conditions could see their margins fall 200 to 400 basis points because of increased labor and fulfillment costs.”

Experience. Workforce optimization also takes into account creating engaging employer and manager experiences to improve productivity and retention, especially since retail and restaurant workers are quitting at record-high rates.

Optimizing a workforce is a journey, not a set-it-forget-it item on a to-do list, and looks different at every company.

Regardless of the particular needs of the business, all workforce optimization efforts start with administrative excellence. That means processes need to be automated and draw from a single source of HR data. With a digitized administrative foundation, operational leaders gain transparency into workforce metrics and costs, and can more easily adjust processes and workflows.
Teams deliver outperforming results when they’re optimized for doing exactly that—outperforming through agility and insight.

For example, during the pandemic, workforce management went beyond staff scheduling. At the onset of the pandemic, when its front-line workforce had to pivot in how they served credit union members, Washington State Employees Credit Union (WSECU) created a time-entry code that designated additional hourly pay for employees working on-site at credit union branches. WSECU also created time-off benefits designated for COVID-19 testing or quarantine. All new benefits and procedures were created quickly in Workday and ready in an afternoon.

Once organizations have that administrative foundation in place, optimizing a workforce requires processes that can flex and adjust in the face of change. Operational agility helps organizations gain deeper insights, such as an understanding of the workers’ skills, a deeper grasp of labor costs, and the ability to automate more processes and decision making.
That’s what happened to Land O’Lakes, an agricultural cooperative based in Minnesota. Like many companies at the onset of the pandemic, Land O’Lakes had no idea about the scale of disruption the crisis would cause. But because the cooperative had already begun to rethink its workforce optimization strategy, it was able to respond and adapt to the pandemic with speed and agility. As a result, Land O’Lakes was able to adjust aspects of its business model, gain insight into the workplace preferences of its employees, and manage COVID-19 tracking.
From there, companies are fully equipped to achieve workforce optimization. Powered by administrative excellence and operational agility in their systems, companies forge a new path in driving workforce value:
Attrition, hiring, and onboarding have been treated as a cost of doing a business. But workforce optimization demonstrates how attracting, retaining, and upskilling maximizes investment in employees.

Instead of being a commodity and cost center to the business, workers become engaged, skilled contributors who impact business outcomes like profitability, revenue, and productivity.

Companies gain a clear understanding of a worker’s capacity, contribution, and growth potential beyond a job profile. And those insights help in creating a flexible, fluid workforce that meets the current and future needs of the business.

Companies that were able to adapt and thrive amid the drastic change were already embracing the tools and the journey of workforce optimization. Teams deliver outperforming results when they’re optimized for doing exactly that—outperforming through agility and insight.


How the pandemic has boosted HR’s credentials – and how the profession can capitalist

As a company that helps other organisations with their business continuity plans, International SOS was ahead of the curve when the pandemic began to bite in March 2020. It had an assistance centre set up to support clients with health and security issues in such crises, and was well drilled in crisis management. “There was pressure on us to handle this well in the eyes of our clients, at the same time as there was increased demand on our services,” remembers Peter Jenkins, general manager for Northern Europe. “We’d run crisis scenarios before, even pandemic planning, where we took half the team out of the centre and sent half home. But technical challenges and issues with client security meant this wasn’t viable.”

One of the first actions Jenkins took was to place Ben Dale, the region’s HR director, in charge of the business continuity team. They made the difficult decision to send everyone but the assistance centre staff to work from home in late February, meaning core operations could continue securely. “I asked HR to lead on this because this was very much a people issue. We could have had our medical advisors, a myriad of people in charge, but with something as emotional and individually threatening as a pandemic, our number one priority was to look after our people in the most appropriate way,” he adds. “HR was the appropriate place to sit this, with strong counsel.” Throughout the months that followed, Dale’s team adapted policies, communicated with teams working on site and at home, and began preparing for an eventual return to the office. Jenkins has seen HR in a different light. “They are far more visible and present to me. Maybe two years ago they were a great support on policy and employee issues, more of a tactical advisor,” he says. “But now Ben and his team have a much stronger input.”

Stories showing the value of HR abound since March 2020, when a function that some perceived as the payroll gatekeeper or policy manager was thrust into the limelight almost overnight. An editorial in The Economist at the time declared that “never before have more firms needed a hard-headed HR boss”. The weeks that followed saw HR professionals move entire workforces to home offices in a matter of days, get to grips with an ever-changing furlough system and make sure that employees who needed to work on the front line were physically and mentally safe. Speaking at the annual conference for the Public Services People Managers’ Association (PPMA) in September, Coventry City Council’s chief executive Martin Reeves reflected that “there was no rulebook” for HR teams: “These were unique circumstances; we relied on the guile and brilliance of our people managers to see us through. It was acute and chronic at the same time, dealing with the here and now but with one eye on the medium- to long-term impact of what was happening.”

The profession itself feels it has had a reputation boost. A survey by software company Sage found that almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of leaders felt the value of their role increased, while 54 per cent of employees said they had a better understanding of HR’s role and value to the organisation. Among CEOs, 59 per cent said they understood the value of HR better than before the pandemic. But this challenging period is not over yet, and the next few months could prove decisive as to whether HR can cement those gains. Jessica Fuhl, author of Sage’s research, argues that there is still work to do. “HR was front and centre… employees and the C-suite recognised that – and valued it,” she says. “However, that was during the ‘firefighting’ phase. To maintain its newly valuable position in the eyes of the C-suite, people leaders must use this groundswell of influence and support to build on this and move forward to the strategic horizon scanning phase.” The coming months will offer multiple opportunities to do so, adds Fuhl, whether that’s in embracing automation to free up time and resources, how HR puts wellbeing at the heart of employee experience, progress on diversity and inclusion and making the most of workforce data.

“You could argue that the early days of the crisis were easier to manage because there were fewer options on the table,” says David Collings, professor of human resources management at Dublin City University. “With the return to the office, we’re starting from a new baseline. HR has to manage expectations about what the return to work means, what the purpose of the workplace is and what is better done in the office than remotely. The future is much more complex than the past.” In the early months of the pandemic, Collings’s team collaborated with the University of South Carolina to track 50 chief human resources officers and their responses to the Covid crisis. They were asked a series of questions on their priorities, their learnings and their interaction with their executive teams. “What became clear in many ways was – just like the financial crisis brought chief financial officers to the fore, and Y2K was all about CIOs – this was a people crisis,” he adds. “Decisions were often being made without data or experience early on in the pandemic, and values tended to inform the executive leadership team in their decision making. CHROs were helping CEOs think through what the organisation’s values meant in terms of key decisions.” This was a shift compared with how that relationship might have played out before, says Collings. “In the past, HR might have been reluctant to go to leadership and say ‘we don’t have all the answers’ or ‘we need to revise a decision’. But during the pandemic we’ve seen a willingness and humility from leaders to listen – when they’re forced to make difficult decisions, that’s when you really see what an organisation stands for.”

Paul Boustead, director of people and organisational effectiveness at Lancaster University, felt this keenly. “What I’ve observed over the past year is an exponential shift from using the terminology of ‘HR’ to ‘people’, ‘organisational effectiveness’ and ‘culture’,” he explains. “I have more strategic conversations with my executive team than ever. This was happening before, but has been accelerated by the pandemic.” Like many HR professionals, Boustead faced an onslaught of policies that needed to be revised and questions that required answers. “Universities are communities, so it wasn’t just about employees’ mental health but also keeping students and visitors safe. HR had to play a role in that community and could not think in a siloed way.” An unexpected positive was an improvement in negotiations with the three trade unions on site: Unite, UCU and Unison. “They were conflicted in many ways because they had their safety hats on as we were thinking about returning to campus, but could also see the benefits of delivering learning face to face,” he says. “But because we could meet virtually, rather than trying to get everyone in a room, those negotiations happened quickly and we were able to move forward.” Boustead has also seen HR’s standing elevated outside of his own campus, where his team has been invited to discussions with the Home Office on how academic visas might work and approached to inform guidance from the Department for Education. “Years ago, they would have gone straight to the vice-chancellor,” he adds.

At animation studio Jellyfish Pictures, the past 18 months have shown the sheer breadth of the HR director role. So much so that Sarah Tanner was promoted from her HRD role to operations director, having supported the company to not only relocate a workforce where 40 per cent of employees come from Europe, but also hire around 250 new people over the course of nine months. “We very quickly had to react and make sure people weren’t panicking,” she says. “We employ a lot of Italians and couldn’t continue if people weren’t feeling safe, so we had to think about how we adapted, changed working hours and got people home.”

The company began moving employees to remote working, supporting many to return to their home country, three or four weeks before official lockdown was announced in England to make sure the studio technology would work remotely. Tanner was heavily involved in communications, wellbeing and logistics, as well as ensuring managers were checking in with employees and responding to questions on government guidance. Both her old and new roles have a seat on the board, she adds. “I’ve always wanted to know how the whole company works, what the implications of certain actions are – the move into the operations role is a reflection of what my job is, it’s much bigger than ‘just HR’. That said, it’s a reflection of what the people function can do – you can’t have one without the other, there’s too much of a hard stop.”

Of course, the dramatic shift to working from home or protecting employees on the front line was not only driven by HR. The very nature of the pandemic required a team effort, and HR was often at the forefront of that cross-functional collaboration. “The two main functions driving things for me were my chief people officer and my CIO. The two of them made all of this happen,” says John Petter, CEO of payroll software company Zellis. The technology team ensured everyone was connected to company systems, while HR drove communications with colleagues, such as weekly all-hands calls and inviting employees to share any concerns about juggling home schooling or feeling burnt out from time on Zoom. But one of CPO Caroline Drake’s most pressing jobs during the crisis has been to support Petter in his own decisions. He adds: “She has an important role in coaching me, and she gives me totally honest advice, even if it’s not always what I want to hear. When we were communicating with colleagues, her coaching was key to ensuring what we were saying would resonate with people.” This role will only grow in stature in the future, Petter believes. “So many companies have seen the importance of having a strategic plan for their people through this. This is unlikely to be the last pandemic in my lifetime, so we’re thinking about what our learnings are from this and developing a strategic plan around developing our hybrid workforce, how work is globalised and such – and the HR function is inevitably at the centre of those debates.”

But how can HR harness this boost in its reputation? While restrictions may have been lifted and employees are tentatively returning to offices, the road ahead is likely to be bumpy. Skills shortages in sectors such as logistics and hospitality have the potential to derail workforce planning strategies, nobody truly knows how hybrid working is going to pan out and some labour analysts predict a “great resignation” as some workers face a revelation that they’d rather work elsewhere. Furthermore, a winter illness peak could resurface many of the tricky issues companies faced at the start of the pandemic. “The past 18 months put the profession in the spotlight and onto the front line, and people have begun to understand more about how difficult the role can be,” says David D’Souza, membership director at the CIPD. “We’ve seen organisations try different things, learn at pace, and recognise that change is possible. The profession has been at the forefront of organisations finding ways to flourish. But now we need to understand the enormity of what’s been delivered, and keep those cross-functional relationships we created open and those conversations alive.” Over the coming months and years, the people profession has an opportunity to continue to showcase both its technical expertise and its ability to help organisations change to meet the challenges they face, he adds. “We’ve built up a lot of credit in the bank, and we need to be careful how we spend it.”

Angela O’Connor, founder of consultancy the HR Lounge, advises caution in the short term at least. “There’s real pressure on HR to make these big decisions on working patterns and such and we can’t make these immediately. It’s time for HR leaders to hold their nerve and push back, which takes real courage,” she says. Many teams will be under pressure to develop firm policies on hybrid working when a more bespoke, employee-led approach is likely to work better, she adds. “HR departments that are used to running things as a ‘one size fits all’ operation will find this hard. They won’t be set up to do this and their culture may not be supportive. In many ways, this period is harder than the start, and this is when we’ll see real leadership from the HR profession.”

Collings also predicts that the coming months will see HR inject balance into a complicated debate and become advocates for the workforce. He explains: “HR can give voice to employees’ concerns, addressing the risks if we see cohorts of people at the top of the organisation coming into the office at the disadvantage of those who are mainly at home, for example.”

Another area where HR can make a difference in the longer term is in addressing inequalities. The pandemic shone a light on inequalities at work: women were more likely to shoulder the burden of childcare or be in low-paid, part-time work, while a parliamentary committee last month slammed the Department for Work and Pensions for not fully considering the impact of its pandemic policies on people from ethnic minorities. Gary Rees, head of organisation studies and human resource management at Portsmouth Business School, believes this has made employers and employees alike reassess what is important. “We don’t talk about wellbeing as something tangential now, for example. Line managers are talking more to staff and seeing that how we work and our health are all connected,” he says. “But people have long memories and you need to treat them fairly. Employees will have seen how companies operate in the worst of times as a reflection of what they’re really like. Those with strong employer branding, retention and engagement will ride the storm well.”

Rees believes the pandemic has made employees see their managers in a new light, and one of HR’s roles going forward will be helping them to survive the challenges of new ways of working. “HR’s involvement at grassroots level was completely overturned [during Covid],” he adds. “Tremors that were beginning to emerge before the crisis – the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs, the idea that people can follow multiple careers in a lifetime – these have all been brought forward. HR needs to ensure line managers understand that we need to fit the job to the person and not vice versa. More money will only be a sticking plaster because employees will need a good psychological contract or to perceive that they’re treated well,” Rees says. This will extend to the role of businesses in society more broadly, he adds, as workforces make ever greater demands on their employers to stand by their environmental, social and governance promises.

Sabby Gill, who joined assessment company Thomas International six months into the pandemic as its new CEO, argues that HR will bridge the gap between the ‘normal’ we knew before and how we emerge. “When I joined the company, my HR director was the first person I called in the morning and the last one at night,” he says. “We’re putting people through something they’ve never experienced, and what we can’t do is expect everything to be back to normal.” Gill will continue to rely on his HR team, not just in setting new ground rules and policies, but in ensuring employees’ mental welfare and understanding that everyone’s personal situation is different. “Every decision I make as a CEO has to take into account we’re a people business and we need to harness the lessons we’ve learnt,” he adds. “But as leaders we’ve also got to allow HR to take that credit – we need to give credit where it’s due.”

“In HR you have to put your ego aside”
Marine Fournier, head of HR at Powell Software, joined the company days before the pandemic began, in February 2020. She was already tasked with splitting out the HR function after a funding round when the world was suddenly thrust into lockdown.

“At the time we were around 45 people and now we have more than 90,” she says. “Our first message going into this was one of care, and as a digital company we had an advantage from a practical perspective. But the timings of lockdown announcements varied in different countries so in some ways we were operating blind.”

A new intranet helped HR to communicate as the early days turned into weeks of working from home. When the second wave happened, the foundations were in place.

“This time we’d had the chance to prepare,” she adds. “We’d learned to communicate differently, we’d done a lot of education around synchronous versus asynchronous working. The culture was no longer about going to work, but about delivering work.”

Fournier and her team have since consulted with employees on future working patterns and contracts. HR has garnered recognition from other functions more than before, she believes. “On the business side, the mission is simple – you hit your targets. In HR, you have to put your ego aside for the success of the business or you won’t survive.”


Why You Don’t Need to Be an Expert in Your Field to Start a Billion-Dollar Company

At the Inc. 5000 Vision Conference on Wednesday, Naveen Jain, the serial founder of businesses including internet company InfoSpace and gut health startup Viome, shared his tips for identifying a new startup idea and developing it. In the conversation, moderated by Eric Schurenberg, CEO of Inc.’s parent company Mansueto Ventures, Jain offered some rather counterintuitive insight. He started seven companies in industries ranging from health care to aerospace and attributes his success in part to the fact that he knew nothing about those fields beforehand.

Jain also discussed how to identify a problem and turn it into a business idea, and gave advice for entrepreneurs on how to push through challenges. Here are the biggest takeaways from the event.

To really change an industry, you have to come up with unique solutions. To do that, you have to start asking different questions–and thus identify new problems. Experts can’t do that, Jain says, because they’re already bought into an industry’s foundational assumptions. “Once you become an expert in an industry … you become an incrementalist,” he says. “It takes a disrupter, someone from outside the industry looking in.”

Still, you want to be realistic about the capabilities of the science available to you, he says. Rather than face a Theranos-type situation, companies should focus on transparency. Jain says he tries to achieve that at Viome by being honest with customers and regularly publishing peer-reviewed research.

Check the scale, and then break it down
Once you identify your problem, Jain says, ask yourself if the idea could help a billion people. If so, keep going. “You can create a $500 billion company … if you’re helping a lot of people somehow improve their lives,” he says.

But don’t focus on the “how” at this stage. Jain’s latest problem was figuring out how to cure chronic diseases and illnesses. So he broke that down, from curing disease to digitizing and obtaining data about the human body, to studying genes–and finally learning about research that connects the gut microbiome to conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and depression.

Now, Jain had a manageable sub-problem: creating a company that would research the human body’s gut microbiome and develop solutions based on its findings. The company has done that successfully so far, with $80 million in total funding as of April, according to GeekWire.

Reframe your failures
Despite Jain’s string of notable startups, he was actually fired from his first company, InfoSpace, in 2002. Employees had complained they were fed false promises about stock options, and Jain and InfoSpace ended up in a jumble of lawsuits.

When it comes to career ups and downs, Jain’s solution is to reframe them. You have to decide that everything that has happened is ultimately for your benefit, and that everything you’ve experienced has made you who you are. So if you love who you are, it’s hard to think of things that have happened to you as bad, he says.

Try to approach your startup ideas like this, too. No great company finds success with the exact same idea it started out with. “Entrepreneurs only fail when they give up,” he says. “Everything else is a pivot.”

Source :https://www.inc.com/gabrielle-bienasz/naveen-jain-viome-startup-development.html

Start Stopping Faster

Business executives could learn a lot from cheetahs, Earth’s most agile land animals. Though their ancestors ran only about 20 miles per hour, today’s cats can accelerate from zero to 60 within three seconds—faster than a Corvette Twin Turbo or a Ferrari Enzo. But speed alone is not what makes cheetahs such awesome hunters. Computer models show that the best predictor of a successful hunt is not a cheetah’s top speed; rather, it’s how fast it stops and turns.

There is an important parallel to the executive hunt for innovations. Whether they are developing new products, processes, or overhauling old ways of doing business, it’s not enough that organizations pursue new ideas faster. Unless they develop new muscles for skillfully decelerating and adapting to unexpected twists and turns, they are likely to come up empty-handed. It’s one of the most common laments of executives struggling to increase their organization’s adaptability: “We are terrible at stopping work, even when it’s obvious that the work is a complete waste of time and money.” This is as true for existing business lines and processes that live on budget season after budget season zombie-like as it is for a once-bright new idea that simply isn’t panning out.

The cost of this problem is higher than managers imagine. Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini estimate the cost of bureaucratic waste has hit $10 trillion and is growing. Between 70% and 90% of innovations fail, and healthy operations grow weaker every day that they must subsidize foundering projects kept alive by political inertia rather than potential payoff. When power is determined by the amount of resources controlled, as it so often is in business, admitting failure and surrendering resources is rare.

Since stopping things is so very hard, executives make starting them even harder, dampening innovation. They raise investment hurdle rates, demand more detailed analyses, and add layers of scrutiny. Sadly, these actions don’t improve decisions so much as damage speed to market and competitive positioning. Failures mount. Eventually, the horde of failing projects grows too large to ignore. Managers cull some large percentage of their people, traumatize the organization, and launch the doom loop all over again.

There is another way. Organizations can evolve and by focusing on three specific things, they can improve their own agility and start stopping things faster.

  1. Make more decisions reversible.

While researching our book Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos, we learned from former Amazon executive Jason Goldberger that in order to accelerate innovation, founder Jeff Bezos purposefully encourages executives to make decisions reversible, which ensures that a company won’t have to live with bad consequences for very long. It thwarts risk aversion and accelerates experimentation.

“If you tell people to innovate without making mistakes, you will kill innovation,” Goldberger explains. “But if you tell people to innovate and not worry about mistakes that are quickly reversible, you free them to test and learn in more agile ways.”

Unfortunately, not many companies run this way. Far too many investment proposals plan for premature and irreversible scaling. They call for large upfront investments, and predict delayed, hockey-stick-shaped revenues and profits. When revenue and profit fail to materialize, it seems too late to stop. The payoff must be just around the corner. “Why, we would be crazy to stop now,” executives tell themselves. And so, throwing good money after bad drags on.

One way to break this habit is to run the business the way a savvy venture capitalist invests. Recognize business plans for what they really are: business experiments. Break large, risky gambles into a series of smaller, smarter tests. Clarify the hypotheses, the best ways to test them, and the metrics that will signal whether to persist, pivot, or pause. Avoid premature scaling—hiring too many people, building too much capacity, doing too much marketing—before key assumptions have been validated. Match costs to revenues. Start by confining experiments to affordable, adaptable, and reversible microcosms of the ultimate solution by limiting geographies, customer segments, or product lines. (You can read more on how to experiment effectively, in this HBR article by Stefan Thomke and Jim Manzi.)

Look at DoorDash, the door-to-door delivery company. Recently DoorDash has ridden a Covid-19 surge in demand, but back in 2013, when it began raising what would eventually become a total of $2.5 billion, venture capitalists didn’t just back up a Brink’s truck of money to the startup. The risks were too high, and such a move would have limited investors’ ability to spur strategic change when necessary. Instead, venture capitalists phased in their investment over 11 rounds of funding.

In the 2016 round, when questions about the viability of its strategy reportedly led to its shares selling at a lower price than earlier rounds, the company made important changes. DoorDash added new services for restaurants and adjusted pay for drivers. Market share increased, as have subsequent valuations.

DoorDash is still not profitable, and its ultimate success is far from guaranteed. But its venture backers have clear and frequent opportunities to change how they invest and influence company direction. Investors can decelerate, pivot, and stop.

Some corporations are already applying this model. Executives review new projects and existing business lines quarterly, utilize fast feedback loops, create rough prototypes, and rely on objective metrics to test key hypotheses. All this makes it possible to more dynamically adjust plans and allocate resources.

  1. Make work more visible.

It’s hard to improve or stop unproductive work if you can’t see what work is being done and how well it’s going. Too many companies are flying blind.

Executives can inspect physical facilities and assess whether to refurbish or bulldoze them. They can see inventories piling up and decide whether to finish them or write them off. The intangible work of most technology, marketing, and other departments, however, is often invisible to leadership teams.

Increasing visibility is good for everyone. It helps senior executives uncover valuable initiatives, recognize the people pushing them, and accelerate their progress. It allows employees to see projects related to their own jobs, learn from them, and identify where their expertise could solve perplexing problems or save time and money. It makes it easier for everyone to identify duplicative work and triggers discussions about whether overlapping teams should collaborate or compete. It helps teams working on interdependent steps coordinate and minimize delays.

Imagine a system that enables authorized employees to see all work streams, who is on each team, what else they are working on, and how the work is progressing. Imagine tagging the work of each team with descriptors such as strategic priority, targeted customers, expected economic value, and progress against plans. Perhaps employees could even express how confident they are in each team’s success. These systems actually exist—project and portfolio management software, objectives and key results trackers, talent management systems, and workforce analytics—and they are getting better.

  1. Overpower fear.

They say the first rule of daredevil airplane wing-walking is: “Don’t let go of what you’ve got until you get hold of something better.” Astute leaders realize that fearful workers will cling to the current work no matter how unproductive. They do several things to overcome that fear. One we’ve already discussed: They reduce the cost of stopping projects (e.g., by conducting experiments).

Another way is to reward people who learn valuable lessons by taking prudent risks, even if the immediate outcome was disappointing. In some cases, this may mean keeping the bold objective but adapting the approach as conditions or capabilities change. When Bezos wanted to enable third-party sellers to sell new or used products on Amazon, the company initially failed: The 1999 launches of Amazon Auctions and zShops both fizzled. But Amazon Marketplace, launched soon after, was a success. It now accounts for more than half of all units sold by the company.

Finally, giving people more opportunities if their current project fails reduces the likelihood that they’ll stick with a bad idea longer than they should. Successful companies build a strong and visible backlog of compelling opportunities. They make it clear that until existing projects that aren’t panning out have stopped, new initiatives can’t be launched. And they redeploy people from the former to the latter as a matter of policy and offer training to ease the transition. In time, the fear of missing out on something better starts to overpower the fear of loss.

In a world of increasingly unpredictable change—where opportunities are constantly zigging and zagging like spry gazelles—running at higher speeds is not enough. Businesses must evolve to match their acceleration muscle with faster stopping and turning skills. As they do, their hunt for growth will grow more fruitful, their competitive capabilities will strengthen, and their position in the food chain will climb.