In his recent article, “What it Takes to Be a Collaborative Leader”, Edward Marshall discusses the need, especially now during the COVID crisis, for a new form of corporate leadership. The difficulty, as he sees it, is that this new form of leadership is nearly counter to what has become the expected norm in most businesses today – a move from a “command and control” style to one that proactively engages the perspectives of the entire talent pool. Is it time for a cultural shift in leading today’s businesses?
In discussions with senior business leaders, it appears that this need to migrate to a collaborative work environment may be a by-product of how children are being raised and educated today. Current generations of “future” employees are being raised, in many cases, in supportive environments that celebrate wins and downplay negative events (e.g., think of “participation trophies”). Not that this method of child-rearing is wrong – it is merely a shift in a paradigm that focuses on building a child’s self-confidence.
Colleges and universities intent on keeping up their levels of retention have, likewise, adopted support environments that “catch” students before they fail – providing a higher touch to further enforce the aura of a student’s self-confidence. Unfortunately, once these students leave the protective cover of home and school, their confidence levels are immediately tested with on-the-job failures. And, being ill-equipped to handle these real life events, these individuals are crushed and, in many cases, become despondent – thereby creating a nightmare for human resource departments.
So, the real question facing corporations is how do you create a fostering and supportive employee environment while, at the same time, infuse a necessary level of competitive spirit (or “will to win”) into your corporate culture? Based on the recent interviews that Fairfax University of America (FXUA) conducted with our Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) members, we offer the following suggestions:
- Develop a “best friend” mentoring program – specifically, identifying individuals who work in departments other than your onboarded employee. The problem with most assigned mentoring efforts is that junior employees are matched up with senior individuals in their respective departments creating more of an informal supervisory role (back to a command and control regiment!). Instead by teaming new employees with more seasoned individuals, outside their span of control, allows for a more engaged discussion about corporate cultures; potential pitfalls; and ways for the new employee to thrive in their new work environment.
- Find ways to “teach” initiative. During this COVID crisis, where businesses have been forced to have their employees work from home, there has been a distinct difference in employee reactions. A small group of employees in each business have relied on their own initiative to improve their overall productivity and contribution to the organization. Bounded by self-regulated levels of risk expectations, this small percentage of “high performers” have gone above and beyond their normal workload expectations. Now, business leaders enthused by these employees are asking us, as educators, whether we can “teach” initiative.
- Speed up “intuitive knowledge”. We all know that experience drives better decision-making. An executive with 30 years of experience can intuitively arrive at the correct conclusion in a relatively short timeframe. Conversely, new employees, without the benefit of real-life experience often arrive at the wrong conclusions and, as one CAC member mused, and sometimes “never got on the right decision-making path”. Our challenge in the “education community” (and I use that term “community” broadly to engage corporate universities as well as traditional learning environments) is to find ways to compress five years of experience into a one-year time duration – in a sense, speeding up the ability for employees to make better intuitive decisions. Certainly business simulations provide one avenue to chip away at this compression question. However, there has to be more enlightened ways to achieve this desired result.
- Realize that the “next normal” necessitates a remote leadership approach. The COVID pandemic has, once and for all, crystallized the realization that hybrid working is here to stay. While many businesses continue to fight against the tide, thinking that their employees all need to be chained to their desks for 8 hours a day, it has become clear that commuting for commuting’s sake is neither productive nor relevant to overall employee and business performance. As one of our CAC members commented: “it doesn’t make sense to commute to an office to only answer emails.” Further, this entire “shelter-in-place” has further blurred the lines of so-called work-life balance. The same CAC member offered that the word “balance” should be replaced by “integration” as most employees have found ways to seamlessly integrate home, family, fitness and work into patterns that are uniquely-adapted to their specific lifestyles.
Clearly, corporations are faced with a new “next normal” that necessitates a hard look at moving from a “command and control” environment to a more collaborative paradigm that builds on the supportive networks that most future employees becoming accustomed to in both their home and educational lives. And, where some employers are tempted to reverse-engineer the learnings from an employee’s youth, others are realizing that change is necessary to remain relevant for the longer-term.