Adaptation happens to be the one thing that human beings do better than any other animal on the planet. We’re not the biggest, we’re not the fastest, and we don’t have the sharpest teeth or the strongest claws, yet we are the dominant species on earth, thanks to our extreme and relentless adaptability to change.
Work Isn’t Working
When leaders were compelled to set aside red tape and delegate more decision-making, results flowed faster than ever before. Companies responded by collaborating more intensively and communicating more thoroughly. Team members were more candid with each other and spoke more freely and directly because the emergency eliminated opportunities for conflict avoidance and passive-aggressive communication. Team members also became more generous. They broke out of siloed that’s-not-my-job behaviors. And out of sincere concern for each other, they asked, How can I help? The crisis set teams free to take action. And it made teams better.
Research Basis for This Book
At Ferrazzi Greenlight’s research institute, we launched what we thought at the time would be a several-month project called Go Forward to Work (GFTW). We recruited change agents from big companies, entrepreneurs, and some of the most well regarded thought leaders—people who shared our vision of how the rules of work were being rewritten day-by-day and didn’t want the opportunity squandered. We wanted to create a place to stop and cocreate what the future would look like five years forward: a place to analyze how much change would be necessary and what exciting possibilities lay ahead, all in light of the best practices we were seeing and collectively sharing from our pandemic experiences
To that end, we developed partnerships with Harvard Business Review Press, Dell Technologies, Salesforce, SAP, EY, Anaplan, LHH, WW, Headspace, World 50, and many other brands and associations. Our teams of researchers supported the production of dozens of stories appearing in Forbes, Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review. We reached thousands of leaders through team engagements, coaching sessions, and virtual town halls in partnership with our GFTW faculty fellows (practitioners and thought leaders who guided and published our research) and GFTW fellows (internal change agents from across industries and corporations). We leveraged online conferences and podcasts with direct calls to action to join this movement and contribute to our collective research atGoForwardToWork.com
A New World of Work Is Emerging
Our research at GFTW discovered commonalities among those who were thriving and revealed the difficulties that most leaders were struggling with. We found that the urgency of the situation melted the frozen routines and the ossified protocols that had long posed obstacles to growth and change. We came to see a new world of work emerging from the old world (see figure 1-1). In the new pandemic world, companies attempted things that they would never have tried to do under normal circumstances in the old world. Projects nobody wanted to take on suddenly made sense
The old and new worlds of work compared
Radical Adaptability: A Blueprint for Success in the New World of Work
From our research interviewing more than two thousand leaders through the pandemic, we identified a consistent pattern of successful leadership competencies across industries and synthesized that into a new leadership methodology for a future of accelerating change and uncertainty. We call this methodology radical adaptability
The seven chapters that follow represent best practices in how to build a radically adaptable future to compete in this new world of work
Chapters 2 through 5 tackle core leadership competencies that, when stacked on top of each other, create a circular flow state for teams to operate at peak performance:
- Collaborate through inclusion. Embrace the possibility of richer diversity of virtual, remote, and hybrid teamwork to drive innovation exponentially forward.
- Lead through enterprise agile. Extend and expand the cultural ethos of short-term sprints that kept us on our trajectory during the crisis, and find an operating system that allows us to thrive sustainably amid continued volatility.Promote team resilience.
- Bounce forward in the face of setbacks and recognize that good leaders strive to maintain the emotional and physical energies of the team.
- Develop active foresight. Learn to see around corners to avoid unsuspected risk and to systematically explore new possibilities
The final three chapters present an operating model for your radically adaptable team to build a radically adaptable organization by deploying the radical adaptable team skills of collaboration, agility, resilience, and foresight to three enterprise-wide applications:
- Future-proof your business model. Develop an ongoing process of experimentation to create and realize your company’s future vision of itself.
- Build a Lego block workforce. Redesign your workforce to support a flexible, nimble cost-effective, and creative future.
- Supercharge your purpose. Build a movement for radical adaptability by discovering and communicating your organization’s long-term purpose.
The essence of radical adaptability is that it is predictive, proactive, and progressive, very unlike the typical response to change, which is inherently reactive and conformist. By definition, adaptability is the ability to adjust to new conditions. Adaptability is a coping mechanism. Radical adaptability is a transformational mechanism. Radical adaptability prompts you to constantly anticipate change, reinterpret it, and transform yourself through change. Through radical adaptability, you embrace the new world of work and grow with it, while others merely adjust and adapt to it.
Competing in the New World of Work
We believe radical adaptability best describes what every company can and must do within the next eighteen months to leap forward five years
It has become clear to us that sustaining competitive advantage in a post-pandemic world will require leaders to master radical adaptability every day and in every role in the organization
Though the word transformation suffers from severe overuse these days, radical adaptability requires true transformative leadership. Traditional work processes, business models, and workforce structures will not prepare us for the future that’s rising up faster than most would assume
Embedded in our innate human gift for adaptability is our instinctive drive to create meaning out of the ashes of catastrophe. Disasters have always served humankind as engines for innovation and progress
New ways of thinking don’t come easy. Sometimes it takes immersion in a new, strange world to recognize that the familiar world has not been serving you very well
Leading in the New World of Work
The many months we spent in the strangeness of a pandemic exposed all of us to the same possibility of personal transformation that François faced at Burning Man. We could either duck into a tent and wait for the dust storm to pass or find our way to new heights by exploring the unknown through radical adaptability. During the pandemic, we witnessed how fast and how far people can go when they’re given the chance to rise to the occasion and manage their way out of one crisis after another. That is the ethos of radical adaptability.
Shaping the Future
Building a new world of work won’t be easy. The coming years of recovery and renewal offer a historic opportunity to remake our organizations and our futures, but only if we accept this as an inflection point for true reinvention. The radically adaptable way of leading described in this book is designed to future-proof both your personal leadership style and your business. That’s because it is built on the assumption that for the foreseeable future, we will all be going forward to work in a new world of constant change and disruption. That’s the promise of this book: to help you develop a sustainable leadership style and strategy to guide you through low tide, tsunamis, and fair seas
2Collaborate through Inclusion
The pandemic forced a sudden revolution in collaboration at most organizations. The necessity to begin operating through remote work exposed a rising awareness of what has always been true: collaboration has nothing to do with where employees show up for work; it has everything to do with how they show up. Outcomes have always mattered more than presentee-ism, even if performance hasn’t always been measured or rewarded that way.
The trouble, however, is that few corporate teams display the inclusive culture necessary to lead our diverse workforce through the challenges of business transformation. In fact, most teams lack the essential collaborative behaviors proven to be most effective among top-performing teams. For example, studies at the Ferrazzi Greenlight Research Institute (home of GFTW) have shown the following statistics
Inclusion is the vital ingredient missing from these teams:
- Only two in five executive teams begin the coaching program feeling that their teams are bound by caring, trusting, supportive relationships.
- Some 74 percent of team members are conflict avoidant and lack the courage to speak their minds.
Inclusión is the vital ingredient missing from these teams.
And in the most intimate form of collaboration, all of us were more readily open to each other as coaches for informal learning and professional development. We started realizing that there are people whose advice we could seek everywhere, but we had to reach out to them deliberately instead of waiting for the occasional serendipitous get-together
High-Return Practices for competing in the New World of Work
- Practice cocreation through co-elevation.
- Break through silos by teaming out.
- Hybridize teamwork for inclusion and crowdsourcing.
- Deepen external partnerships.
- Expand your personal coaches in a remote world
Out of the pandemic, this new world of work has emerged with a dire need for new work rules in virtual, remote, asynchronous, and hybrid working styles. The pandemic introduced a culture of collaboration and inclusion that so many of us have advocated for so many years. Now we have a unique opportunity to institute permanent change
The money saved in rent and travel costs doesn’t belong to the bottom line, said Martin Lindstrom, author of the bestseller Buyology and one of the world’s top 20 business thinkers, according to Thinkers50. It belongs instead to investments in collaborative culture. Now is the time to reinvent what organizational culture means
Practice Cocreation through Co-elevation
In 2020, the pandemic forced companies into a new standard of highly collaborative behaviors that we saw over and over again in our research on high-performing co-elevating teams. For a long time, polite, cooperative teamwork was sufficient to get the job done. Team members would operate independently, fulfilling their roles and assigned obligations, and would only slip into actual collaboration when it was necessary. On high-performing teams, however, the objective is to go beyond cooperation and create a dynamic of constant and unbounded cocreation
On such teams, interdependent members share accountability for each other’s results, pick each other up when one of them needs help, and share responsibility for crossing the finish line together. That’s the essence of what we call co-elevating teamwork, when team members together create results that also raise their capabilities as individuals. The new tools for virtual and blended teamwork make this message more compelling and more suited for the new world of work, where teamwork moves beyond mere cooperation and becomes truly cocreative.
How Fox Factory became a co-elevating team
the highest-performing teams, fueled by co-elevation, were able to uncover unexpected growth and control downside risk. They shared the load of leadership and fought united like a band of brothers and sisters to achieve audacious goals and extraordinary results. Their first step on that journey was to explicitly agree to new behavioral norms for teamwork: to recontract.
We have seen co-elevating teams like the one at Fox Factory create tens of billions of dollars of shareholder value through innovation and transformation, supported by people’s stubborn refusal to let each other fail
In all these instances, the highest-performing teams, fueled by co-elevation, were able to uncover unexpected growth and control downside risk. They shared the load of leadership and fought united like a band of brothers and sisters to achieve audacious goals and extraordinary results. Their first step on that journey was to explicitly agree to new behavioral norms for teamwork: to recontract
Recontracting for co-elevation
The work of a true co-elevating leader is to promote a shared sense of responsibility among team members and nurturing a common ethos with which everyone is committed to each other’s success
The team members need to openly discuss and debate all the desirable attributes of team behavior and then agree to support each other’s growth and success in maintaining those behaviors. The transparency of the process and the contractual nature of the agreement make living up to the behavioral standards a serious commitment, even a matter of personal integrity.
Signing an agreement to adhere to specific behaviors may seem a little contrived, because typical collaborative efforts begin with little or no discussion of these issues
Recontracting is especially important with virtual and blended teams, where there will most likely be remote workers who are not equally included
For any leader, initiating a candid recontracting discussion begins with a simple exploration of observable behaviors:
- Which working behaviors need to improve in order for us to achieve our immediate objectives?
- Which new high-return practices should we adopt to support and sustain our improved collaborative behaviors going forward?
Leaders can then ask the following questions, which are based on the benchmarking survey Ferrazzi Greenlight conducts with teams at the beginning of, during, and at the end of coaching engagements:
- Does our team have conflict avoidance? Do we challenge the thinking in the room and speak candidly even when it is risky to do so?
- Does our team have silos? Do we collaborate and create tangible value from the interdependencies that exist between us?
- Is our team encumbered by hierarchy or control?
- Are we dedicated to holding each other accountable, doing whatever it takes to cross the finish line together?
- Are our team members deeply committed to each other, leading with generosity and building caring, trusting, and supportive relationships with one another?
Maintaining psychological safety within the team takes deliberate and focused effort, whether your team members sit next to you at the office or live on the other side of the world
As a critical new leadership art form, co-elevation improves over time and with the help of methods we’ve researched and identified as high-return practices. In 2020, as we shifted our coaching business to fully remote team coaching, we saw a powerful opportunity to test all these remote and virtual work high-return practices that we’d been developing for more than ten years. We found massive shifts in measurable change across all the teams we were working with—a 79 percent increase in candor, 75 percent increase in development, 46 percent increase in collaboration, and 44 percent increase in accountability
High-return practices for collaboration
After the new social contract is agreed to among team members, it’s time to initiate a set of practices that support and encourage the new behaviors so they can grow into habits and rituals
Go to the breakout rooms
Virtual environments require frequent use of breakout rooms as acceleration pods of deeper collaboration. Avoid seeing yourself as the center of your team. Your job is to ask the smart questions and to break the team into smaller groups of two or three people
Team members feel safe under these conditions:
- When it is permissible to make mistakes
- When sensitive topics are openly discussed
- When team members are openly willing to help each other
- When differences among team members are welcome, that is, when team members feel free to be themselves
All of these factors are enhanced in small groups, where team members feel the safest to speak openly in service of the team, its mission, and each other. People in small groups have more courage to express themselves about difficult questions. They will self-critique and weed out weaker ideas
Practice collaborative problem-solving
All these tools are critical to executing on collaborative problem-solving (CPS), one of most powerful virtual meeting frameworks we know. Developed through many years of coaching Fortune 500 executive teams, CPS focuses on a single business-critical question or several of them in a sixty- to ninety-minute meeting. For at least half of the session, the team breaks into small groups of three or four people to discuss the question or questions and report back. The questions could involve how to achieve a specific upside goal or mitigate a specific downside risk. Craft the question carefully so that it’s easy to have up-or-down answers. What innovations could we bring to the retail experience? What’s most likely to derail us in the next six months?
Cut back on meetings
No matter whether they’re in person or online, about one-third of your meetings are an absolute waste of time and energy. Meetings also take a heavy toll on the mental focus of individual team members. Too many meetings during the day is the reason so many people work nights and weekends just to catch up with work that requires unbroken periods of time for deep concentration
Share the sweet and sour
If you must meet, open meetings with relationship and empathy. For larger meetings, a good way to conjure the spirit of empathy quickly is to begin by asking everyone to share something sweet and something sour in their lives
Conduct a personal - professional check-in
With each virtual encounter, whether it’s a meeting or a call with someone you have not spoken to for a few days, be sure to do a quick personal-professional check-in at the start. What is really going on personally with you? What is really going on professionally? We add the word really because effective co-elevation requires team members to have a sense of how everyone is is doing mentally, emotionally, and physically
Maximize your use of online collaborative tools
The pace of collaboration is quickening as bold ideas become more portable and shareable. A new generation of online apps have greatly improved the capabilities for asynchronous and real-time collaboration among team members
Take candor breaks
Team members who truly care about each other will offer candid criticism to express sincere concern for the good of the team—the essence of co-elevation
Break through Silos by Teaming Out
The animating principle of co-elevation is what we call teaming out—reaching beyond the organizational limits of your team to draw in others to cocreate solutions
From there, you must reach out to those people through the three leadership points of serve, care, and share. Ask how you can be of service to them. How can you demonstrate that you care about the mission but also about them? What can you share of your own experience that makes it easier for your associates to connect with you? From all these perspectives, how can you build the bonds of mutual commitment?
Serving, caring, sharing
Digital automation and a new approach to peer-to-peer coaching was the answer
Earning permission to lead
The most exciting aspect of building strong co-elevating teams in the new world of work is that the process is not exclusive to reporting relationships or confined by organization design. The co-elevating ethos of empathy, generosity, and candor naturally compels the group to expand the boundaries of its reach beyond the tight inner circle. Great teams keep expanding their reach using all the tools and practices discussed so far, putting them to use in expanding the teams’ reach far beyond the limitations of their core team members.
The key is to adopt a leading-without-authority mindset. To achieve this, follow four basic steps to reinvent your team scope and earn permission to lead:
- Redefine who your team is.
- Accept that it is all on you
- Earn permission to lead
- Cocreate the solution with this broader team
Hybridize Teamwork for Inclusion and Crowdsourcing
After a few months of using their new remote tools during the pandemic, some organizations truly seized the advantages of engaging teams in a new way. They began to explore how online inclusion and collaboration could fuel innovation at scale
Deepen External Partnerships
Faced with a pandemic-driven disruption of traditional go-to-market models and supply chains, many companies seized the opportunity to co-elevate with both customers and suppliers—to reach out and draw them closer in. Virtual tools added speed and scale to such collaborations, allowing businesses to tap new sources of external information and insight that they had never directly engaged with before. These deepened external partnerships, forged in the chaos of the pandemic, have been revealed as an essential collaborative best practice in the new world of work
We ensured that the early roundtables began on a positive note, and that co-elevation was the objective. Frank recalled, We always started by asking people to open with what their silver lining was. Participants would share stories about spending more time with their children, not getting on airplanes for the past few months and foreseeable future, getting to know colleagues better by seeing inside their homes and family lives
And the result? Roundtable participants were able to take fresh thinking—rooted in evidence of what was working elsewhere—back to their leadership teams at a time when everyone was feeling stretched
Expand Your Personal Coaches in a Remote World
Our research showed that the most intimate level of collaborative inclusion that ramped up considerably during the quarantines and social distancing of 2020 was an increase in executives’ willingness to open themselves up to each other for advice and counsel. Many leaders evolved personal support networks of advisers and coaches throughout the pandemic
On a personal basis, many of us reached out to old friends we’d lost touch with for open, more vulnerable sharing and peer-to-peer coaching. The virtual environment lent itself readily to tapping into advice from peers inside and outside the company, and even outside our industry. We learned to bulletproof our ideas with people we respected and admired and with a more diverse set of individuals—like old friends who had a perspective completely outside our organization’s culture
The dynamism and free flow of ideas among the leaders at the GFTW Institute has been a grand, ongoing exercise in teaming out—an antidote to the quarantined world, with inclusion as the driving force for innovation and growth
How to Compete in the New World of Work
Do we come together as a team with a shared commitment to radical collaboration, and not only in times of crisis?
Do we harness innovation and collaboration beyond our team and from all corners of our organization?
Do we leverage a broader external ecosystem of customers, vendors, and partners to drive higher levels of collaboration?
3Lead through Enterprise Agile
These and many other companies accomplished such feats through a bundle of practices we call crisis agile. They tasked self-organizing teams with specific measurable objectives. The teams met frequently to collaborate on overcoming roadblocks. They innovated and cocreated through constant iteration. They sprinted to short-term interim outcomes, then kept reassessing and pivoting toward achieving their objectives. These are all practices emblematic of agile, the fast-moving working discipline that originated in the software development field.
High-Return Practices for competing in the New World of Work
- Always put customer value first.
- Drive team autonomy downward.
- Lead biweekly sprints toward measurable outcomes.
- Bulletproof the work through team feedback.
- Scale to sustain innovation
That’s the promise of enterprise agile in the new work of work. You shift your leadership approach and delegate responsibility to teams closest to work and closest to the customer. With enterprise agile, every team’s job is to innovate and create customer value
The previous chapter showed how remote and blended teams require high levels of communication and accountability to achieve radically adaptable collaboration. The same is true for agile teams, but agile teams raise the stakes by combining the best practices of collaboration with their obsessive focus on creating customer value
Always Put Customer Value First
The ability of Target’s teams to move so fast and flexibly reflects the profound effect agile has on work behaviors and attitudes throughout the company. There’s a culture of flexibility and collaboration by design, said Rich Agostino, Target’s chief information security officer
Now a similar crisis has arrived for business leadership in the new world of work. New technologies are creating opportunities faster than old bureaucratic methods can effectively deal with them. As digital technology becomes a determining factor in the future of almost every industry, enterprise agile becomes the natural operating system for radical adaptability
Drive Team Autonomy Downward
Enterprise agile produces innovative solutions by continually experimenting and testing toward measurable outcomes. It overcomes bureaucracy-created obstacles for which there are no bureaucratic solutions
Everyone knows what it’s like to work on ill-conceived projects that fail because the assignment set from on high was to answer the wrong questions. With enterprise agile, the job of every team is to innovate and create customer value. It is not for team members to prove their worth to their supervisors. When agile is done right, it doesn’t mean throwing away control it means modernizing it, said Rich Agostino. Not many people will complain about removing processes they find bureaucratic
Leading with an agile mindset and achieving enterprise agile requires leaders to pull back from micromanaging operations, and spend more time defining the strategic missions that drive their teams. The principles of agile may seem like a recipe for a poorly controlled environment.
Agile experimentation controls risk through frequent testing and incremental learning
The agile design of Anthem’s digital sandbox is a great example of how agile reduces downside risk while allowing for massive upside gain. The guiding principle for every new feature was to start small but design for scale from the beginning. That way, when something doesn’t work well, it can be stopped quickly with a minimum of lost resources. But when something did work well, the process allowed it to be accelerated and scaled much faster than had been done in the past.
Lead Biweekly Sprints toward Measurable Outcomes
With enterprise agile, the spirit of experimentation and focus on measurable outcomes opens up all kinds of opportunities for the leadership team to boost its efficacy. You ask more questions and give fewer directions. What are we going to achieve this week? In the next two weeks? How do we move? Where do we pivot? Can we measure the outcome? If not, why not? Asking these questions through bold and fast iteration helps keeps agile teams on track
Under the agile process, a senior leader in Target’s store operations team owns the vision, road map, and feature prioritization for the entire checkout process. That leader partners with the tech team members in a fast-paced, iterative way that includes daily stand-up meetings (sometimes called scrums) to prioritize product updates and changes in line with shifts in customer behaviors and preferences
Designing agile work requires breaking down big tasks into smaller tasks that each agile team can take on simultaneously. The art of agile work design, said David, is to make sure that every team assignment is small enough to be quickly achievable, but still big enough to be meaningful
Bulletproof the Work through Team Feedback
By working in sprints toward customer-centric outcomes, agile gives us a new way of working. Teams move away from an obsession with each member’s productivity and go toward a sense of mutual responsibility among the members of the self-organized, cross-functional teams. The presence of people from different departments provides checks and balances throughout the process. Again, the key is to make sure you have all the right stakeholders involved, but if the members of an interdepartmental team cross the finish line together, the group has probably achieved its outcome by proactively addressing the kinds of issues that might have scuttled it if they hadn’t been caught in time. We’ve sometimes heard people call this approach a premortem
The advantage of working in sprints is that in the intervening days—or even hours, depending on the urgency of the project—the team members shoulder the responsibility for deciding what work needs to get done, by whom, and by when. Peer-to-peer accountability of this kind is the overloaded manager’s best friend. If you spend your day trying to keep everyone accountable, you’re not really leading
Moving to agile leadership and incorporating sprints gives your teams the framework for accountability. But how do you make sure your members are communicating with each other and giving everyone the information they need to hold each other accountable? We recommend a tactic we call bulletproofing
With bulletproofing, the report out becomes a focused presentation. An individual spends fifteen minutes talking about the big projects he or she is tackling, the risks and challenges, and—crucially—what the team can do to help. The team then breaks into small groups of three to constructively discuss the presentation
During the breakout, the small groups discuss the following:
- What challenge or risk should we bring to the larger group’s attention?
- What innovation or new ideas might be beneficial?
- What help or resources can we offer?
Agile teams with clarity of mission and adequate resources are capable of self-organizing and self-managing. The teams decide which approaches, people, and resources will be required to achieve its objectives, and the behavior within the team evolves from authority-centric norms into customer-centric cultures
Scale to Sustain Innovation
The prerequisite for a leadership team to scale enterprise agile is to make sure that the team itself is running under agile principles
In Doing Agile Right, Sarah Elk and her coauthors single out Dell as an example of agile leadership at the organizational level. By their estimation, Dell does four things that distinguish it from conventional companies
- Dell plans through extensive customer input
- Dell maximizes discretion among its teams
- Dell avoids top-level multitasking
- Dell revisits and updates plans frequently
Agile’s speed and flexibility makes it the ideal radically adaptable approach for the fast-paced changes in the new world of work
How to Compete in the New World of Work
Do our operational teams have the autonomy to experiment their way to fast, breakthrough innovation?
Are our team innovation projects overly vague and ambitious, or do we break down our initiatives into bite-size milestones that can be achieved, celebrated, and built on?
4Promote Team Resilience
Psychologists who have studied resilience define it typically as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy [and threats].2 Each individual’s capacity for personal resilience is highly dependent on the person’s mental and emotional makeup.
Aspects of team resilience are built into the working methodologies we’ve discussed so far. All the best practices of collaboration, inclusion, and agility drive performance through flexibility, iteration, mutual support, and other features that benefit team resilience. High-performing teams are designed to be resilient because team members contract with each other for mutual support through cocreation and co-elevation
High-Return Practices for competing in the world of work
- Diagnose your team’s resilience.
- Employ high-return practices for supporting team resilience.
- Cocreate solutions for acute stressors.
- Support mental health for sustainable resilience
Diagnose Your Team’s Resilience
Next we partnered with LHH’s Mary-Clare Race and Taryn Marie Stejskal, founder and chief resilience officer at the Resilience Leadership Institute. Our intention was to develop new insights on team-based resilience that would complement all the great work being done on personal resilience, such as Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research. We took note of observable actions and behaviors within teams when assessing resilience (as opposed to trying to measure individual thinking and attitudes) and determined that the following team behaviors are the most reliable diagnostic indicators of team resilience.
- Performance: Is the team achieving its targets? One of the clearest measures of resilience is whether a team can complete what needs to be done and take the hills that have been set as objectives
- Candor The members of nonresilient teams cannot speak truth to each other or collectively identify and decrypt the challenges they face
- Resourcefulness: Resourceful teams devote their energy to solutions and remain focused on outcomes, regardless of external conditions.
- Compassion and empathy: Do your team members truly care for each other and share both successes and failures?
- Humility and vulnerability: Can your team members ask for and accept help from other team members?
- Productive perseverance: Can your team change its heading but maintain its goal?
- Grati-osity: Can your team reflect with grati-osity, that is, with gratitude and generosity?
- Positive intent: Is your team’s mindset to assume best intent?
Employ High-Return Practices for Supporting Team Resilience
As a leader, try thinking about resilience as if there’s a little dial in the middle of each team member’s forehead. The dial measures energy and engagement levels, and it’s your job to make sure the dial is on a high setting or to help turn it up. For the sake of team resilience in the new world of work, monitoring each other’s energy levels is everyone’s job now
Raising the overall level of team resilience requires a level of self-awareness and empathy that may not come naturally to all team members
Commit to building each other’s resilience
The essence of co-elevation is that we commit to each other’s growth through adversity. Use the team recontracting process described in chapter 2 to ensure that team resilience is a fundamental part of the explicit social contract for team behavior
Provide positive feedback, which matters more than ever
Fast and frequent feedback is an important factor in all collaborative and agile work processes. Sustaining team resilience requires that the fast and frequent feedback be framed in positive terms
Share your story; own your challenges
To build trust and honesty, leaders must facilitate the process of encouraging team members to express their fears and describe their relationship challenges and then canvass the team for solutions
Use independent observers
Resilient leaders invite outside experts to offer an objective perspective on team dynamics and other issues
Show that you care
Leaders have to regularly demonstrate that they are genuinely interested in the progress the team is making
Enforce break times
It’s important right now for employers to encourage people to go on vacation, whether or not they physically go anywhere, said clinical psychologist Sera Lavelle, of NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy
Hire for resilience
As we grow in our understanding of team resilience, individual resilience will become an increasingly sought-after attribute in the hiring and promotion process
Cocreate Solutions for Acute Stressors
Having come from larger companies with established wellness budgets and staffing, she knew that her little startup would require a different approach. I wanted to find scrappy solutions that really helped solve the core problems but didn’t require unsustainable cash or huge teams to execute. And I wasn’t going to be able to design a one-size-fits-all solution. I needed to get bottom-up ideas and find solutions that were really flexible for individuals’ situations.
On a daily basis, we give our all.… My colleagues are constantly thinking about the needs of people around the world.
Isolation fatigue and team bonding
Working from home is here to stay. It’s nice to have those places to connect and share, but great leaders do more than that to support team resilience
Lack of healthy routines
One common problem with working from home is a lack of structure in the workday, which leads many to neglect making time for personal care and exercise. Some companies encouraged workers to turn the thirty or forty minutes they might otherwise have spent commuting into scheduled time for healthy juice breaks, yoga stretches, or other physical activity
Support Mental Health for Sustainable Resilience
We all have some stress and anxiety in our lives. The sign of mental health is when one or more specific stresses or anxieties don’t debilitate us
Management and C-suite behavior modeling
All the training in the world won’t help if organizational leaders do not model the right kind of behavior. As managers and executives, you also have lots of stress. So how do you handle it? Do you speak openly with your team about your stressors?
You can reduce stigma by talking openly and making sure your staff understands all the mental health benefits on offer by your company
Resiliency is important for all the staff, from the C-suite to managers to lower-level employees, and specialized training can benefit everyone. HR consulting firm LHH provides solutions for resilience via formal coaching for employees
Management training for mental health support
To attain a solid backbone of mental wellness, management needs to be on board. We can’t cut corners on training the upper levels to understand the causes of anxiety, stress, and depression; to learn how to recognize symptoms in employees; and to discover solutions to combat these issues and increase overall wellness and satisfaction in their teams
Meditation and mindfulness
Many companies come to Headspace with the expectation of lowering their health-care costs, because improved mental health leads to better overall physical health. But Headspace has found that the greatest benefit comes from improved employee engagement. Our level of anxiety and the demands on our resilience affects our attitude at work, how productive we are, how much time we might miss, and how we talk about our employer, CeCe explained. If you’re taking care of the wholeness of the person, especially the mind, you’re improving everything that you brought them on board to do.
Counseling and therapy
Psychotherapy will always be a cornerstone of mental health, and companies that make it easy for their employers to access therapy—ideally at little or no cost—reap the benefits of mentally well, productive staff. While insurance coverage for therapy should be a given, it’s important to destigmatize therapy and counseling and ensure that staff is not shamed for using it.
Connection between physical wellness and mental wellness
The link between good physical and mental health is undeniable. Ensuring that we are physically and mentally healthy allows for a holistic approach to our daily wellness; it’s the reason why programs like WW have incorporated mental wellness tools for their members
How to Compete in the New World of Work
- Does our team culture celebrate and support employee resilience?
- Do we proactively diagnose specific stressors that erode resilience?
- Do we co-elevate as a team to ensure that we own each other’s mental and physical well-being?
5Develop Active Foresight
Radically adaptable teams are capable of planning for the future, even when the future is unknowable. And they do this by developing a foresight muscle that proactively detects early signals of change and responds swiftly to them.
High-Return Practices for competing in the world of work
- Detect threats and opportunities.
- Assess and prioritize signals.
- Respond and plan possible scenarios
- Foster a culture of continuous learning.
So if you know it’s likely to rain tomorrow, what do you do in response? You would most likely postpone washing your car today, you would make sure all your windows are closed before you go to sleep tonight, and you might even change your social plans for tomorrow. We can forecast the risk of rain because we have empirical data and complex models. But the more distant future is different: it isn’t predictable, because we don’t have analytical models to understand the full range of outcomes for things we can’t yet see. This is where developing plausible future scenarios comes in handy. It helps you see things that aren’t yet visible.
In foresight, we see the future in a similar way to how weather forecasters predict the path of hurricanes—through the lens of a cone of plausibility. The center line of the cone, where the hurricane is now, is the most likely path forward and is the baseline future. The outer areas of the cone are plausible places the hurricane may travel to, but with less likelihood. These are called plausible futures. As the hurricane gets closer to land, the cone narrows and gives observers a better appreciation of what’s likely to happen and how to respond
In a world where the churn of change keeps bringing the future forward at an ever-faster pace, radically adaptable leadership requires us to integrate the practice of foresight into our daily operations so we can give our organizations the flexibility to thrive no matter what weather the future brings. We need to proactively reframe how we see the future so that we not only detect and assess possible changes on the horizon but also prepare for them. It’s a process that makes our teams smarter, stronger, more resilient, and more radically adaptable
Planning the future is hard, but it’s a teachable skill. It’s equal parts art, science, and judgment, and our goal is to help you develop this leadership competence to compete and win in a new world of work
The first step is detecting early warning signals that indicate change. A signal is something that can impact your business, similar to how radar picks up incoming airplane signals. The second step involves assessing the likely impact of these signals on your organization. And the third step is proactively responding to the most plausible future scenarios
Detect Threats and Opportunities
When the executive team members at Lockheed Martin Space scanned the environment to detect the risks posed by Covid-19, they had two questions in mind: (1) What is our decision-making horizon? (2) What critical assumptions are we making about our business and the nature of its environment?
Establishing a time horizon for detecting signals is critical, as you would make different preparations if the hurricane were three weeks away rather than one day away. And so we need to establish the time frame of expected change to train our eyes to see and our ears to hear the right early signals. Start by picking a horizon that is relevant to your organization. We recommend two time frames: one short term, within a year, and one longer term, within five years. But once we start thinking about very long-term horizons, uncertainty increases, so we must treat any long-term projections with a grain of salt.
The second question is also paramount—what assumptions are you making about your business and its operating environment? This will help you consider alternative factors and scenarios that may truly impact your business but that you may not be paying attention to yet. What assumptions about your revenue sources, business model, culture, and human capital do you take for granted? What would happen if they proved dramatically off base? Would you be prepared to decisively change your tactics and strategies if your assumptions were incorrect? Leo Tilman suggests asking yourself, Are we focusing our attention on the right targets? Are we scanning the horizon broadly and vigilantly enough?
Reflecting on your company’s basic assumptions can bring to light areas of both vulnerability and opportunity
Detection is a team sport
Detecting, gathering, and evaluating risk intelligence is a team effort because no one person can keep a close watch on all the macro forces that will shape your future operating environment
To incorporate foresight tools sustainably into your strategy, you need to train everyone on your team to scan and detect the various signals of change.
Step by STEEP
How do you begin to scan and detect change? Five macro forces will shape the operating environment of every organization: sociological, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP)
Depending on your business and industry, some of the STEEP factors may be more relevant than others, and that’s OK. It’s not a strict formula that you have to probe all five factors; it’s more of a guide for potential variables.
In your existing team, divide everyone into five equal subgroups, and assign them to one of the five STEEP categories
This STEEP detection exercise helps create a clearer picture of what Leo Tilman calls your organization’s portfolio of risks
Assess and Prioritize Signals
An assessment matrix
Your organization probably doesn’t have complex algorithms to flag risk or a matrix-like data visualization room like the Fusion Resilience Center to show your entire portfolio of risks or, in Leo Tilman’s words, your enterprise risk radar. But you can use similar methodology to assess the downside risk and upside opportunity of change signals through your existing teams.
The chief output of your team’s STEEP subgroups is to develop and maintain a continuous and sustainable risk radar for your organization, which, as we explained earlier, should be done at your monthly team meetings
The goal is to use CPS to crowdsource the team’s assessment of the various signals so that you know which ones to focus on now versus later.
This is certainly a condensed exercise in risk assessment but one that every team can deploy sustainably in its day-to-day workflow and one that every leader must master to make each team radically adaptable for the future
The importance of iteration
Remember that your risk radar is only as good as your team’s ability to identify new data and analyze it on a regular and timely basis
Respond and Plan Possible Scenarios
Scenarios are defined as plausible stories that create a bias for deliberate action. In the assessment step during your monthly team meeting, any signal that was voted to be in quadrant 2—representing high impact and high likelihood—needs to undergo a scenario planning exercise so that your organization can prepare proactively for what the future may bring. Each scenario describes an alternative version of the future, using a different assumption, even though all the scenarios refer to the same underlying information. Once again, each scenario challenges you to explore even the most basic assumptions surrounding your business
Foresight practitioners commonly consider four trajectories for change when designing scenarios
- New equilibrium
One of the team’s scenarios had foreseen how badly the Sharks’ loyal ticket holders would miss the live games and thirst for some way to stay engaged while at home. For many fans, attending games and concerts at the San Jose Sharks’ stadium are anchor moments in their lives
Scenario planning also has a positive effect on executive team culture
Because scenario planning can be time- and resource-intensive, many companies save the practice for times of crisis, an approach that is bound to have only a limited impact and be simply reactive
Foster a Culture of Continuous Learning
foresight does—it teaches your leaders to expand your organizational mindset for what’s possible, it makes you and your colleagues smarter and better informed about the future, and it compels you to proactively win the fight for risk intelligence as if your organization’s life depends on it.
Simulation exercises go one step beyond scenario planning and turn hypothetical paper ideas into real war games that improve our risk management and enhance our capabilities, processes, and cultures when we need to respond to a sudden shift in the environment
How to Compete in the New World of Work
- Does our team spend sufficient energy thinking about the future on a monthly basis?
- Does our team have a solid understanding of the early-warning signals that can disrupt us and a method for assessing priorities?
- Does our team have action plans in place for various possible future states?
6Future-Proof Your Business Model
As you consider your role as a radically adaptable leader, it’s time to pause and ask yourself, What business are we really in? Consider approaching this question from a first principles perspective, and question your major assumptions about your business and your industry. Think of yourself as a toddler, consistently questioning every new experience. But why? It’s possibly the most annoying repeated phrase that parents must respond to, but a child’s healthy development depends on the child’s constant questioning of its perceptions of the world. The same can be said about you and your business.
High-Return Practices for competing in the new world of work
- Zoom out to envision your industry ten years ahead.
- Identify technologies poised for exponential growth
- Zoom in through rapid agile experimentation.
- Create communities of raving customers
Four Steps to the Future
In our Go Forward to Work (GFTW) interviews and focus groups with over two thousand executives, we heard repeatedly how the pandemic had forced many of these business leaders to rethink their long-held assumptions about their industries and, in some cases, completely reinvent the way they earned revenue
From this research, we’ve identified certain common patterns of business model reinvention practiced by the most successful companies. We’ve developed a four-step methodology your team can use to question your current business model and advance it toward the future.
Engaging in this methodology is an effective way of leveraging much of the foresight work your team has done in the previous chapter
Zoom Out to Envision Your Industry Ten Years Ahead
Zoom-out exercises of this kind invite leaders to make leaps of imagination in which growth is nonsequential, orthogonal, and exponential—very different from traditional three-year growth planning projections expressed in terms that are sequential, linear, and geometric
The simplest way to see the difference is to picture the short-term and long-term paths of most business careers. Changes happen to most people from year to year in fairly orderly sequences, but the shape of change over the decades is almost always unexpected and nonlinear
This kind of zoom-out exercise can be done at your team’s annual strategic planning meeting. But it is most decidedly not a solitary exercise or limited to just your team, and you should involve anyone who can help you encapsulate that vision
Identify Technologies Poised for Exponential Growth
Zooming out forces you to speculate about the next ten years of technological progress and how those technologies might remake your industry several times over in that time span. Next, you want to explore those emerging technologies and envision the opportunities to grow along with them. Technological growth by its nature follows an exponential growth curve, and your company can enjoy a similar pace of growth if you are able to engage with the right technologies early on.
One of the primary effects of exponential technology on business is that it digitizes the functions of material objects so the objects are no longer needed. The functions become dematerialized
At first, demonetization is disruptive to industries when it leads to lower total revenues. But if you can identify which two or three exponential technologies are potentially the most disruptive for your industry, you can benefit because demonetarization ultimately leads to a much larger mass market when the domain explodes. At that point, the technology is democratized and you can scale globally
AI as a service
Peter Diamandis likes to say that there will be two types of companies in ten years’ time: AI-led companies, and dead companies. We want to make sure you fall into the former camp, not the latter. Every company must, at the very minimum, develop a strong AI competency in addition to any other exponential technologies relevant for its industry
The next era of computing will be propelled by quantum computing, which will radically change the nature of a wide range of industries, including finance, materials science, logistics, supply chain, biotechnology, and computer network security itself
Since 2016, we’ve seen the emergence of new user interfaces like augmented reality and virtual reality open new pathways for humans to experience education, entertainment, and empathy, via remote connectivity
Digital assets like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are growing in appeal because they are based on blockchain technology, a distributed database of encrypted information that is stored in duplicate on hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide
The spatial web
The pandemic supercharged the desire to connect in virtual environments beyond videoconferencing, and now entrepreneurs are building the next era of the spatial web, where individuals will interact with each other not through screens but within three-dimensional spaces combining both real and virtual locations
Zoom In through Rapid Agile Experimentation
To zoom in on the future and leverage one or two technologies that give you the greatest chance of catching a wave of exponential growth, John Hagel suggests identifying two high-impact experimental projects that can be completed within the next six to twelve months and would move your company in the direction of your zoom-out vision. This short-term goal requires an agile approach in proof of concept, experimentation, iteration, and deployment, and it’s just short enough to not get bogged down in two- or three-year plans.
One benefit of zooming in is that it allows your team to make small, strategic, high-impact annual bets about the future without committing to long-term, multiyear projects. If the exercise proves fruitful at the end of a quarterly or six-month sprint, resources could be added to accelerate the project’s impact. If the experiment doesn’t result in hopeful ways or no longer aligns with your annual zoom-out vision, you can pivot to new zoom-in projects. Along the way, you will constantly learn what works after every zoom-in project, and this will help cultivate a learning mindset within your leadership culture
In this agile journey, you may feel like some of your zoom-in efforts are disappointing or that the technology is not as mature as you had hoped. But don’t be fooled. You need to remember how exponential technologies grow slowly before they explode. The key here is to continue experimenting with agile zoom-in projects to get closer to your zoom-out vision. Some experiments will prove more fruitful than others, but your organization will benefit nevertheless through a culture of learning and experimentation.
Create Communities of Raving Customers
Given how exponential technology has the power to transform industries overnight, we believe it’s also critical to go beyond mere product, service, and technology innovation—all of which can be replicated or disrupted—and foster communities to complement the technology, to help you withstand copycatting, and to make your business more resilient in times of uncertainty.
The ability of small organizations like these to thrive under such adverse conditions points to the increasing phenomenon of digital democratization and the transfer of power and decision-making from a central gatekeeper authority—governments, traditional media, financial markets, and so forth—to peer-to-peer networks of tech-enabled individuals
In an increasingly decentralized world where technology democratizes access to anything and everything, power lies within communities of individuals who can radically disrupt the status quo. In this decade, what will differentiate you from your competitors will be how you foster, nurture, and harness your community and build a defensible moat against the competition
The lesson is clear from our research: a community of devoted fans, if their purpose and passion is leveraged for good, can come to your rescue when you’re most in need. So it’s time to ask yourself, Who are my company’s superfans? And who would come to our aid when seas are rough? Build a moat around your business model, and the power of the communities you attract can help your organization stay resilient in times of distress. In the final two chapters, we’ll show how reinventing your business model can help you redesign your workforce and lead with your foremost values in mind to separate your organization from all the rest, and win in this new world of work
How to Compete in the New World of Work
- Does our company actively envision what our industry will look like in a decade?
- How does our company incorporate frontier technologies?
- How do we build community around every aspect of our company?
7Build a Lego Block Workforce
Mariya Filipova hung up the phone, took off her signature bright-red eyeglasses, and sat down to consider what to do next. It was the beginning of the pandemic. Her boss had just asked her to reduce her department’s operating expenses and rethink her staffing model in a way that did not impact the service they provided to their customers. She was to report back with a process that could be replicated elsewhere in the company. In these early days of the pandemic, everyone was managing cash outlays carefully, and Mariya’s employer was no different. Because Mariya had a reputation for finding creative solutions, her team was tasked to take on this project and provide a playbook for the rest of the organization. She had until the end of the day to call her boss back with a proposed plan.
High-Return Practices for competing in the new world of work
- Ask, What work needs to be done?
- Ask, What workforce will we engage?
- Ask, Where will the workforce work?
- Execute the transition.
As we followed Mariya’s journey and that of many other executives who were redesigning their workforce in the midst of a global pandemic, we gleaned insights on their decisions that helped them become radically adaptable in unprecedented times. This chapter is their playbook for how to build the workforce of the future.
The Lego Block Workforce
In the new world of work, where you have to proactively leverage foresight to innovate, building a workforce that looks like Lego blocks—which can be assembled and reconstituted for various business goals and tasks—gives you nimbleness to reinvent your future and withstand the ebbs and flows of a stormy sea.
To begin, you have to answer three critical questions: First, what work actually needs to be done? Second, how do you decide who does the work? Third, where does it need to get done? At the end of this chapter, we’ll explore a fourth corollary question: How do you move your current workforce into this new paradigm?
What Work Needs to Be Done?
The late Clay Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School and best known for his seminal work on disruptive innovation, posited that great companies often fail to innovate because they don’t create products or services that fill their customers’ real needs, or the jobs to be done—which customers hire them to do.2 As customers, we hire (i.e., buy) a product or service to accomplish a certain task for us. If the product or service fails to fill the need, we fire it and hire another. As a leader in your organization, one of your key priorities is to establish what tasks need to be done and who you should hire, literally and figuratively, to get that job done. This first section will describe the process by which you determine what jobs need to be done
Building the team
Before you even start redesigning your workforce, it’s critical to think consciously about who is in the room, and who has a seat at what we like to call the Jedi Task Force
Work has become increasingly cross-functional. As a result, the knowledge required to understand the dynamics between various tasks is dispersed across various silos within a company. At the same time, the experience required to reimagine new processes is dispersed outside the company and often across industries. For a workforce transformation to be effective, this knowledge asymmetry within transformation teams needs to be addressed.
So, your optimal Jedi Task Force would be composed of both external experts and internal team members. External experts provide an outsider perspective and can ask the tough questions; internal members generate the institutional knowledge needed to commit to a massive workforce transformation.
Deciding where to focus
Once you have your Jedi Task Force established, it’s now time to break down job tasks into their component parts, or microtasks. This step is often the hardest part of the sausage making and can be quite daunting given that any company, whether a small business or a large multinational, has hundreds, if not thousands or even tens of thousands, of processes that make up every workflow. How do you even begin to think about where to start? Which job tasks should be the highest priority for evaluation? We recommend zooming out and looking at the big picture of the company and then applying filters to prioritize where to begin focusing your workforce redesign. Vijay Murugappan suggests applying three filters
- The first filter through which to view this process is a strategic lens
- The second filter to consider would be a financial lens
- A third filter to consider is a performance lens
The key point here is that the right filters to use will differ for each team, each business, and each industry. Strategy, finance, and performance are merely three lenses to begin narrowing down tens of thousands of job processes and identifying the highest-impact tasks to transform your workforce
Next, combine the various attributes into a single color-coded heat map, which represents the data graphically. That makes it easy to see at a glance which tasks are in greatest strategic alignment with team goals or which tasks would yield the greatest benefit if they were redesigned. Each heat map is unique to each team and each company and provides an integrated way to help leaders assess priorities, identify gaps between intent, spending, and outcomes, and focus on the highest-impact tasks first. The heat map helps leaders decide which job tasks to prioritize in a first wave of redesign, which tasks to prioritize in a second wave, which to prioritize in a third wave, and so forth, as measured by strategic alignment and the overall benefit of a workforce redesign.
Pixelating and reimagining the job
Once you’ve identified the top ten, twenty, or fifty job work flows for redesigning through the preceding heat map exercise, it’s time to do the nitty-gritty and break down each of the job tasks into their underlying microtasks—a process we call pixelating (a reference to photography, where thousands of underlying pixels make up the greater image). You do this by first assembling your Jedi Task Force in one room or virtually online, to systematically discuss each job flow. The goal is to pixelate, or break down, each job workflow into its underlying microtasks and to capture those microtasks on a whiteboard (physical or digital) so everyone can agree on the tasks required for each job to be done.
The important part is that you approach the process systematically in a three-step process
Step 1: What is?
What is the current state of your team or company’s work processes? Start by convening your Jedi Task Force and documenting each of the tasks in your workflow step-by-step
They then asked, Why is this being done? The goal was to identify the constraints or requirements that have shaped the current workflow and to eliminate the barriers deemed duplicative, non-value-adding, or otherwise wasteful
Step 2: What if?
In this step, your Jedi Task Force should focus on this question: how do we ideally want it to be done? The goal is to first design the end state of your workflow, without any constraints on technology, time, or resources. And then map this end-state vision against the requirements and constraints identified in the first workshop step
Step 3: What works?
In this final step, your Jedi Task Force needs to answer this question: How do we make the change last? How do we develop solutions that can be adopted at scale within three months, six months, or a year? Your task force begins by discussing barriers to change, generating ideas, and assessing the feasibility of each proposed resolution
Once you’ve gone through the pixelation exercise just described, you may decide that your existing workforce can do some of these tasks but that the team needs to change its current behaviors to accomplish those tasks. You have to go through a similar pixelation exercise to answer the following questions: What are the old behaviors? What are the new necessary behaviors to succeed in these jobs? And how do we train our team to develop and adopt these highest-return behaviors?
This pixelation process can feel tedious, but it’s a necessary first step in redesigning your workforce. If you follow the three-step What is? What if ? and What works? workshop methodology just described, you’ll be able to understand what each job flow requires. And you’ll be able to decide how to reassemble the tasks, figure which highest-value behaviors need to be developed, and then staff those job tasks appropriately with the right Lego block. Deciding on the appropriate workforce is where we turn our attention to next
What Workforce Will We Engage?
Once you’ve pixelated the various priority jobs to be done within your team and your organization and pixelated them into their constituent microtasks, you now have to decide who will do the work. How do you decide if you should build, buy, or borrow that talent? By this question, we mean, should you expend the effort to develop the workforce internally, buy the talent externally through vendor partnerships, or borrow the talent through third-party labor platforms?
To decide which Lego blocks to assemble for your workforce, consider this visual of two knobs, or dials, on a car radio (a predigital car radio!). We call them decision dials. One dial on the right side of the radio tunes the frequency, and the other knob on the left changes the volume. Depending on how you move these dials, you can change the musical experience in your car: what you hear and how loudly you hear it.
We believe each company will need to make six decisions along the two main dimensions of workforce and workplace. The first three decisions focus on who does the work, which we’ll explore in this section (figure 7-1). The second three focus on where the work is done, which we’ll explore in the following section. How you dial each set of knobs will dictate the workforce you design and the Lego blocks you assemble. Each ending solution is unique to each company. There is no categorical right or wrong answer, but there is a solution unique to each set of strategic priorities and cultural value sets
Workforce decision dials
As the future of work drives toward a segmentation of tasks, we’ll see more diversity in where work is done and who does that work, as we saw in Paul’s case. To succeed in building their Lego blocks, team leaders will need to make three critical workforce decisions. Remember, there is no universal one right answer, but it is important to consider these questions conscientiously: How do we augment our employees with technology? How do we make the most of the people who do not work in our team, department, company or industry? How do we optimize my relationships with partners and collaborators?
Dial 1. Augmentation: Human or algorithmic?
The truth is, work in the future will be a balance between human intervention and automated technologies. The future of human work will rely on creativity, not productivity. Work that is repetitive, dirty, and dangerous will more than likely become automated through robotics and algorithms. Work that requires higher-order creativity, complex problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and emotional intelligence will be the domain of humans
Finally, as you evaluate the various work streams and jobs that need to be done, and as you ask yourself if this work should be done by a human or an algorithm, ask yourself, does it even need to be done? Part of this pixelation and workforce redesign process involves making sure you don’t hire the right person to do the wrong job. Step back and ask, Does this task or unit of activity even need to exist? If it doesn’t, eliminate the task and move on.
Dial 2. Employment: Traditional or gig?
We anticipate the technological trends that sparked the sharing economy over the last decade to continue growing exponentially over the coming years
Indeed, brilliant people are everywhere, and not just located near your corporate headquarters. Bill Joy, the cofounder of Sun Microsystems, once said, The smartest people always work for someone else.3 It’s true. The smartest people don’t all work at Amazon. Or Apple. Or Google. Or General Motors. Or Walmart. Or any other company. They work for all kinds of organizations all over the world. The most successful leaders must figure out how to tap into the cognitive intelligence of this distributed workforce and bring that intelligence into their businesses. And crowd-driven gig platforms can help build this radical adaptability for a new world of work.
So how do you decide if your workforce should be based on a traditional full-time employee model, a gig-economy model, or a hybrid somewhere in between the two? How do you tune the decision dials? The answer will depend on your team, your business, your industry, and your preferred future state. There is no one right answer but only an answer that is right for you
Dial 3. Ecosystem: Internal or external?
The natural inclination for many organizations has historically been to hire an individual, whether full time or part time, to accomplish a particular task. This practice continues to be a predominant workforce model for many organizations. But it’s not the only one. In addition to gig work performed by freelance individuals, companies can also partner with third-party organizations to accomplish a variety of tasks. These organizations can be fully outsourced staffing firms, supply-chain vendors, or even other partners in the corporate ecosystem.
How do you decide whether certain tasks should be executed internally or externally? The level of control needed to deliver a particular customer result should guide this decision. If the task is dependent on other variables that are internally managed, then that task will likely not be accomplished externally as efficiently. However, if the task can be done with minimal to no direction from management and is independent of internal controls, then it would suggest a good example for external work staffing.
Where Will the Workforce Work?
The next three decision dials focus on your workplace and will help you determine where your workforce should be located, and the optimal setting where processes and work tasks should be accomplished: in the office, remotely, in-country, offshore, in open environments, or in closed environments
Workplace decision dials
The key questions to consider include these: Should our employees be working onsite, or remotely? And if they work remotely, how can we ensure they are engaged virtually? If our employees work off-site, how can we take advantage of opportunities presented by different time zones, different geographic locations, and the lower cost of labor offshore? Finally, what is the optimal environment to encourage productivity and well-being? Is it in an open environment like the open-plan offices of the pre-pandemic age or a closed environment that encourages deep focus?
Dial 4. Presence: In-person or remote?
In the new world of work post-pandemic, it’s clear that many jobs can indeed be done remotely and that there are few tasks that absolutely need to be done in the office.
In addition to your existing in-person team, having a partly hybrid team or a fully remote one can open your organization to tapping into the cognitive intelligence of the world, regardless of where people are located. You can expand your flexibility in hiring, and find the best person for the task, whether they are local, in Memphis or Mumbai. Location doesn’t matter, as long as they have an internet connection and can use online collaboration tools to interact effectively with their remote and in-person colleagues
The benefits of hybrid and remote work are real: it can help you reimagine your real estate footprint, reduce your overall administrative costs, and simultaneously increase employee wellness as they balance personal and family responsibilities. It can also help you win the war for talent in a hypercompetitive labor pool.
Finally, as we look to the future, we can see that new technologies—such as previously discussed avatar systems, virtual and augmented reality, and spatial web—will continue to evolve and make physical location even less important
Dial 5. Location: Onshore or offshore?
You might decide that labor cost savings are a critical part of your strategic advantage and that the best way to do that would be to move certain tasks offshore, to jurisdictions with lower labor costs. Or you might consider that having staff overseas in different time zones would give you a longer workday and a leg up on your competition, since your offshore workers can work while you sleep, and vice versa
As with the previous decision dials, the choice between onshore and offshore talent will depend on your organizational values, circumstances, and preferences
Dial 6. Environment: Open or closed?
The final consideration for where your work stream can be accomplished is whether the work can be best done in an open, collaborative environment or in a closed, focused environment. If your work needs to be done synchronously-one task after the other—or needs a careful orchestration of multiple inputs, then an open, collaborative environment might be the best choice. Conversely, if your work can be done independently of other tasks, without input from other dependencies, or in a nonlinear fashion and at any time, then this particular task may be best suited to a more focused, closed environment
Execute the Transition
Earlier in this chapter, we suggested you should not preoccupy yourself with how to change your workforce composition until you have clarity on the six decision dials establishing what the work is, who does it, and where it’s done. Now it’s time to cross that bridge to the promised land. How do you move toward that preferred Lego block workforce? And what should you consider in deciding how to manage and train your various teams and workforces?
Once you have tuned the decision dials to your optimal workforce, you now have to start moving in that direction. But strategy does not live in a vacuum. As Peter Drucker once said, Culture eats strategy for breakfast. What he meant is that no matter how great your strategy, unless you have a cultural transformation process that takes into account the human factors within your company, your strategy will fail. You have to corral culture, learning and development, and incentive structures to move your organization’s workforce to your desired vision.
So, what cultural and human capital considerations should you take into account as you build your Lego block workforce? While the specifics of each company will differ according to size, history, industry, and resources, we want to offer you some critical questions to ask and help guide your team to the future. This by no means is meant to be exhaustive, as books will be written on each of the following workforce considerations, but these questions are thought starters for further investigation.
How to train the Lego blocks of the workforce
Beyond specific skill training, organizations also need to expand the cross-functional nature of skill development to facilitate collaboration and communication between the various Lego blocks. Gone are the days when engineers needed to stick solely to an engineering curriculum. Today, we see engineers collaborating with creatives and functional experts to redefine products and end-user experiences, just as different-colored Lego blocks come together to build new structures. As work becomes more fluid between Lego blocks, L&D leaders will need to make sure their approach to learning is cross-platform so that the various layers can communicate and collaborate with each other effectively.
This continuous-learning model will be a feature of all the most successful organizations. But since we often learn the most through mentorship and informal learning with our colleagues rather than formal classroom training, and since it’s more difficult to gather around a virtual water cooler than one in the office, you must also consciously design opportunities for informal learning and mentorship. In this way, the various parts of your Lego block workforce can tap into the aggregate knowledge base.
How to assess the performance of the Lego blocks
Given how hard it is to assess performance in a traditional work environment, how do you design a performance and assessment system in a Lego block workforce where people work in different conditions, environments, and incentive structures?
The specifics of performance assessment will differ for different parts of the Lego block workforce and lie beyond the scope of this book, but overall, performance assessment needs to fundamentally shift from measuring accountability for past actions to a future that measures how quickly your team learns new skills to accomplish a new task. Your role as a leader designing a Lego block workforce is to make sure your team has the necessary resources—from individualized learning and mentorship to clear communication channels—so that they can meet your organizational objectives, regardless of where people are physically located.
How to reskill your existing Lego blocks
You already have a skilled workforce that most likely works for you full time and, up until the pandemic, probably mostly on the premises. Without radical disruption, it’s impossible to suddenly move the dial from one extreme to another, as we saw in the early days of the pandemic. So you have to consider how to move your existing workforce to where you ultimately want it to be. As part of that process, you will definitely have employees whom you want to retain but whom you need to reskill for new roles and jobs that fit in your new strategy. By pixelating existing roles into tasks, as described earlier in this chapter, you can identify the skills needed for each job and then help your existing team upskill and make the transition into these new roles. Not everyone will want to retrain for new roles or skills; some people will choose to find new opportunities elsewhere. That’s a natural part of every transformation, but you have to be prepared to use your existing workforce to the extent possible.
Reskilling is especially important in certain industries and geographic locations where there aren’t enough new people to hire, so it may be critical to reskill those you already have in-house. Studies show, however, that most employees are dissatisfied with reskilling if it doesn’t expand their opportunities for advancement or better pay
How to Compete in the New World of Work
- What combination of a Lego block workforce will give us lasting competitive advantage?
- How do we decide who does the work and how, where, and when it should be done in the future?
8Supercharge Your Purpose
When our friend Simon Mulcahy, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Salesforce, was told that the final chapter of this book would be about organizational purpose, he joked that he might not want to participate in the project. Purpose isn’t some afterthought to end a book on an emotional note, he said. At Salesforce, we believe in purpose intrinsically. It’s in everything we do. The actual word purpose is rarely discussed at Salesforce, he said. Instead, we spend considerable time up front aligning behind our core values of trust, customer success, innovation, and equality. These values shape every decision we make as a company, as teams, and as individuals.
High-Return Practices for competing in the new world of work
- Team out to explore your organizational purpose.
- Promote purpose ownership.
- Set a purpose-driven course for radical adaptability
The importance of purpose has never been greater than today. The fast pivots and deft execution demanded by disruptive change are easier to handle when your workforce is engaged and inspired by their shared understanding of the company purpose. Change is happening so fast that there may be times when purpose is your company’s single most reliable point of reference, your home port in a storm
Make no mistake, every aspect of radical adaptability requires shifts in behavior and attitudes that will provoke doubts within the organization as to why? Why change? Why these changes? Why now? Why bother? Without a unifying higher purpose to serve as your why, each initiative toward radical adaptability runs the risk of drowning in the daily tide of habit and inertia
On the other hand, if you are able to activate your company’s purpose as a movement among all its stakeholders, your purpose can function as a force multiplier for radical adaptability. Purpose can serve as a filter for priorities and decision-making, a glue that binds the organization’s parts closer together, and a magnet for recruiting employees, acquiring new customers, and establishing new business partnerships. For companies that communicate an authentic purpose in a serious and consistent way, purpose has proven to be an engine of continuous transformative change
The reason for this runs deep in human nature. We are inherently tribal creatures. We adapt to change fastest when we’re motivated in cohesive groups by a shared purpose that provides us with a powerful why. When it comes to inspiring fundamental shifts in beliefs and behaviors, the organizations with unmatched records of success include Weight Watchers, twelve-step programs, and religious groups. All of them rely on our innate need for tribal cohesion and belonging to guide people’s behaviors toward an idealized, commonly valued purpose
There was a time when having a shared mission was enough to drive organizational change. Employees could team out around their collective desire to be the biggest or the best. But missions are more about how. They’re not about why. They’re also limited by shifting market conditions. In the new world of work, change happens too fast for your mission to be a dependable unifying force. A new product from a well-funded startup can make your mission impossible tomorrow. Instead, you need a purpose that transcends marketplace uncertainties, one that transcends time itself. Your purpose should serve as the why that determines over the long term which new missions your company should pursue and which of your current missions are losing relevance and should be abandoned.
Purpose extends far beyond consumer product brand positioning. For any kind of organization, including business-to-business firms, purpose puts a premium on preserving long-term relationships—with customers, with vendors, with investors, with the entire outside world. Purpose can also serve as a guiding light to protect your organization from making short-term moves that might threaten those relationships.
People need to make a direct emotional connection with the company’s purpose if that purpose is to inspire change. Unfortunately, few companies recognize this need, and that’s why so many workplace change movements fail. The change is announced, people don’t connect with it, they see others ignoring it, and apathy sets in. Radical adaptability is unlikely to land solidly within the leadership ranks and beyond unless people personally feel the purpose behind each of the methodologies we’ve described.
Purpose is how all of radical adaptability’s high-return practices meet their ultimate expression and fulfillment. The secret to fully implementing radical adaptability is to involve people on your teams and throughout the organization in supercharging the company’s purpose. That could mean that you either renew your vision of the company’s existing purpose or explore a new statement of purpose. This chapter describes the high-return practices for supercharging your purpose through the three steps of teaming out to explore your purpose, promoting the personal ownership of purpose within every team member, and, finally, setting a purpose-driven long-term course for radical adaptability.
All along the way, the process of supercharging the company purpose will reveal which of your team members connect most profoundly with the changes that purpose inspires. If you can recognize these team members early on and support them appropriately, they will prove to be your champions for radical adaptability. From collaboration and agility through to business model innovation and workforce redesign, these people will be your company’s most reliable agents of change in the new world of work.
Team Out to Explore Your Organizational Purpose
You can rely on all the high-return practices for collaboration, including teaming out, crowdsourcing, and collaborative problem-solving (CPS) to ensure that your company purpose is supercharged and cocreated by as many of the company’s stakeholders as possible. For one thing, the process will give all of them a bigger stake in the outcome and a deeper investment in the change the new purpose represents
If your company already has a well-known purpose statement, consider how supercharging its meaning could make it an authentic driver of change. Susan Sobbott recommends you start the process by assessing how the company lives out its purpose. Is it obvious in all the actions taken by leaders and in policies, processes, and plans? Use CPS to explore how well the statement is directing and motivating innovation. Can everyone in the company recite it? Are they clear about the values and principles that underlie it? Can they say how decisions are made with respect to those values and principles?
You’ll find some clues to the answers all throughout the high-return practices of radical adaptability. How is the company’s purpose expressed through the current culture of collaboration and inclusion? Through agility? Through support for employee resilience? Is the purpose present in your approaches to foresight? What about business innovation and workforce development? Are your strategies in these areas driven by a long-term vision, or are they more tactical and provisional? Purpose should be essential to your efforts at foresight. If your company purpose is detached from your strategic choices, how can all the company’s teams pull together toward the future?
In the attempt to supercharge your higher purpose, you are likely to find the lowest-hanging fruit among your activities in philanthropy, sustainability, community, and diversity. These are the areas where you’re already expected to think and act beyond immediate concerns for profit. Note which activities inspire the highest levels of energy, achievement, and passion within the organization. What are the common themes revealed by these activities? If they generate high levels of employee engagement, they might point in the direction of your company’s authentic purpose
Through CPS, also ask employees about what they hear from customers. How do we make our customers feel? How are we making a difference in their lives, their businesses, and their communities? These are important questions. If many of your employees have trouble imagining what difference they’re making in the lives of others, that’s both a problem and an opportunity. Most people have trouble succeeding in jobs that lack a sense of meaning and purpose. If your company has been doing fine without a purpose, then finding one might produce a quantum leap in employee engagement and productivity. Go directly to your customers
Promote Purpose Ownership
Identifying an organizational purpose takes time. When GFTW Institute faculty member Hubert Joly was leading the turnaround of Best Buy in the 2010s, it took the company two years to arrive at the right formulation for what Best Buy came to regard as its noble purpose: To enrich our customers’ lives through technology.
Hubert says this purpose statement was designed to keep stretching Best Buy to be the best possible version of itself in perpetuity. Twenty years from now, he writes in his book, The Heart of Business, enriching the lives of customers through technology will still be relevant—even if TVs and personal computers no longer are.
The first challenge posed by a new purpose statement of this kind is how to make it a concrete and meaningful reality for all your stakeholders. How can the company manifest its purpose? How can purpose be expressed and demonstrated in action, so that all stakeholders can recognize the nature of the change and pull together and cocreate with genuine tribal passion?
In the case of Best Buy, the top leadership puzzled over how its hundred thousand store associates could get Best Buy customers to connect with the company’s purpose. How would all these associates need to behave so that Best Buy’s new promise to enrich customers’ lives really landed with them?
If Best Buy were a person, how would she or he behave? Hubert recalls asking. What do we look like when we are at our best? The company ran a series workshops in 2017 with store managers and others in management who had close contact with customers. Over time, they arrived at the idea that customers would want their Best Buy associate to be a kind of inspiring friend, someone who knew more about technology than they did and would help them understand what would best fit their needs and budget.
How do you train store associates to deliver that message? You don’t. You can’t. For change of this kind to take root and grow, people need to feel personally inspired. Each of them needs to feel challenged to find personal meaning in the change. That’s what will motivate them to co-elevate with their team members to go higher together and raise their game collectively, each for their own deeply felt reasons.
It’s easy to forget that every individual at every level of an organization has a boundless appetite for personal fulfillment. As leaders, when we can tether the promise of personal fulfillment to the transformational changes needed by the organization, the sheer force of human nature will help accelerate the pace of change. Sustaining change as a movement requires leaders to show they care enough to participate themselves, sharing their own humble, fallible journeys too. Change needs to be a constant two-way dialogue on this open and vulnerable ground. When leaders show humility and actively demonstrate their pursuit of personal growth and change, they inspire their team members to become that much more open to confront their own challenges in the face of change.
Successful change movements become self-sustaining when they encourage the team-building behaviors most directly connected to our tribal sense of belonging: service, candor, humility, and peer-to-peer commitment, to name just a few. Whenever change succeeds in unleashing new value, the value is realized at this level within the organization, amid the interpersonal relationships and interdependencies that set the tone of effective teamwork. These behaviors are notoriously the most difficult for leaders to influence. They are all but impossible to influence without personally engaging with purpose
Activating purpose throughout the organization has typically been more difficult for B2B companies
For all companies, but especially for B2B companies, purpose can provide a valuable path for teaming out with stakeholders outside the company—customers, vendors, suppliers, and other companies in adjacent industries
The new unit passed what Hubert calls the four-question test:Does it fit with our purpose as a company?Is it good for the customer?Can we deliver?And can we make money?16
Set a Purpose-Driven Course for Radical Adaptability
When your company’s future is tied to its purpose, your sights can be raised above the everyday competitive fray. In the case of Discovery, purpose helped the company’s founders recognize that they could make better lives for customers and make more money at the same time by encouraging its policyholders to stay well.
At Best Buy, Hubert Joly put the company’s purpose at the center of its business innovation approach. It fundamentally changed our strategy and how we did business, he said. The company performed months of intense data analysis to identify new areas of opportunity—a business innovation process driven by purpose. Best Buy zoomed in on industries involved with key human needs—security, health and wellness, food, entertainment, and communications—and asked, Where can we enrich lives through technology? How could the company diversify beyond its retail model and into business models that build lasting customer relationships through technology solutions?
In 2019, the company launched a new unit called Best Buy Health, which aims to bring personal and home health technologies to market. For a global population with increasing life spans, Best Buy Health foresees the unit providing remote monitoring tools and care coordination services as benefits in health insurance plans.
The new unit passed what Hubert calls the four question test:
- Does it fit with our purpose as a company?
- Is it good for the customer?
- Can we deliver?
- And can we make money?
Notice the order of the questions. It helps define a purpose-driven company. Business ideas that don’t fit the company purpose are not worth pursuing to the next question. That’s mainly because when you use purpose to drive business innovation in this way, you open up many more possibilities than you could imagine
How to Compete in the New World of Work
- Does our company rally around a sufficiently aspirational and well-articulated purpose that guides and inspires all stakeholders?
- Does our company’s purpose guide our innovation and future-proofing strategy?
Imagine that the clock is ticking down toward midnight and the arrival of a new year, ten years from now. You are looking back on a decade that was unlike any other in human history. Technologies, business models, and workforce styles have all changed in unpredictable ways and much faster than almost anyone had foreseen. For some, it has been a decade of unimaginable challenges and opportunities. For others, it has been a decade of turmoil, decline, and disaster.
Happy New Year! Take a moment to ask your future self, ten years from now, what you could have done better to prepare. What choices did you make in those ten years—for yourself, for your teams, for your businesses—to stay competitive in the emerging new world of work? Did you apply the lessons of this book? Did you engage with our proven high-return practices? Did you co-elevate and team out to bring others along with you?
Or, when things got tough, did you revert to the old ways that you knew best? Did you and your organization adapt to change only grudgingly? Or did you practice radical adaptability proactively, in the spirit of catapulting your career and your organization forward? Your ability to remain radically adaptable through the unpredictable years ahead may be one of the only things you can count on.
Start anywhere. As you use this book and try out its high-return practices, you’ll discover that the elements of radical adaptability function as a virtuous loop, each element uplifting the effectiveness of all the others. You have the opportunity to start today, to be an agent of change, to lead your teams in constant reinvention through the seven elements of radical adaptability
Now is the time for you to start down this path. As a team leader and a change agent in your company, it’s up to you to step into the arena and make these kinds of choices to catapult your career and your business forward.
Disrupt or be disrupted. We are all at a crossroads. For that reason, we hope that you will spread the leadership elements of these high-return practices beyond the four corners of your company—to nonprofits you volunteer with and to the governments you elect. Every community can benefit by practicing radical adaptability. We have a collective responsibility to help shepherd other organizations in society to fast-forward to the future. To lead, and not react. To inspire abundance for all, and not for a select few. To include, and not divide.
The next decade will offer endless new possibilities for prosperity, but only if we stop speculating about the future of work and become evangelists for learning, growing, and adapting together