How can you build the uniquely human capabilities to thrive in the future?
The latest technological revolution promises so much. Work wherever we like, instantly connect with colleagues globally, be vastly more efficient and enjoy the perks of being more productive.
But the revolution hasn’t all been upside. There is a growing ‘human capability’ gap. It’s not that surprising when we acknowledge that the human brain evolves much more slowly than the pace of technological change (even among the brightest and best of us).
At the 2018 Inspire Live conference in London, a stimulating mix of speakers shared stories and examples of individuals, teams and companies finding new ways to build their capabilities in turbulent, fast-paced and demanding conditions. Many of the examples shared at Inspire illustrated how progressive companies and leaders are embracing this idea and developing new practices that unlock more of the potential in their people.
Firstly, some of the indicators that all is not as sunny as we’d hope:
- The cognitive losses from multitasking, something we do almost obliviously since the rise of the smartphone, are even greater than the cognitive losses from smoking marijuana
- 12.5m days lost annually in the UK to work-related stress, depression or anxiety
- 69% of employers believe their employees don’t have skills for the future, a figure cited by Amanda MacKenzie CEO of Business in the Community
The potential benefits of new technologies such as social media, software, and super-fast internet don’t appear to be trickling through to companies in productivity gains and growth. In the UK millions of people are doing on average 7.4 hours a week unpaid time at work, worth £31.2bn. Output per hour seems to be declining across the OECD. In the US, a failure to maintain the roughly 2% annual productivity gains it saw since 1945 to around 2008 could lead to average incomes being 16% lower by 2020.
Organise for empowerment where it matters
Tim Leberecht author of ‘The Business Romantic’ described the example of the Dutch care agency Buurtzorg who radically reorganised their district nursing staff into small self-managing teams of no more than 12, located close to their patients. Empowered to organise themselves, and with much greater control over patient care, the model has resulted in significant improvements in care standards while also being cost effective.
Encourage learning and analysis for early intervention
Dan Gilbert, founder of Brainlabs, a performance marketing agency, described how they use software that scrapes people’s calendars for their meetings and automates the process of asking for feedback from each other. It’s more immediate than the typical annual performance review, automatically includes 4 quick questions and ensures their people get genuinely continuous feedback in real time. They are also able to collect data on what drives employee unhappiness (which clients, which managers) and even predict when people will leave, identifying trigger points to intervene before it’s too late.
Enable experimentation to limit your risks
Vikram Jain of Jcurv discussed the importance of increasing the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of change, otherwise known as agility. One simple experiment, the ‘marshmallow challenge’, demonstrates the importance of bringing an iterative approach to design, build, test and launch. The experiment has been run thousands of times, and all the instructions to run it yourself are available here. This simple challenge, to build the highest structure that will support a single marshmallow using only spaghetti tape and string is consistently won by teams of school children beating teams of CEO’s hands down. Kids are the ones who don’t believe there is a single ‘right way’ of doing it, they are prepared to test and learn as they go, and critically, to ‘touch the marshmallow’ early on rather than waiting until the end of the build process to find out whether it actually works. Vikram asserts that most organisations wait far too long before ‘touching the marshmallow’ and finding out whether investments and plans will pay off.
A clear theme across all speakers at Inspire Live was the need to redouble on building the uniquely human capabilities that will enable us to thrive and grow in a technologically driven future. At Brand Learning we help our clients diagnose and close their ‘capability gap’, whether at the level of individuals, teams, functions or even the whole organisation. This is the gap between the ambitions and growth goals versus the capabilities they have to deliver on them.