This year’s Global Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna tackled the theme of the human dimension in management. In a rapidly changing world, where the business landscape is increasingly dominated by automation and AI, managers need to apply a human touch to the world of work more than ever. Particularly in regards to AI, business leaders are going to be playing an absolutely pivotal role in managing the impact artificial intelligence has on the workplace and the workforce.
I wanted to make the following points the central plank of my opening keynote at this year’s Drucker Forum because it’s crucial that the kinds of leaders that make the trip to Drucker are all on the same page about this. It really all boils down to this:
Leadership is about creating a vision.
Management is the harder part of putting it into practice.
As leaders, we have to chart a way forward on how AI and other technologies are going to shape what kinds of skills, tools and opportunities workers will be armed with, in order to keep absorbing new ideas and new ways of working, and stay ahead of the curve in their changing industries. And as managers, we have to be providing the day-to-day practical guidance that allows workers to keep doing just that.
There were a lot of outstanding and insightful sessions at this year’s Drucker Forum, exploring just what applying this human touch to management means – and also needs to mean going forward. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from Drucker Forum 2018:
1. Driving innovation and inspiration requires trust.
Vineet Nayar, the CEO and Founder of Sampark Foundation, gave a really moving presentation about his and his wife’s work in helping to transform the quality of schools and public education for children in India. During that talk, he hit the nail on the head about what it takes to get the best out of people: inspiration. Workers want to be inspired to feel like they can take on seemingly impossible tasks and drive forward important missions. They don’t want to be seen as drones; or as Vineet put it, they want to be recognized as butterflies, not ants. Everyone is looking for inspiration, but inspiration starts from trust. Trust your employees and, in Vineet’s words, they will create magic.
2. Good management means celebrating empathy.
Jim Keane, CEO of Steelcase, opened his talk with an anecdote about his first job, as an elevator operator in the 70s. As Jim pointed out, while some like to romanticize the nostalgia of old-school elevator operators, the fact is it was backbreaking, tedious and dehumanizing work – stand there, crank the elevator up and down, don’t talk to the people riding with you. Technology like automation has done a great service in eliminating menial work like this, opening up opportunities for more engaging and innovative work for humans to do. That gets to the core point of Jim’s presentation: management has to celebrate empathy. As managers, we can’t forget to connect with workers on a human level in order to ensure we’re not throwing them into menial work. We need to be allowing humans to be humans, and do the kind of work only they can do. It’s not enough to just let technology do what technology is good at; we need to reinvest in people on a personal level, and make empathy a part of our work.
3. Skills are not the same as capabilities.
The difference between the two: skills are very context specific while capabilities are more fundamental and independent of context. Curiosity, creativity, imagination, emotional and social intelligence – these are all capabilities. As John Hagel, co-chairman at the Deloitte Center for the Edge, so precisely diagnosed, years of school have basically stamped out these capabilities in us and instead conditioned us to memorize and imitate whatever our teachers did, rather than think for ourselves. But capabilities are like muscles. They may be atrophied, but they’re also waiting to be exercised. As workers face a future where they shift from menial jobs eliminated by technology to the kinds of jobs that human beings really should be doing, it’s important we emphasize the importance of flexing these muscles and investing in human capabilities as instrumental to work.
4. Innovation is a team effort, not the work of just one genius.
Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill gave one of my favorite talks of the event, and really drilled down into how leading innovation is not the same thing as leading change. Leading change means inspiring people to move in one direction, while leading innovation is about shaping context. That means getting leaders to foster environments that encourage a “collective genius” built from a diversity of views and experiences. Linda correctly points out that most innovations are not the result of just one genius having a lightbulb moment. Instead that genius more often than not comes out of a collection of people that span a diversity of perspectives and knowledge domains. Building that sense of community, with a shared purpose and a shared set of values but driven by all voices in the organization and not just the majority consensus, is what leads to true innovation.
5. Not pushing solutions allows better ideas to come forward.
One of the most compelling sessions of this year’s forum was a talk by Efosa Ojomo, who shared the story of the impact of instant noodles in Nigeria. Yes, you read that right. Efosa talked about how a Western bias for solutions aimed at improving life in Nigera typically focused on building schools, roads, hospitals, water-wells – all well-intentioned but ultimately dead-end projects. But what actually made a difference was an Indonesian company’s introduction of instant noodles, as a cheap, easy and nutritious meal that completely turned around the country and built a whole new economy around it: thousands of new jobs, millions of dollars in tax revenues and investments, new infrastructure like seaports, electricity, water treatment and agriculture. It’s an incredible story of not just how this company saw an opportunity to more easily feed people – and the ripple effects that came from that – but how abandoning old biases around solutions and focusing instead on simple needs in a new space can allow better ideas to come to the fore, creating new markets, new opportunities and new innovations.
I’m really just scratching the surface here; there is plenty more to share than just these five lessons, but I think these takeaways also represent a good cross-section of the kind of thinking and leadership that was on display at this year’s Drucker Forum.
It’s an exciting time to be a business leader. The world is changing at a rapid clip right before our eyes, and it’s in our power to ride the wave of these changes and leave behind a lasting impact for workers, their environments and the world around us – but only if we heed the importance of not just leading but also managing, and putting in the work on a ground-level, day-to-day basis to drive new ways of working and true innovation.
This article is one in a series related to the 10th Global Peter Drucker Forum, with the theme management. the human dimension, that has taken place on November 29 & 30, 2018 in Vienna, Austria #GPDF18
This article was first published on LinkedIn Pulse.