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Talent Strategy & Management

Changeboard Future Talent Conference 2019: Building a lasting high-performance culture in a digital world

4/4/2019 Heidrick & Struggles

The 2019 Changeboard Future Talent conference, held at The Royal Geographical Society in London, was a day-long exploration of the interplay between humanity and technology—and what leaders need to know to ensure their people thrive as technology develops and that relationship shifts.

This is a core component of Heidrick & Struggles’ work on digital acceleration, in which we focus on the human aspects of companies’ journeys toward becoming fully tech enabled. Scott Snyder, a partner in the Philadelphia office and co-author of Goliath’s Revenge, noted that the day reinforced his view that “humanizing the deployments of emerging technology, or augmenting and upskilling the existing workforce, will separate the leading companies that transform ways of working from those that simply deploy technology to gain efficiencies.”

Changeboard Future Talent Conference 2019: Building a lasting high-performance culture in a digital world

One point stressed throughout the day was the importance of lifelong learning, what the speaker and psychologist Matthew Syed called “LQ,” or learning quotient . Several Heidrick & Struggles conference participants agreed with Syed that LQ, along with IQ and EQ, is a core need for executives. “Keeping a lifelong learning objective is a key measure of leaders’ digital dexterity,” noted Shaloo Kulkarni, a partner in the London office. Digital dexterity—the mix of strategic, innovative, inspirational, and executional skills leaders need to digitally accelerate their companies—is crucial at a time when less than one-third of companies believe their talent is equipped to thrive through digital transformation, according to a recent survey we conducted. (Learn more about how we see the role of leaders in digital acceleration here.)

The importance placed on leaders asking questions particularly resonated with Sharon Sands, a partner in the London office who leads Heidrick & Struggles’ center of excellence in leadership assessment and development. She distilled the message at the conference as “leaders don’t have to be tech experts, but they do need to listen enough to ask questions and be curious about changes that are occurring.”

Another strong theme of the day was workforce development. Kulkarni said the presentations made it clear that “human capital and HR professionals will absolutely need to take a front and center role in shaping the organization and talent implications of the next wave of tech revolution. As disruption becomes the norm, we will see a growing base of human capital professionals with deeper digital, technological, and commercial expertise.”

Sands noted, too, the views of Jonas Prising, chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup, on the geographic implications of encouraging lifelong learning in the workforce: “The trend is urban. Knowledge workers are at their best when working with and close to other knowledge workers so we see more people interested in moving to cities. This trend impacts companies that are rural based, as they have to work much harder at attracting that talent. Virtual working is on the rise, but the trend is still for certain types of talent to want to be together.”

Finally, and particularly aligned with Heidrick & Struggles’ work on the influence of culture on accelerating performance, was a focus on mind-sets. Rachel Farley, an engagement manager in the London office, noted that Syed focused on the link between high performance in the digital world and having a growth mind-set: “Talent isn’t irrelevant, but disciplined practice, constant self-evaluation, and learning from mistakes build cultures that win.”

Several Heidrick & Struggles conference participants were also struck by Syed’s call for cognitive diversity and the need to embrace different approaches to problem-solving—a key priority we are also committed to as a firm. Simon Fanshawe, a writer, broadcaster, and founding member of Stonewall, highlighted the importance of buy-in from leaders to successfully foster diversity: “When businesses create teams, they need to put the difference into the team—and that means valuing difference. D&I won’t get traction without a strategic, leadership-led hook.”

Culture’s role in motivating people and encouraging collaboration is a point that Lucy Winkett, the rector of St. James’s Church in Piccadilly, explored when she spoke on the topic of “seeing is believing.” She sounded a warning note that self-limiting beliefs govern much of our interactions—and shape the future of the algorithms we increasingly work with. But she also made an inspiring point highlighted by Mike Theilmann, a partner in the Dallas office and the global managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ Human Resources Officers Practice: “We can all create the mind-set to have a fundamental belief that everyone out there is conspiring to help you!”


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