Hacking the Future of Leadership

- Four snapshots From 2030


CIFS and Workz co-hosted a session at the 2019 Techfestival in Copenhagen centred on four snapshots of leadership in 2030.

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Klaus Æ. Mogensen

Senior Futurist

Posted Sep 16, 2019 in Work

During the first week of September 2019, Techfestival in Copenhagen invited tech professionals and enthusiasts to participate in a three-day conversation on people and technology. Among the many events, CIFS’s Jeanette Kæseler Mortensen and Workz’s Ask Agger hosted a session on “Hacking the Future of Leadership”, which kicked off with a presentation by CIFS futurist Thomas Geuken. At the centre of this presentation and the following co-creation workshop was four ‘snapshots’ or micro-scenarios of work and leadership in the future, which the participants could reflect on and further ‘hack’ in the workshop. What follows below is an overview of the four snapshots based on the key question: What will future leadership look like in a highly digital work environment? What kind of workplace culture will the organisations need to thrive? And what will define the leadership DNA of great digital leaders?

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Snapshot #1: Holacracy

In this first snapshot of 2030, the market experiences more and more horisontalisation. Horisontalisation happens when businesses expand their operations to other sectors than their original one. Amazon, originally an e-bookstore, has horisontalised its business and has grown to also deliver logistics, publishing, electronics retail, food (Olo), groceries (WholeFoods), and pharmaceuticals (PillPack). Consequently, it becomes increasingly difficult for companies to survive within a single industry, since this industry is ‘invaded’ by expanding multi-industry corporations. This forces most organisations to step outside their comfort zone, expand their line of business, or collaborate across sectors. The nature of the market reflects on the nature of organisations, which become increasingly decentralised. One way to handle this shift is holacracy. It is a new way of running an organisation where conventional top-down management hierarchies are replaced by a network of self-governing teams. People have moved from static to dynamic roles, and employees can be part of several teams at once, making the most of their skills several places in the organisation at once.

The organisation is designed to be innovative and execute quickly, which is suitable for a fast-changing market. The teams are self-organising and in charge of hiring, accommodating a high number of free agents. This aims to prevent silos and bottlenecks and utilise employees’ key competences to the fullest. Decisions are made simultaneously across the decentralised organisation, and leaders find it increasingly challenging to align operations across an organisation of self-governing teams. The decentralised decision-making process put great pressure on leaders’ abilities to communicate and drive the organisation towards a single vision. Leadership KPIs centre on balancing the level of creativity with the level of productivity.

One of the participating groups at the event were asked to explore the challenges of holacracy in the future of leadership and they quickly identified a key challenge in making quick decisions that might affect other parts of the organisation and business operations. They came up with a solution based on the concept of gamification to structure individual ideas and proposals in correspondence with others, yet also identifying the barrier of having co-workers obstructing good ideas in order to benefit individually. They concluded that holacracy-driven organisations of the future would require the decision-making system of idea-meritocracy where radical truthfulness and transparency is the basis of letting the best ideas win.

Snapshot #2: Talk to the Bot

Snapshot #2 represents a future where the level of automation is high and AI and predictive analytics play a growing role in market dynamics like demand and supply. Robots predict what consumers desire and suggest to suppliers what to produce, based on big data analysis. This is very good for the environment, as the production of goods suits the level of demand and minimizes waste.  People and organisations are adjusting after yet another wave of automation. The strong role of AI means based on big data analysis that skills have been outdated and new positions have been created, centring on creative tasks which cannot be undertaken by robots. However, the level of creativity is limited as people and organisations are settling after a time fearing how technological advancement would change the job market

The wave of automation has caused a lot of anxiety among employees. Since anxiety is not something that sparks creativity, leaders work to raise the level of ideation and innovation and make employees feel at peace with the new circumstances. People are constantly taking courses and upskilling. Leadership KPIs centre on the ability to guide employees in upskilling and spark organisational creativity. The level of automation creates a clear distinction between management and leadership. Artificially intelligent machines have advanced to the extent where performance review, which used to be a manager’s task, is now taken care of by AI in an unbiased manner.

Snapshot #3: Mastering the Gig

Snapshot #3 represents a future where the gig economy is flourishing, and the market is characterised by rapid response to demands. The gig economy is a task-based economy where temporary employment has replaced permanent employment. The number of free agents is high, which influences the nature of organisations. Organisations are challenged by a continuous replacement of staff. The high employee churn drains the organisational brain with loss of tacit knowledge in the organisation, but it also enriches the organisation with fresh ideas and renewed energy. The gig economy’s sense of freedom reflects on employees’ expectations to the management, and employees are motivated by a high level of autonomy. Workers adapt quickly and act quickly, which allows quick transition from idea to marketplace.

The response of successful organisations is to allocate more resources to management teams in order to manage the constant flow of hiring and firing. Short-term employment demands leadership skills that accommodate quick onboarding and continuous teambuilding. Leaders find it increasingly valuable to consider the flow of hiring and firing, as circular (returning) employment and invest time in offboarding employees properly. Leadership KPIs centre on limiting organisational brain drain and maximising idea generation. Labour compensation is usually by the project rather than by the hour, and part of the renumeration may be as shares in the finished product or service, thus distributing risk as well as income.

Snapshot #4: A Better Me

Snapshot #4 represents a future moving towards a post-growth society, where people no longer solely work to make a living. This is the result of the previous decade, when people in developed societies asked themselves: how do I transform myself to become a better me, without compromising what’s best for the planet? There is a constant negotiation between what is more convenient and what is more sustainable, and consumption has declined, and with that, the need to earn as much money as before. People work to have a function in society and value work that serves a greater purpose, such as better conditions for the environment and the world’s poor. As people no longer work out of necessity, occupational purpose is complemented by employees’ expectations of fulfilment and meaning beyond work.

The boundary between professional and private spheres has all but vanished, and employees expect that going to work is becoming part of a meaningful community, where people meet to have a creative outlet and cultivate the DNA of being human. This zeitgeist reflects on the nature of organisations, and the norm is to have a Chief Happiness Officer who ensures employees’ contentment as a hygiene factor in highly technological work environments. Leaders increasingly experience that their main task is to inspire and support employees to become better versions of themselves through meaningful undertakings, both in their occupation and beyond. The more content employees are, the more innovative they are, which leadership KPIs centre on in this scenario.

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