Founder & Head Coach/CEO, The Funds2Orgs Group.
How many times have we heard “the new normal” this year? A lot. However, although it may feel like it’s a new phenomenon, the new normal has been with us for a long time. All 2020 did was accelerate what was already happening in society and our work environments.
For instance, many companies had already started moving to hire remote contractors or freelancers instead of bearing the cost of having full-time staff. And, we understand how machine learning and artificial intelligence has redefined a lot of what workers do. As an entrepreneur, I think that we are moving toward a human-centric workforce that is heavily intertwined with artificial intelligence. As a result of these massive changes that have been underway for some time, essential elements necessary to navigate the continual uncertainty are adaptability and continual learning.
In their book Competing in the Age of AI: Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World, Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani make the profound statement that “for the first time in more than a hundred years we are seeing the emergence of a new kind of firm.” They argue that the whole way traditional and digital companies do business must be different in the current environment. Old processes and systems do not work in a digital world where companies must compete by scaling up.
Further, taking a long time to consider decisions, not using data, or choosing not to leverage AI or machine learning now mean a high risk for defeat. In other words, the only way to compete is to unite the power of AI with your professional human team. Every changing event now demands leaders who understand how to navigate this evolving terrain with both technology and humans.
1. Leaders must dig into artificial intelligence.
The fundamental thing leaders and business owners have to do is to understand the impact — and power — of technology to change everything we do. Technology allows us to scale up our operations and expand in ways that were never possible before. Human processes took a long time, and it’s the opposite with AI. Moreover, AI is getting better at predicting human behavior and offering everyone a customized experience through marketing and sales funnels.
The world is experiencing a digital transformation, which means that you need to understand how technology could optimize your work and support the humans you employ. However, it’s no longer good enough to know just the basics of technology, especially when modern technology redefines how we communicate and do things. What is vital is to understand how to scale your operations and business with the use of technology. And, while small companies may not have a lot of money, there are tools that they can use strategically to lean into the power of technology. In short, for a leader, it’s incumbent on you to understand the implications of technology as it relates to all areas of your business.
2. Leaders must be able to interpret data.
For the entirety of the last century, when people were hired or promoted, it was based on their experience. As they performed well, in theory, they moved up the ladder, and if they performed very well, they moved into management and executive positions. However, that experience was often a bad indicator of future performance, as most leaders understand. It’s probably why Dr. Laurence J. Peter coined the term the “Peter Principle,” meaning that people rise to their level of incompetence in a company.
While real-world experience matters, in today’s world, it counts only as a point of reference. However, the real value for leaders, managers and even workers in the digital environment comes from understanding how to interpret data. Fortunately, technology is becoming better and better at collecting, synthesizing and presenting data through data visualization tools built into platforms. Leaders need to rely on data — and nothing else — when making decisions. This means that whereas in the past, a manager might do something based on instinct, there’s now data information to suggest the correct approach.
Understanding data information means that everyone, from junior professionals to C-suite executives, must train themselves on data. And that means that companies have to have a culture of continual learning and professional development in all data information tools.
3. Leaders must be coachable.
As I mentioned above, while technology and data information are now the cornerstones of business, people still play a vital part in operations. And that’s why professional development, mentorship and coaching matter — not just for junior workers and lower-level managers, but also for business leaders and entrepreneurs. I believe coaching comes not only from fellow CEOs but also from junior team members.
There are things junior employees or direct reports will understand that I don’t as the company’s top person. When I don’t understand something, I want to see someone go through the process of doing it so I can better understand where the glitches and challenges may be. In today’s world, learning has to be part of daily business operations. It could take the form of one-on-one, shared learning and understanding. But, it could also come with regular training and hands-on learning to understand the continual updates with technological platforms as they relate to business operations.
In sum, the work structure as we knew it is devolving and something else is emerging. Creating a culture of continuous learning where humans can rely on technology is now the recipe for business success.
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