Future readiness explained

Dr Thomas Goh, managing director for the Center for Creative Leadership in Asia-Pacific explains to HRM Magazine Asia how leaders can adjust and take advantage of disruptive times

HRM Magazine Asia recently spoke with Dr Thomas Goh, Managing Director for Asia-Pacific at the Center for Creative Leadership, as he reveals key insights from the company's in-depth research on future readiness.

Here's the full interview.

We understand you are leading a series of initiatives on Future Readiness at the Center for Creative Leadership. What really is future readiness?

Future readiness is about getting ahead of the curve. Instead of just playing catch-up, forward looking leaders focus on staying ahead in key aspects of business, such as strategy, organisation design, business processes and policies, talent development. Future readiness brings together the right mindset and skillset to constantly get ahead, supported by having context relevant business and operating models which they review and revise constantly.


What are CCL’s findings on Future Readiness?

At the corporate level, future readiness is a competitive advantage that keeps companies constantly innovating. For the individual, future readiness is a life skill that leaders need to build as part of their portfolio of skills. Future readiness is both a mindset and a skillset. It is a product of our development and our experience. Future readiness could be learnt and anyone could learn it. In particular, ambitious new managers who aspire to be C-suite leaders could start early by preparing for leadership roles dealing with uncertain, ambiguous and highly disruptive situations


What aspects of businesses are being disrupted?

It affects people at multiple levels, in and outside of workplace. On the workplace alone, the impact is profound. It shapes how strategic focus, adoption of new technologies, new organisation models, new ways of working, and new work culture. Let us look at these in detail:

  • New strategic focus: It is no longer business as usual. Business models are being disrupted at a much faster frequency than before. Businesses are also getting more complicated. Leaders have to deal with multiple stakeholders in multiple geographies and time zones. They have to contend with fleeting customer expectations, while driving a sustainable innovation agenda with reasonable returns on investment. On top of all these, they have to be good corporate citizens


  • New technologies: It took the radio 38 years to reach 50 million users. It took Facebook only one year! It took Twitter an even shorter time. The rate of adoption of social media has changed the way people communicate, interact and work with one another. And we are only talking about social media! Think about the impact of cdisruptions to work and our way of live from self-driving cars, genomics, artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, and 3-D printing. These are no ordinary disruptive forces we have to content


  • New organisation models: Increasingly, companies have to be ambidextrous. Organisation models should not be structured based on a one-size fits all principle, but have to adapt to the business imperatives of the local markets. This means they must be able to deal with ambiguity and polarity effectively. They have to operate with speed, while keeping a sense of normalcy by balancing structure and agility. They have to balance between control and empowerment by setting guidelines and managing the staff with trust. They have to make decisions based on logic while thinking out of the box.


  • New ways of working: Do people go for traditional jobs or to do freelancing gig roles? How would you shape your career? These are key questions to ask but regardless of how work is structured, closed teams are out; and open networked teams are in. Leaders achieve success not only because of their own abilities, knowledge, and skills but also through their relationships with others. The networks leaders build affect how they share and receive new ideas. They provide opportunities—and place constraints on their actions. These networks should be open, diverse and deep. Increasingly, leaders need to identify and broker relationships that bring value to your separate groups


  • New culture: Work is no longer about work alone. The purpose of work has changed, particularly with Millennials (people born after 1980s) entering the workforce. Staff are looking for meaning at work – are they buying time or are they making a real difference? Stakeholders are also holding companies responsible for corporate social responsibility. Are companies operating purely for profits or are they helping to build a better environment for current and future generations? These are not easy questions for leaders, who now have to balance multiple agendas while growing the company


What do future leaders do differently?

Organisations of the future may look very different than most organisations do today. The organisation of the future needs to see disruption as opportunities in many different dimensions.

Instead of following a clear and defined path, leaders who navigate well in uncertain and disruptive environments have well-defined aspirations, and a set of plans which they will adjust along the way. These plans include: strategy, organisation designs, business processes, policies, and talent strategies. Instead of having a constant set of skills and competencies, leaders are agile learners who build their portfolio of knowledge and skills constantly. Instead of a fixed organisation structure, they structure it for efficiency and innovation at the same time. Instead of taking on a top down way of communication, they lead through influence – both internally and externally – so that they win the hearts and minds of people.

Ultimately, it could mean a shift in strategic focus, a shift in how we work, and how we derive meaning in our work. It changes business and organization models. It changes our culture.


What could Asian companies be doing differently?

Asia is rising in economic importance. Because of its large population, it could be the biggest exporter of workforce and talent to the entire world in a decade from now. For sustained success in the region, global organisations will need to build more Asian leaders to help enterprises craft their Asia strategy, and also execute and win local business.

Asian companies face a mix of future readiness challenges. On one hand, they have to contend with the disruptive forces outlined before. On the other hand, there is not enough pipeline of leaders ready to lead on regional and global scene. This would present a challenge when Asian companies start playing at regional and global arenas.


Why do you think these challenges exist for Asian leaders specifically?

For far too long, the education system in many economies in Asia has focused on building technical skills. Lack of talent competitiveness or inadequate talent development infrastructure may inhibit growth of talent at a country level. Besides, talent that is available may be too scarce and too expensive.

Organisation culture and posture may also be a key ‘culprit.’ Reasons include: organisations’ inability to develop critical skills in Asia due to a lack of necessary experience or budget constraints, structural and policy issues, absence of trust in non-native talent, lack of a global mindset in senior leaders, and non-optimal global talent management and development practices.


How can Asian companies build future-ready leaders?

Aside from macroeconomic factors, Asian leaders must first gain confidence in their ability to lead. Our research shows that individual capability and aspiration issues may also inhibit growth of local talent. Asian leaders may find it hard to work outside of their home culture due to language and cross-cultural awareness. Lack of mobility opportunities at early stages of their career may further constrain Asian leaders’ ability to take on global roles.

Asian companies could start by building the following traits in their pipeline of leaders:

  • Courage – Many Asian cultures, particularly East Asian cultures, encourage humility as an important trait. This may not be readily seen as a leadership trait in an international setting. Asian leaders to be ambidextrous in their approach by being more proactive and assertive when dealing with matters.


  • Trust – To establish and develop deep credibility of one’s authenticity and capability within and outside of the regional and global settings


  • Strategic Thinking – Ability to understand organisation’s long term strategy and come up with effective plans


  • Influence – Power and ability to personally affect key stakeholders’ actions, decisions, opinions in a matrixed, multi-geography environment


  • Curiosity – Need more diverse networks, experiences, be culturally agile and more comfortable in unfamiliar terrain

Dr Thomas Goh, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, Center for Creative Leadership


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