Leading into the future

Rapidly evolving business environments require leaders who are able to think ahead, understand their strengths and limitations, and synergise their workforce and resources. HRM looks at how organisations are grooming their top talent to step up to the challenge

Rapidly expanding global markets, increasingly diverse workplaces, and the ongoing digital revolution – these are some of the challenging business realities facing the next generation of leaders.

The ability to adapt and innovate will differentiate truly exceptional leaders from the rest of the pack. “As fast as the world is changing, next generation leaders need to change even faster to stay ahead. Business leaders must be able to cope with multi-lateral macro-economies, and geopolitical social and environmental policies on a global scale,” says William Chin, Staffing Director of Qualcomm Asia-Pacific.

In addition to running the company’s core business, these leaders will be expected to build alliances with upstream and downstream suppliers, grow eco-system partners, and manage governmental stakeholders, adds Chin.

Some traditional modes of leadership are becoming increasingly outdated in this new sphere. For example, a one-size-fits-all approach to management and development of employees is no longer relevant, says Patrick Bergstedt, President, Asia-Pacific, MSD. “Different people learn and develop differently.”

Directive leadership styles are also less favoured today. Managers and employees prefer a management style where they are allowed to determine how to serve customers and achieve business results within a set of operating guidelines consistent with the company’s core values, Bergstedt says.

Saikumar Shammana, Associate Vice President of HR, Infosys Technologies, concurs. “Leadership styles which are autocratic, hierarchical, coercive, democratic, transactional or more recently even charisma-based have taken a back seat.”

According to Saikumar, the leadership style that is evolving is one that addresses the requirements of total transparency, offers zero tolerance to unethical behavior, and allows employees greater say.

Changing business landscapes can also pose new challenges. For example, almost everything in China has a political factor involved, shares Beijing-based Chin. “Business leaders need to align business strategy to the government’s new ‘China Dream’ slogan to enable economic growth for the nation. Everything is also personal in China. Attracting, hiring and retaining talent is a contact sport. Leaders need to get involved in their employees to provide professional and personal support.”
Identifying leaders
It is the responsibility of current managers to groom the next generation of leaders in an organisation. “The classic ‘Make’ versus ‘Buy’ decision swings heavily in favor of ‘Make’ in a successful high performing organisation,” says Saikumar, referring to how many companies prefer to grow their talent from within.

Identifying the next generation of leadership requires the organisation to invest significant amount of time, money, effort and energy, says Saikumar. “The organisation should have a focused strategy towards identifying a gene pool of individuals who have all or some of these attributes: great team playing ability, a vision for the future, demonstrated risk-taking ability, the proclivity to take on higher responsibilities, a willingness to venture into uncharted territories, mental toughness while dealing with crises, and involvement in societal activities beyond work.”

Insights around these areas could be garnered using multiple touch points such as performance appraisals, 360 degree assessments and exposure to the highest levels, says Saikumar. “Depending on the size or scale of the organisation and business complexity, a combination of these approaches could be used.”

HR can also kick start this process by using a succession planning and high potential (HiPo) employee assessment process, says Chin. Typically, this will develop a talent pipeline for critical skills as part of their workforce planning process. “However, while these steps are needed, it does not go deep enough. While HR is looking at the top layer it doesn’t solve the leadership needs for the rest of the organisation,” Chin says.

Only by developing an integrated organisation capability solution, from top to bottom and across, will HR enable next generation capabilities in their organisation, says Chin. “Next generational leadership isn’t about an inspirational individual – it takes a team of leaders to bring about greater impact of business growth in a growing complex global environment,” says Chin.

Identifying the right candidates is only the beginning of the leadership journey. Engaging them can often be a bigger challenge, says Saikumar. “Giving them a broader vision of the company is the key. The next generation leaders being the high performers that they are, need to be moved out of their zone of comfort by giving unfamiliar jobs and risky assignments that they can challenge themselves against. This will not only keep them engaged but will also ensure that they elevate themselves above the normal day-to-day operations.”

Job rotation, job shadowing with on the job mentoring, and assignments with organisational veterans can also keep them highly engaged, explains Saikumar.
Helping them cope
Helping future leaders understand and anticipate the challenges that lie ahead is an important part of ensuring their success.

Sustained business growth requires leaders to seek out investment capital for new innovations. “They form strategic alliances to expand into new markets and go through mergers and acquisitions to attain new intellectual property and related assets. They might spin-off a division in order to let fledging organisation survive,” explains Chin.

To be able to implement these changes, they need to learn the business dynamics, finance, high impact communication, and different leadership styles that will apply to different situations, says Saikumar. “While such interventions can be planned and implemented, it is extremely important that the organisation conducts as many reviews as possible to check the readiness of the leadership pipeline.”

However, in most organisations, HR does not have a huge budget for leadership development, Chin warns. HR can work around this by building internal and externally-linking programmes. “Taking a page from business, HR talent development teams can build alliances within the same industry for core or fundamental skills at a lower cost (as expenses are shared with the external partner).”

This gives participants the opportunity to learn from industry peers and gain greater business insight.”From a developmental approach, future leaders gain tremendous experience by taking training on the road with alliance partners. Partners begin to view them as industry leaders, forging relationships that will be beneficial to both organisations,” Chin explains.

Adopting such an approach might concern HR with issues such as divulging proprietary internal training and development programmes, admits Chin. “Some might be worried about their key talent being hired away by competitors. Businesses leaders have a history of partnering with ‘frenemies’ – HR should be doing the same,” he says.
HR’s role
As HR takes on a more strategic role, it is required now more than ever to be a business leader that delivers to the organisation’s bottom line.

HR needs to be a collaborator that can seamlessly engage across levels within the organisation, says Saikumar. It needs to creates an agile structure which allows for flexibility – both from an organisational perspective and for employees, he explains. “HR needs to attain a place of pride in the management team as a trusted advisor, counsel and idea generator to solve business challenges and continuously challenge the status quo.”

According to Chin, another area of focus is big data. HR professionals today are continuing to improve internal process efficiencies through HR information systems. “HR leading from the front now has the ability to extract data for even greater strategic insight,” he says. “Companies are already tapping into data for product research and development. HR will need to focus on the people aspect for integrated talent solutions.”

Are you a next generation leader?
Leaders of tomorrow are ready to fill a mission critical role, while clearly knowing the way, showing the way, and walking the way. Saikumar Shamanna, Associate vice president of HR, Infosys Technologies shares some of the key qualities desired of such individuals:
  • Ability to rapidly move into action and make smart and quick decisions.
  • Ability to embrace technology, leverage the power of diversity, and form high-performance teams
  • Active listening skills, promoting creative dissent and self-reflection
  • Courage to walking the talk and make meaningful changes which have significant impact
  • Ability to communicate effectively to a multi-generational workforce.


Case study
Emerging Markets Leadership Development Programme at MSD
The business complexities in emerging markets, including diversity of language and regulations, urged pharmaceutical giant MSD to groom more local talent into leadership positions. While the company was able to fill middle management roles, it found that it was lacking talent who could take on senior leadership positions.

To accelerate the growth of such leaders, MSD developed the Emerging Markets Leadership Development Programme jointly with Harvard University and Harvard Business Publishing. It aims to help high potential employees from all countries, including emerging markets, to develop entrepreneurial and innovative mindsets so that they are able to execute decisions and calculate risk. The programme also aims to instil a sense of urgency, enabling the emerging markets business to move quickly. The 10-month programme fosters networking and collaboration among cross-regional and cross-divisional emerging market leaders.

Two in-person sessions are conducted at the beginning and end of the programme to help participants build relationships with their foreign peers. Participants also engage in seven virtual thematic learning modules. Action learning projects allow participants to get together and find solutions for key issues that they face.
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