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What is the key challenge for HR?

Posted on from Harvard Business Publishing

A key challenge for HR is to develop leaders that will thrive amid a rapidly changing environment. Ray Carvey offers his insights into the growing pressures and the need for ongoing development and a new mindset.

The challenges of global business leaders

Part of the challenge for global business leaders is to break into emerging markets which have their own distinct cultures and ways of doing business. They must also manage a more widely dispersed and diverse workforce – multinational, multilingual, multicultural and multigenerational – with many different expectations of the workplace. Meanwhile, competition comes from all directions. It’s no longer so easy to ‘own’ the market – yesterday’s winning products and services can be surpassed tomorrow.

Changing technology

Just look at the business shifts we’ve seen since the internet era began and the impact this has had on globalisation. New technologies are shaking up how goods are produced, business is conducted and even who your competitors are. The pace of change is so rapid and the pressures so intense, it’s no wonder global leaders are suffering from a crisis in confidence. Of 800 executives and talent development professionals worldwide who took part in a Harvard Business Publishing survey, just a third said they felt they had the right leadership talent and skills.

Mounting pressure

Executives are realising that what worked for them yesterday may not work so well today or tomorrow. There are also concerns over how ready leaders are. As organisations’ hierarchies have flattened, the timeframe for bringing in new leaders has shortened and there are fewer steps for them to grow into their positions.

Today’s business environment puts a premium on rapid decision making, so without involving all the levels that might have taken part in the past, fledgling leaders must make critical strategic decisions early on in their careers. The business is also more complex, and choices often need to be made with incomplete or ambiguous information.

Traits of today’s leaders

Modern leaders need to manage the pace of change, be more flexible and think more globally and strategically. As they are often distributed worldwide, the ability to work virtually is becoming crucial. And with matrixed organisations now typical, the people they are leading are rarely direct reports – so they must be able to influence.

The most important capability of all, however, is having a leadership mindset. It’s not about learning a rote set of skills, but about people redefining the way they think about themselves. Organisations are looking for leaders who can bring about transformative change.

Growing into a leader requires ongoing development that must be integrated with an organisation’s strategy. Bring learning closer to work through meaningful “action learning projects” by involving senior leaders in development to add business context and coaching, and build in time for reflection throughout the process.

The role of HR

In HR, you must make sure the key stakeholders – including senior leaders – are engaged in leadership programmes.

Ideally, senior leaders should sponsor action learning projects and share their stories. You will also play a critical part in identifying the employees that the organisation wants to develop as leaders.

By building a network of professionals available to discuss challenges and share best practices, you can prepare to tackle the current business environment.

Looking ahead

Organisations will increasingly look to leadership development to help them thrive amid rapid change and uncertainty. There will be a shift from pure leadership competency-driven models to a performance-focused approach that is more integrated with work. On the technology side, virtual learning and online collaboration will be more widely adopted as important enablers of leadership development. Organisations will have to leverage technology more in order to build leadership capability at the scale that’s now required.

Harvard Business Publishing

Harvard Business Publishing

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