Four Factors for the 21st Century

Experts in the Netherlands predict that, on average, a child born today will pursue 7 professions during their working career. Wow! That’s an entirely different paradigm than in the 1950’s of pursuing one profession during a lifetime, probably for only one organization!

So, what does this mean for you as leader?

What’s good for the organization

If coworkers will change profession that often, what then is good for the organization? How do you attract excellent personnel—and more importantly, how do you keep your best colleagues on board? The answer lies partially in sustainability, and then sustainability in the broadest sense of the word, including concepts such as corporate social responsibility, sustainability in terms of the planet, and most importantly, sustainability regarding your personnel. Next to ethical and morally proper treatment, that means ensuring you are constantly helping your team members focus on where they should be at in 3 to 5 years in the future.

Why is this good for the organization? Primarily, because the world keeps changing—and change seems to be ever more rapid. So, the organization will continuously need to adapt to an ever-changing environment and need personnel who operate well in this (ever new) environment. And all of this with a low staff turnover when it comes to your excellent coworkers.

What your coworker needs

A volatile environment requires some very specific qualities from the coworker who wants to be sustainably employed. In contradistinction to how things used to be, knowledge is no longer the most important criterion. Not only because knowledge on any subject is much easier to come by (think of using your favorite search-engine on the internet, for example), but also because the knowledge base is ever expanding and changing. Things you learned 20 years ago may have changed in the meantime or been superseded by new research and insights. Your coworker of the future needs the following four qualities for sustainability:

  • Analytical capacities
  • Creative capacities
  • Organizing and planning skills
  • Influential capacities

Analytical capacities are necessary to judge and work out what a situation requires to transform it into something successful. They are also necessary to be able to judge information on its merit and its usability in dealing with a current or future challenge.

Because everything is changing ever more rapidly, chances are that new situations will require new approaches. This is why creativity is a sustainable quality. The coworker of the future needs to think beyond the comfort zone of the known, use divergent and convergent thinking, and approach challenges and opportunities in an iterative and innovative way.

Organizing and planning skills are more than managing your own time, they also concern collaboration and identifying and the effective use of the appropriate resources needed to address whatever the issue at hand may be.

Probably the most important sustainability quality is the capacity to influence. Traditional command-and-control structures are gradually being replaced by collaborative ways of working, including concepts such as matrix organizations and network organizations. Influence means getting things done. This means influencing skills are gaining in importance and the call to pay more attention to the relationship is just one of the many ways in which to better influence both people and process. Interpersonal skills and realizing the importance of communication in all its aspects are an integral part of influential capacities. The basic premise remains: without communication, no organization!

What does this mean for the leader?

To begin with, how sustainable are you? To what degree do you implement a sustainable view on your organization? Do you consider how you will ensure your organization still has a raison d’ être in the future? Do you know the why of your organization—and more importantly, to what extent personally are your four sustainable qualities developed?

Then, as regards your team members: to what extent do you have attention for the continued development of their sustainable qualities? How are you ensuring your team members are equipped for the future? You always run the risk that an excellent coworker will leave your organization. Yet funnily enough, you limit that risk immensely by also meeting their need for mastery—by offering opportunities to broaden their sustainable qualities, for example.

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