Jobs and the Future of Work

3 ways to motivate your team in the changing world of work

Mike Ettling
Contributing writer, SAP Community Network
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As the pace of change continues faster and faster, there’s a significant need for leadership to step up. Yet as the “Workforce 2020” study from Oxford Economics uncovered, barely half of surveyed CEOs said their leadership knows how to inspire and empower employees. That’s not going to cut it.

Where Leadership Styles Come From 

In my life, two learnings have shaped the type of leader I’ve become more than others – one from childhood, the other from parenthood.

As a native of South Africa, I grew up during both the apartheid era and the Rainbow Nation under Nelson Mandela. I watched a new chapter in the history of my country unfold before my eyes. I saw how a leader could unite people in spite of vast differences – color, socioeconomic situation, and life experience – to build a nation committed to reconciliation and transformation.

How many of you have taken the online quiz “what’s your superpower?” (Guilty.) Nelson Mandela’s superpower was revealed in the way he connected with people to engage and motivate them to work for a better life. Not just for themselves, but for others. And while I can say that’s not the superpower I apparently have, it’s something I work to emulate every day.

Leadership today demands both influence and inspiration. Which require a commitment to meet people where they are. Nelson Mandela said it best, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Another key influence on my leadership style is something very personal, my two sons, now ages 8 and 11. They remind me I’m required to embrace an ever-changing balance of power and influence – both as a parent and in the workplace.  Access to information, data, and social networks has changed the dynamic in both. My boys ask questions, give opinions, and regularly question my authority (sound familiar?)  – empowered by that access to information. So just as I as a parent must adapt my style to match the exhausting pace at which my children learn and absorb the world around them, I have to do the same thing in business when dealing with my team.

So while leading may not be as easy as it used to be, successful organisations don’t panic at the change – they embrace it.

As the world of work evolves, so must our approach to leadership

Effective leaders inspire and motivate talented employees to maximize their potential.  And that’s never been more important, as our workforces become more diverse and more globally dispersed than ever.  One day I may call an office in London or San Francisco my work location, the next it may be my kitchen table, and soon after a client’s office or British Air row 11.

To stay connected and motivated, employees need a simpler, standard way of collaborating and communicating – whether full-time or contingent, co-located or virtual, the youngest generation or the oldest.

Certainly there’s no “one size fits all” solution. But technology today is simplifying the landscape for employees and companies. Here are three things I keep in mind:

1. Keep things simple 

When it comes to managing talent in this global and hyper-connected economy, simply automating old processes for recruiting, payroll, time tracking, expenses, and the like won’t work. Instead, you need simpler, standardized processes to motivate and align employees with business goals. And every faction of the workforce – full-time employees, a growing contingent workforce, and leadership – must be considered when determining whether you’re making the business simpler and not just more automated.

2. Invest in your employees

Today’s workforce does not yet possess the skills needed to keep up with technology advancements. Companies are complicit – too often talking about how to develop talent rather than actually investing in it. The “Workforce 2020” study found that only 40 percent of employees are given the opportunity to expand their skill sets. That’s not enough at a time when entire industries are obliterated with each advent of new technology.

What’s the answer? Creating a workplace culture that encourages learning starts at the top.  Leadership teams must understand that new skills cannot just be acquired just through hiring – a very expensive and inefficient propositioncosting in the 1.25 to 1.4 times base salary range. Better to give your current employees easy access to resources that are relevant, insightful, and engaging – anytime and anywhere. The technology is there to support this: social platforms for collaborative learning and development, programs that track learning progress, and open content MOOC-style courses from the top content providers and universities around the globe.

3. Maintain a focus on customer success

Nothing unites a team better than customer success. Remember how your young kids were motivated by rewards to try harder? I can say a certain candy bar worked miracles in my house. With customer success at the center of everything you do, I believe organisations will innovate faster and more often, delivering better products and service, and helping customers remove complexity from their own businesses. The result? Happier customers, and happier employees.

For more on how to get your workforce ready, willing, and enabled to execute on profound change, I encourage you to read this post by Jenny Dearborn, Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer for SAP.

This article is published in collaboration with SAP Community Network. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Mike Ettling is a contributing writer for SAP Community Network.

Image: Matteo Achilli (R) works with one of his assistants in his office in Formello, north of Rome July 25, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Gentile.

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