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Sage-Gavin: Key to bold leadership? Foresight to create the future

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Eva Sage-Gavin
HR Leadership columnist Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than three decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. She currently serves as the senior managing director for Accenture’s global talent & organization consulting practice and as a technology Board Director. She can be emailed at [email protected].

We’ve all heard the saying “hindsight is 20/20.” That’s true, but after what we all went through in the year 2020, is it enough?

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Foresight is required after 2020; Watch these 2 signs

Instead of solely looking to the past for answers, leaders are increasingly expected to anticipate–even design–the future. It seems to me that bold leadership in 2021, and beyond, centers less around the lessons of history and more around anticipating what’s to come.

I’ve been so inspired to see how the brightest minds and boldest thinkers in business have embraced the fast and furious changes we’re all experiencing. Transformations that might have taken years are now happening in months or even weeks. Leaders in this brand-new era must be open to brand new ways of doing things.

The companies that are breaking through are often the ones proactively revisiting and reinventing notions about what is possible. Transformation is happening most successfully when CEOs and CHROs are focused on the future, clear about the big bets that are key and aligned to act–fast.

So, how can leaders hone this “future foresight”?

New research from Accenture offers signals of business change for leaders who are navigating this massive transformation and strategies for how to make it work in practice. An “interactive radar” allows users to scan which signals matter most to different executives across the C-suite. I wasn’t surprised to discover that both CEOs and CHROs have two of these signals in their sights: Learning from the Future and Pushed to the Edge.

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The first focuses on the power of analytics and AI to help predict the future and the second on how leaders are pushing power to the “edges” of their organizations. Together, these themes, particularly in terms of their impact on talent, sharpen future foresight.

Put your money where your mission is

The companies that have mastered learning from the future are the ones that approach it as a central strategic pillar–seeing investments in predictive capabilities as essential to and part of the broader corporate strategy. It’s heartening to see that 88% of C-suite survey respondents in recent Accenture research said that using more forward-looking analysis to better predict and respond to future events will be important to success.

Read more insights from Eva Sage-Gavin here.

Often, that will mean a member of the C-suite has to lead the way in embracing and evangelizing the transformation.

Indeed, the respondents to our survey whose organizations excel in this area were 26% more likely to have a member of the C-suite directly accountable for developing their firms’ ability to learn from the future.

Think outside the box

Anticipating a range of future possibilities demands that we begin focusing on the questions, not the answers. A “clean sheet” approach can seem overwhelming, but it’s also liberating and boosts creative thinking.

Technology can help, but there’s also much work to be done in terms of transforming organizational culture and the mindsets that can really hold us back.

To me, this is where “edge organizations” come into play: The idea that it’s the people closest to the edges–to clients, customers or work–who often have the answers or at least the right questions.

Indeed, 71% of survey respondents said that they have already, or are planning to, decentralize decision-making in parts of their business. That’s good news because expanding decision-making and accountability from top to bottom and edge to edge can help bring diverse perspectives to the table.

Talent, talent, talent

For me, it always comes back to talent and people. We simply won’t be able to execute any of this if our teams aren’t on board. This is of particular concern these days when there is a shortage of workers and we are experiencing what has been called “the great resignation,” with millions of Americans leaving their jobs.

How do we keep people in the workforce, particularly when there’s uneven supply and demand by industry? Redesigning structure and decision-making processes demands rethinking the skills of the workforce.

People will not only need high EQs to succeed in new roles, but they will also need excellent “creativity quotients” (CQs), “technology quotients” (TQs) and “sustainability quotients” (SQs). We must empower our people to make choices based on their strengths and interests and equip them with the training and tools to chart their own courses.

As many have said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Now is the time for leaders to do just that.

Register here for the HR Tech Conference to learn how employers are leveraging AI and analytics to sharpen their predictions for the future.