Leaders: We Must Evolve Our Thinking

At the end of the 15th century in America the hunter-gatherer Native Americans first became exposed to the European immigration.  The explorers and the farmers attracted to the new world brought a new age that clashed directly with the Native American nomad culture.  The Native Americans were the victims of the age of agriculture evolution.

No less dramatic is the clash of ages occurring in today’s workplace.  The Age of Knowledge and the leadership of the Industrial age are clashing but this time the casualty is employee engagement.

Many leadership policies are still stuck in the Industrial Age while the economy and employees are struggling to adapt to the Knowledge Age.  Recent studies by two independent human organizations highly this.

Both SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) and Aon consulting asked their respective client networks to identify the top issues facing HR professionals in the future.  Coincidentally they both ended up identifying the same top three issues:

  • Attracting and retaining talent
  • Building employee engagement and trust
  • Aligning employee goals with organizational goals

These issues have been around for years and we still have difficulty addressing them because our leadership models and skills have not evolved at the same rate as our macro-economic conditions.  Our organizations are in the knowledge age and our leadership is stuck in the industrial age.  This is why we still have poor results on these issues.

Our leaders and our organizations’ policies are still managing individuals while instead we should facilitate trusting environments.  We have manager dependent processes when we actually need self-organizing systems.  We have manager dependent feedback when we should have self-managing feedback.  We create dependent victims when instead we need to be creating interdependent innovators.

Our worlds are clashing and our results show it.  In 2004 a Harris poll of 23,000 employees confirmed that we have a leadership evolution problem.  Harris reported only 20% of employees felt their organization did a good job clarifying and aligning goals.  Only 20% said they did a good job with engagement, and only 15% did a good job with trust.

In 2011 Aon reports things have not improved.  According to the 1,328 employees surveyed, only 12% of leaders very effectively clarified business goals and only 7% very effectively managed their talent.

Our leadership has not caught up with the evolution.  Our leaders are not changing policies.  They still embrace the current performance management and pay-for-performance policies consistent with the industrial age while all the research continues to show them to be ineffective.

It’s time for leaders to embrace the new age of knowledge and realize their old ways will not work in this new world. Their willingness to cling to the old ways is damaging employee engagement.  Unless they change their ways the health of their organizations will surely be the next casualty.

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