HKIHRM 2015: Eight critical capabilities for today’s leaders

Author: Liana Cafolla | Date: 02 Dec 2015

New skills are needed in a fast-changing world, says Harvard’s Vinay Hebbar

There are eight critical capabilities for today’s leaders, Vinay Hebbar, managing director for Asia at Harvard Business Publishing, told the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM) conference.
“Past success is no longer a predictor of future success, or even future existence,” said Hebbar – and that is even the case for the biggest organisations.
He pointed to how accommodation booking service Airbnb has overtaken the growth of the world’s biggest hotel groups, without making any investment in property, and how Uber is successfully challenging taxi businesses around the world without owning a single vehicle. At the same time, only 51 of the organisations that featured on the Fortune 500 list 50 years ago are still on it today.
The message is that new capabilities are needed to compete in today’s fast-changing world. Based on Harvard’s global research, Hebbar pointed to eight critical capabilities that HR should seek to develop in its leaders:
1 Managing complexity
Defined as the ability to solve problems and make decisions in fast-changing conditions. Just one-third of leaders say they can do this successfully, according to research by The Conference Board in 2014. It requires that leaders look out for change, build diverse teams to solve problems, plan for multiple scenarios and demonstrate critical thinking and decision-making skills.
2 Managing global organisations
By 2025, almost half of Fortune 500 organisations will be in emerging markets, up from five per cent in 2000. This requires the ability to seize opportunities in emerging markets, craft a global strategy that includes region-specific tactics and navigate cultural complexities.
3 Acting strategically
Adjusting strategies to capture new opportunities or tackle unexpected challenges. “What’s changed is that strategy is no longer long-term,” said Hebbar.
4 Fostering innovation
Defined as building an innovative, collaborative and creative environment. This requires setting up structures that support innovation, managing systems and processes, and encouraging people to innovate.
5 Leveraging networks
Developing networks to achieve organisational goals. Leaders should use networks to gain insights into complex problems and grow their influence, and should treat networks as mutually rewarding relationships. “What separates good leaders from ordinary ones are insights,” said Hebbar. Some leaders connect the dots to see what others don’t see, using the same data, he explained, and organisations that build diversity into their workforce gain more insights.
6 Inspiring engagement
This means fostering a culture that creates a meaningful connection between employees’ values and those of the organisation. It requires understanding of individual employees’ values and needs, shaping assignments to meet those needs, and fostering an inclusive work environment.
7 Developing personal adaptability
Remaining focused in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity. According to the 2014 Best Companies for Leaders survey, 60 per cent of CEOs believe adaptability to change is the top skill needed for leadership. It means dealing effectively with challenges, managing stress, time and energy, and recognising that past approaches may not work in current circumstances.
8 Cultivating learning agility
This is defined as actively seeking and learning from new experiences. To do this, leaders need to actively look to learn new approaches and skills, and maintain a curious and learning-oriented mindset. Critically, leaders must learn from mistakes and analyse what went wrong. “Reflection is key,” says Hebbar. “Change happens when you reflect.’’