Archives May 2023

This Blog Won’t Solve Everything – Read It Anyway

No, this blog will not perfect your life, grow your business 50%, cut logistics costs by 50%, allow you to give 50% raises to your staff … you get the picture.

Perhaps, however, you will start looking at advice on the internet with a more discerning eye. This column by Jason Gay in The Wall Street Journal got me thinking about our advice culture, and how so many headlines out there promise that this ONE thing will FIX EVERYTHING.

That, unfortunately, is not how life works. That is not how leadership works, particularly in an era of perpetual disruption, where everything you assumed certain is now wrong or has changed, and the only thing you can be certain about is … uncertainty.

As Robert J. Bowman writes for Supply Chain Brain, “Even the world’s best archer has trouble hitting the bullseye if the target won’t stand still.” While Bowman was discussing the rapid demand shifts in the microprocessor market, the quote applies to leadership in all sectors.

Leadership is a continuing evolution. What worked for the first 45 years of my professional life took me from my kitchen table business where we did warehouse consulting. Then we added inventory management, then transportation, then network planning. Then we moved into packaged software and implementation doing WMS, inventory, forecasting, TMS, LMS, YMS, then OMS, then S&OP, then into material handling systems integration and warehouse execution systems. Then we went global and began to look across the network into supply chains and then to supply chain visibility and then Digital Supply Networks, then to Artificial Intelligence and digital twins and on and on.

As you can see, leadership did not mean resting onshore in a steady state. As opportunities explode, you must grab those waves, ride them and provide more and more value. Sometimes the evolution is slow, and steady state appears to be in place for 9 months or even a year. But then you will quickly cycle through two bursts of innovation in 3 months. So, you see, turning problems into competitive advantage requires continuous learning and continuous evolution.

Sounds simple, right? But as Gay writes, “The notion that a single bit of wisdom can profoundly change a life is highly spurious, bordering on deception.”

That’s the way it is with leadership. Executive development and organizational transformation take time. You must take everything you learn – from this blog, other blogs, books (some people still read them), videos, webinars, speeches and your daily work life, and filter that knowledge through your experiences.

Pairing your knowledge, learning and ability to change with executive coaching can jump-start organizational transformation. But remember, coaching is more than a series of training modules for your budding leadership team. Coaching must be a holistic process. In today’s ever-evolving world, optimizing your path forward will not work. Your enterprise needs many options – optionality – and the ability to see what waves are coming and the agility to turn on a dime to deploy the right options.

The solutions your leaders select must operate over a greater range of alternative operational requirements. Leaders who can master this adaptability will have their organizations ready to handle change, different volumes, different varieties, different requirements.

So the next time you read something titled “The ONE thing you need,” well, you might really need the information in that article. But you’re going to need a whole lot more for organizational excellence in our complex world.

Business Travel: Another Nail in the Old Normal’s Coffin

Empty Airport

A new day. Another report. And more data to prove business will never return to the “old” normal.

Virtual working has permanently altered business travel, according to CNBC. The sector has stagnated, and many of those who fly are choosing economy class over fancy business and first-class digs.

This, obviously, forces airline leaders to rethink any strategy that banked on high-flying business travelers. For the rest of us, when I look back, I wonder what I was thinking for the previous 40 years.

A world of virtual, remote and hybrid work clearly was possible before the pandemic. Skype has been around for 20 years – almost old enough to legally buy a cocktail. Internet chat debuted in the 1980s. Many of the tools were there. The only things lacking among the executive set were Insightful Leadership and imagination.

As I wrote in Insightful Leadership, for 40 years I spent 3-5 nights and 40-plus weeks a year in airplanes, airports and hotels. That wicked pace of travel has dropped to about 3-5 nights a month. Beyond that, I’m not commuting to an office – unless you count walking up the stairs a commute.

What has this “disruption” done to my productivity? It has easily doubled.

I’m not the only one. CEOWorld Magazine mentions numerous studies that show remote work beats in-office productivity. This research comes from august institutions like Stanford University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, not the feelings of a Tik Tok star. From IT to finance to consulting to software, case after case abounds showing that remote employees are happier, more productive and more satisfied with their work-life balance.

And yet leaders still have their heads in the sand. Headline after headline reports that executives want their charges back in the office, under their thumb. And the U.S. Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes shows a continual decline in the percentage of hours worked remotely, from more than one-third at the beginning of 2022 to 28.4% last month. When I downloaded the data, I did note that hybrid working arrangements have ticked up to 31.5%, so that’s a positive.

Look, I’m not necessarily here to tell you how to run your business – but of course, if you connect, I’m sure we will have productive conversations. But I’ve started multiple enterprises since 2020. All have been fully remote and capable of sourcing talent from across the globe, not just those within commuting distance. I’m astounded at the results and continue kicking myself for not realizing we could have had the “new world” years ago.

The choice is yours.

Want to Hire from the Class of 2023? Re-engineer Work.

Class of 2023

Large companies, particularly the tech titans who are laying people off by the shipload, may not be that interested in entry-level workers.

But it turns out they’re not that much into you either.

Recent research from Handshake, an early career community for U.S. students, reveals that the class of 2023 are less likely to consider familiar brand names and fast-growing companies during their job search. They know that high-flying enterprises can turn south real fast. (See Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, First Republic Bank and others.) And if they land that job, today’s graduates would like to also be employed next week, thank you.

All of a sudden, practical benefits like stability and starting salary look a lot better than adding a brand name to your resume.

This, of course, is an opportunity for smaller, more nimble companies to take advantage – as well as larger ones who don’t see every economic bump in the road as an excuse to shed staff. The CEO of software giant Intuit recently said it’s much easier to poach engineers who know a thing or two about artificial intelligence than in recent years.

Beyond luring talented professionals from tech titans or hiring recently laid off staff, there’s a lot to like about the class of 2023. According to Handshake’s report, “The Class of 2023 Prepares for a Future of Work, Disrupted,” members of this younger cohort are confident in their skills, tech savvy (even if they do not have an underlying technical degree) and expect to continue learning throughout their career.

Of particular note, they aim to build skills in critical areas such as data analysis, product management, IT, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and more. Again, this is regardless of whether they studied technical subjects for their undergrad.

Personally, given my noted preference for the new world of remote work, I was surprised by their desire to spend time in the office. Upon further reflection, this makes sense. While Tompkins Leadership and Tompkins Ventures are comprised of seasoned veterans who know what to do and have decades in the workforce, those entering professional life value making personal connections face to face. And remember, the class of 2023 missed a lot of “face time” during the pandemic lockdowns.

Just don’t expect them in the office five days a week. More than 70% want hybrid jobs. Without the hybrid option, they are split 50-50 on in-person vs. remote. Note that students of color largely prefer fully remote over fully in person, something to keep in mind as leaders aim for more diversity, equity and inclusion.

Clearly, the class of 2023 is taking account of the fact that we live in a world of perpetual disruption. Leaders who can re-engineer work to handle this era will be the winners.

Why We Need a New Path

Choosing your best path

It’s nearing the summer of 2023, and companies worldwide continue trying to return to pre-2020 – the Old Path of leadership.

Unfortunately for them, two irreversible conditions prevent that possibility: the reinvention of work and demographic change.

First, despite leaders’ desire to lure/encourage/mandate workers back into the office, the Old Path of commuting to work for a 9-to-5 is dying. Forbes reported that 50% of executives want their charges back in the office. But only 12% of employees want to be back in the office full time. While big tech companies are laying people off, smaller, more nimble enterprises are offering flexible or remote arrangements to lure talent.

Second, aging baby boomers who leave the workforce take institutional knowledge with them. But they are living longer, and many really do not want full-time retirement. The Wall Street Journal recently had an excellent set of interviews with baby boomers who plan not to retire. The great majority enjoy contributing and consider the continued mental stimulation preferable to sitting in front of a TV, atrophying in body and mind. As Nancy Murphy told the newspaper: “I’m enjoying the human interaction and learning. With the new flexible workplace – one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic – spending time with family, traveling and many of the joys of retirement are now available to the working.”

Options for remote and hybrid work, flexible schedules, fractional executives and gig work can keep many of those baby boomers around as they onboard the next generation of leaders.

The Old Path of forcing them back into the expensive city or into lengthy commutes will push them out the door. That goes double for younger workers, because as I noted in Insightful Leadership, many view a corporate 9-to-5 as living death. Entrepreneurship exploded during the pandemic, and new business applications are showing signs of a significantly higher baseline than pre-2020.

On the other hand, the New Path of Insightful Leadership embraces both the reinvention of work and the need for change in the face of demographic realities.

Just because your team is not one in the same conference room does not mean your team is not together. Video conferencing, chats, communications technology and even the old-fashioned phone call can keep everyone connected. In fact, since executives do not have to spend their days on the road and their nights in hotels, productivity can increase while quality of life goes up – a win-win.

Changing how you used to lead may require you to also embrace coaching and training, leadership and organizational redevelopment and organizational transformation. But such a New Path is the only way forward.