Leading has long been thought of as a “soft” intuitive skill, while management was seen as a “hard” science. But those lines are blurring, and the days of purely intuitive decisions are over. Many leaders are already adopting a hybrid, “informed intuition” approach, where intuitive decisions are data-informed. Netflix, for example, blends sophisticated viewer analytics with years of experience when exploring new products.
Such uses of computational social science (using data processing and data science tools to analyze information about people and relationships) are now critical for businesses. From marketing and supply chains to strategic decision-making and compliance, this spring of innovation is helping to improve profits, streamline operations, and optimize decision-making.
Computational leadership science (CLS) is the next evolution, designed to fundamentally improve leadership by using simulations, network analysis, AI, and other computational approaches. It is at the intersection of trailblazing science and technology, well-established leadership research, and invaluable knowledge gleaned from practice.
This article examines the role of CLS within your organization, how to use it to create business value, and the ways IBM is using it today.
CLS and leadership
CLS allows businesses to better anticipate, address, mitigate, and even benefit from the tidal waves of disruption one’s organization is going to experience in the months and years ahead. Here are three examples for which CLS provides near- and long-term value.
Morale and Engagement:
A recent survey of 1,500 CEOs found that morale was their greatest challenge. Fortunately, there are CLS resources to co-create solutions with your employees. You can use open-ended survey questions infused with “natural language processing” to gain a better understanding of 1) the primary topics associated with morale in your organization and 2) how your employee’s feel you are addressing them. Then, you can use “collective intelligence” technologies to innovate morale-boosting solutions. This form of group decision-making increases engagement and grows your value as a leader.
Employee Monitoring and Motivation:
Another concern is remote working and tracking productivity. Here, increasing CLS intelligence reduces hasty decisions like implementing excessive employee monitoring systems. You will learn that surveillance tech is a slippery slope only to be used with extreme caution. A healthy CLS alternative is transforming virtual environments into fruitful spaces for motivating your employees. For example, I am co-creating an AI-driven system that 1) visually maps who knows what and who is working with whom in organizations and 2) rapidly assigns the right people to the right job. The former provides a clear picture of existing relationships and how to lead de-siloed community-building while the latter assigns tasks better aligned with employee competencies — something proven to increase motivation. This helps you reduce employee dissatisfaction while increasing trust, commitment, and other outcomes indicative of great leadership.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI):
Many organizations struggle with DEI in hiring, retention, and promotion. Certain individuals are better at landing top jobs than others — there is a bias against introverts even though they can add more value — and leaders frequently select people they want rather than people they need, subconsciously selecting individuals like themselves based on factors such as race, education, and socioeconomic background. Making matters worse, the majority of employers are using “totally meaningless” tools such as the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator or biased algorithms for processes such as recruitment.
CLS allows you to surface and remove these biases with state-of-the-art solutions. My team, for example, is combining “conjoint analysis” (a method for reducing deception on assessments) with “reinforcement learning” (an AI approach for optimizing decisions over time) to better match an applicant’s real, not just stated, qualities with organizational needs, not just wants. The outcome is a clear, honest, and continually-improving selection system based on DEI and performance.
Leading CLS teams
CLS must become part of your daily leadership practice. In addition to the six daily leadership questions identified by my colleague, Eric McNulty, you need to constantly ask “How can CLS inform this decision and how can I engage my CLS team?” There is too much data, computing power, and analytical talent for a paradigm shift not to occur and for you not to ask these questions. From managing personal relationships to strategic decision-making, CLS will have a massive impact on how you lead.
The team you build, consisting of leadership scholars and consultants, as well as data and computer scientists, facilitates the advantages of CLS. They are at the core of your transformation, so you should first find a CLS advisor who can help you build and engage your team. This advisor is a specialist at removing expertise silos and managing CLS resources. Think of the advisor like a golf caddy who knows the course and what club you should use for each shot. For example, part of my work at Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative and as the co-founder of HSC Analytics is understanding how leaders can use AI-informed tools to 1) decrease workplace bias and 2) increase the pace and power of collective problem-solving. Then, as a CLS team, we navigate the course and co-create value.
Advisors also help with matters of explainability and privacy. Problems arise when leaders, motivated by the speed, efficiency, and AI hype, make decisions “because the computer says so.” This AI-centered approach creates a murky environment filled with cautionary tales. Accordingly, significant effort is going into explainable AI to identify and reduce problems. This gives you X-ray vision to safeguard against blind, potentially catastrophic, decisions while retaining the value of CLS-driven insights.
Privacy is also a must. There is a significant push toward privacy-preserving technologies, and those of you engaging with this tech will play an important role in creating a more secure society. This is a great opportunity for you to further establish yourself as a trusted and effective CLS leader.
The key to attaining these game-changing benefits is embracing leadership’s digital transformation. John Hagel III, author of The Journey Beyond Fear, notes from decades of deep interactions with leaders that fear prevents decision-makers from realizing their full potential. Courageous leaders, instead, move past their insecurities regarding emerging technologies, unfamiliar jargon in the boardroom, or modifications to their leadership style. They adopt an opportunity-oriented mindset by understanding how CLS boosts their performance. This does not mean you have to code in Python, but you must at least dip your toe in the digital water.
CLS at IBM
Though systemic integration of CLS across all leadership challenges is a nascent vision, IBM is already connecting the computational dots. IBM, like many other organizations, understands the value of identifying employee potential and then creating pipelines for development and promotion. Unfortunately, like many other organizations, IBM struggles with finding ways to create the best fit between high potential and future opportunity. Many uncertainties and significant costs exist in this process. It is very difficult to predict whether an excellent software engineer, for instance, will make an excellent leader of engineers, and getting this wrong can harm everyone in the network — from the person who has been promoted to their subordinates to those tasked with selection.
Upon noticing this opportunity to innovate, IBM embarked on a grand digital transformation of their global assessment process. As Sofia Lamuraglia, Director of IBM Leadership Development put it, “Recruiting internally is often more cost-efficient than bringing in people from outside of the organization, as the training and onboarding processes are typically much shorter. As well as assessing leaders for immediately available positions, we were also keen to build a strong talent pipeline: offering our HR community a go-to resource for future management-level opportunities.”
IBM Leadership Development combined key psychometric and behavioral measures of effective leadership with their penchant for computational thinking. The outcome is a digitized platform for leadership assessment on a global scale, as well as automated services for training and micro-learning tailored to a leadership candidate’s skills, behavior, and personality. IBM’s initial results suggest the platform is predictive of leadership performance and, better still, costs significantly less than traditional face-to-face assessments.
Leader assessment and development, however, is just the tip of the CLS iceberg for IBM. At the edge of application, they are exploring when quantum computing will elevate a leader’s decision-making capabilities far beyond traditional computing — the so-called “quantum advantage.” Though it is early days, use cases are starting to emerge regarding quantum shifts in leadership and complex decision-making. IBM, in partnership with JPMorgan Chase, for example, is experimenting with quantum computing to give financial leaders an advantage in extremely complex spaces, such as investment strategies and risk analysis. It is estimated that leadership at JPMorgan Chase, as an early quantum adopter, could generate billions for their clients and shareholders before the competition is able to follow suit.
Distributed work is here to stay — how your business can adapt
It’s no secret that the business world and working environments have changed drastically since 2020. With fierce competition in recruiting for skilled labor becoming a critical issue for businesses, having employees in varied locations around the U.S. or even internationally has become an increasingly common solution. It looks like this distributed work model is here for the long haul, so it’s time to get your business on board.
What is distributed work?
Distributed work is defined as a business that has one or more employees who work in different physical locations. This can range from having different in-person office locations, remote work or a blend of the two — often termed “hybrid work.” Large companies having a distributed workforce is nothing new, as having multiple locations allows companies to meet more of their customers’ needs.
The difference now, though, is the massive increase in remote work triggered in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic, ramped-up competition for skilled workers, and how those factors have combined to impact smaller businesses.
If you’re struggling to keep up with today’s workforce demands, take heart. Distributed work can provide some solutions.
Millennial and Gen Z workers strongly prefer flexible working environments and a distributed work policy fits into that preference nicely. Additionally, distributed work structures have the benefits of increased access to international talent, more productive employees and higher job satisfaction.
How to adapt your small business for distributed work
Making the leap to a distributed workforce can feel daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. Software solutions tailored specifically for supporting a distributed work environment can help ease the transition and make your business run efficiently.
In this guide, we’re going to take a look at important adaptations needed to bring your small business up to speed for distributed work and how to accomplish them.
- Get your business security up to date.
- Tap into global talent pools.
- Maintain quality communication between employees.
Let’s take a closer look at each point below.
Get your business security up to date
When remote work exploded in early 2020 due to COVID-19 office closures, it quickly became obvious that improvements to business security protocols were necessary. Now with many businesses planning how their company will operate going forward, security continues to be a crucial consideration.
What are some security considerations important for businesses with distributed work environments? Here are a handful of important security features you’ll want to think about:
1. Avoid losing business documents with automatic saves
The stress from losing hard work or entire documents altogether is something most people have dealt with at some point. Having to backtrack and redo lost work is tedious and unproductive.
The best way to avoid that ordeal? Automated saves.
With Microsoft 365, your Office documents are automatically saved for you. Whether it’s a document in the company Sharepoint or in your own OneDrive account, your hard work won’t go to waste.
Additionally, Sharepoint allows your company to collaborate on documentation without having to worry about whether the current document is the correct version. An average of 83% of the current workforce loses time daily due to document versioning issues. Microsoft 365 makes it easy to avoid lost time and frustration, with the added benefit of simplifying collaboration.
2. Maintain business security across all user devices
In the United States, 68% of organizations reported being hit by a public cloud security incident when polled in 2020. Attacks like these can cripple your business’ productivity and lower public perception of your company as a whole.
Both Sharepoint and OneDrive offer multiple layers of security to keep your business documentation safe on the cloud servers themselves, including:
- Virus scanning for documents
- Suspicious activity monitoring
- Password protected sharing links
- Real-time security monitoring with dedicated intrusion specialists
- Ransomware detection and recovery
With these built-in protections, you can keep your company safe no matter where your company’s distributed work happens.
3. Adopt company-wide security policies
Effective company security policies protect your organization’s data by clearly outlining employee responsibilities with regard to what information needs to be safeguarded and why.
Having clear guidelines set ensures that both your company information and your employees are safe from security threats.
Items to include in your security policy might include:
- Remote work policies
- Password update policies
- Data retention policies
- Employee training guidelines
- Disaster recovery policies
This list obviously isn’t exhaustive, so we’d recommend using a security risk assessment tool to pinpoint specific areas your business should address.
Note: Social engineering and phishing are major security threats for businesses of all sizes. To avoid becoming a target, your company must implement strong security practices for your users. For example, using a secure two-factor authentication setup can help prevent unauthorized users from accessing company documents.
4. Ensure communications are secured
Having a distributed work environment tends to mean that most (if not all) communications occur digitally. As such, keeping digital communications secure should be a top consideration.
If video calls are a major part of your business needs, Microsoft Teams offers robust encryption for your calls. Additionally, email through Microsoft 365 offers top-tier anti-phishing protection for your business.
To learn more about available tools for secure business communication, refer to the Microsoft documentation here.
Tap into global talent pools
The pandemic triggered a drastic reshuffling of how workers view their jobs, leading to what has been dubbed the Great Resignation. In the United States, more than 11 million jobs were sitting unfilled as of January 2022. With jobless claims on the decline, the domestic labor pool is small and competitive.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed as a small company attempting to attract talent in the current labor market. You’ll want to ensure that you’re offering competitive wages and benefits, but it can be difficult to go toe-to-toe with large corporations.
However, this is another instance where distributed work can help. One solution? International talent.
The distributed work model makes employing remote workers worldwide more seamless than ever before.
A few considerations here to keep in mind, though.
- You’ll need to apply for certification from the U.S. Department of Labor to hire outside the country.
- Be aware of additional taxes that might result.
For more information, review the official documentation for this process.
Note: The same standards do not apply to international contractors, but there are special considerations for contractors as well. Read this guide for more details.
Maintain quality communication between employees
Successful businesses rely on open communication for everything from keeping employees up to date on company information to maintaining morale. Let’s go over a few ways to implement quality communication in a distributed work environment.
1. Cultivate a healthy work environment
Company culture can feel like an afterthought when your teams work separately from each other. However, cultivating a strong company culture is vital, especially for distributed work environments.
The first step here is to clearly define the company culture that you want. By setting the company standards early, your employees will be able to benefit from a solid starting point.
Second, reinforce the culture that you’d like to create. Setting goals, establishing performance metrics, fostering accountability, building trust with employees, and being open to feedback from workers all help reinforce a healthy company culture.
And third, it’s important to prioritize the mental and physical health of your employees. Encourage vacation time, allow for flexible working arrangements, and make mental health support a priority.
2. Foster open communication
Digital communication is key for distributed work environments, so keeping open and transparent channels for communication is imperative.
Here are a few suggestions on building healthy communication for your distributed work teams:
- Make empathy a priority.
- Greet employees every day.
- Create a virtual water cooler to encourage socialization.
- Announce company updates directly.
- Give recognition and feedback regularly.
By encouraging clear, focused — but also fun — communication, your teams will grow to trust each other and interteam collaboration can flourish.
Distributed work is the ‘new normal’
Building your business toward a distributed work model is a solid investment in growing your company in the future. Tools like Microsoft 365 offer an all-in-one solution to take the pain out of transitioning your business, so take charge of your business’ future today.
To Get Results, the Best Leaders Both Push and Pull Their Teams
Over the past year, there has been a call for leaders to be less demanding and more empathetic toward individual employees. To get results, managers needed to rely on “pull” — giving employees a say in how they carry a task out and using inspiration and motivation to get them going. But an analysis of thousands of 360-degree assessments showed that the most effective leaders also know how to “push” — drive for results by telling people what to do and holding them accountable. The takeaway? Your efforts to increase empathy shouldn’t diminish your ability to, on occasion, push when needed. The data shows that it can be a strong force that builds confidence among employees. The key is to know when to use which approach, depending on the task, the timing, and the people.
When you see a task that needs to be accomplished by your team, do you “push” them to get it done or do you “pull” them in, giving them a say in how they carry it out and using inspiration and motivation to get them going? These are two very different approaches to reach a goal, and the latter is often the best one, but knowing how to combine these two paths is an important skill for managers and leaders.
Take this example from a client of ours. There had been an ongoing discussion about the company’s policies around the environment and sustainability. The CEO had allowed debate and encouraged everyone to weigh in. The CEO strongly supported the need for change but allowed time for ample discussion (using the pull approach). However, two members of the executive team were naysayers and dragged their feet on enacting any of the proposed initiatives. After two months of inaction, the CEO announced to the team that the company was going to implement two initiatives and stated that everyone needed to get on board (moving to the push approach). One of the executives balked at this and made clear he wouldn’t support the initiatives. The CEO terminated him by the end of the week (using the ultimate push approach).
Leaders who are willing to try hard with pulling but ultimately resort to a strong push provide a good example of the power of the combination of these two approaches. Pushing too hard can erode satisfaction but, at times, is needed, especially when pulling just doesn’t work.
In our research, my colleague Jack Zenger and I identified two leadership behaviors directed at the same end goal but utilizing opposite approaches. We call one behavior “driving for results” (push), and the other “inspiring and motivating others” (pull). Let me define what I mean.
Defining Pushing and Pulling
When a leader identifies a goal that they want to accomplish, there are two distinct paths to get there.
Pushing involves giving direction, telling people what to do, establishing a deadline, and generally holding others accountable. It is on the “authoritarian” end of the leadership style spectrum.
Pulling, on the other hand, involves describing to a direct report a needed task, explaining the underlying reason for it, seeing what ideas they might have on how to best accomplish it, and asking if they are willing to take it on. The leader can further enhance the pull by describing what this project might do for the employee’s development. Ideally, the leader’s energy and enthusiasm for the goal are contagious.
Gathering data from over 100,000 leaders through our 360-degree assessments, we measured both push and pull and found that 76% of the leaders were rated by their peers as more competent at pushing than pulling. Only 22% of the leaders were rated as better at pulling, and a mere 2% were rated as equal on both skills.
We also asked the people rating those leaders (over 1.6 million people) which skill was more important for a leader to do well to be successful in their current job. Pulling (inspiring others) was rated as the most important, while pushing (driving for results) was rated as fifth most important.
Understanding What People Want and Need
While our data is clear that most leaders could benefit from improving their ability to pull or inspire others, our research revealed that leaders who were effective at both pushing and pulling were ultimately the most effective.
We gathered 360-degree assessment data on 3,875 leaders in the pandemic. In this analysis, we did the following:
- The direct reports rated the leader’s effectiveness on both pushing (driving for results) and pulling (inspiring and motivating others).
- The direct reports were also asked to rate their confidence that the organization would achieve its strategic goals and their satisfaction with their organization as a place to work.
- We ranked leaders’ data on pushing and pulling into quartiles and identified those who were low (bottom quartile) and high (top quartile).
The results are captured in the chart below. When both push and pull are in the bottom quartile, both confidence and satisfaction of direct reports are low. When push is high and pull is low, both confidence and satisfaction increase. When pull is high, satisfaction increases to a level substantially above confidence. When both are high, then you see the most significant increase. (Note: High confidence and satisfaction were measured by the percentage of people who marked 5 on a 5-point scale. This is a very high bar for satisfaction.)
Bringing Push and Pull Together
As many leaders across the globe grapple with retention and how to prevent their employees from joining the Great Resignation, they’re asking themselves hard questions. How do you motivate people to stay? How do you encourage them to increase their efforts? What is it they really want and need from their work environments?
Over the past few years, there has been a call for leaders to be less demanding and more empathetic toward individual employees. More pull, less push seemed to be what’s needed to retain talented employees. While I agree with this sentiment, this data also offers a clear warning. Your efforts to increase empathy shouldn’t diminish your ability to, on occasion, push when needed. As our data shows that it can be a strong force that builds confidence.
In fact, your influence as a leader comes from your ability to know when to use which approach, depending on the task, the timing, and the people. So next time you’re trying to accomplish a significant goal, consider whether your team really needs a good push, a big pull, or perhaps both.
How to Respond When an Employee Quits
Someone giving notice doesn’t have to be the end of the world or the end of a relationship. In this article, the author offers advice for how to respond in a constructive and professional way when someone says they’re quitting. First, take a moment to digest the news. It’s okay to show you’re surprised or to say something like, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.” The last thing you want to do is react impulsively and say something you might regret that would leave the individual with a negative impression of you and the organization. Notice and manage any in-the-moment reactions and depersonalize the news. It’s also important to show your support and genuine interest in why they’re leaving and what they’re going to do next. And make sure to get alignment on what they need and what you need from them before they leave to ensure a smooth transition. It may involve some give and take and could include finishing a specific project or set of tasks, training others to take over these responsibilities to minimize disruption, or even hiring their replacement. Using these strategies can help all parties move on in a positive way.
With over four million people quitting their jobs each month during the first quarter of 2022 and 44% of workers currently looking for new jobs, it’s entirely possible that someone on your team could leave in the near term. And it may not be the person you thought it would be — or hoped it would be. It could come as a total surprise to you and be a key contributor on your team, someone with whom you really enjoy working and who has great potential in your organization. So, how do you respond when this person gives their notice?
While there are several things you should not do — like take it personally, belittle their new opportunity, or give them a guilt trip (among others) — there are six key elements to ensuring that you respond in a constructive and professional manner while processing the surprising news.
Take a beat
First, take a moment to digest the news. It’s okay to show you’re surprised or to say something like, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.” The last thing you want to do is react impulsively and say something you might regret that would leave the individual with a negative impression of you and the organization.
Notice and manage any in-the-moment reactions
During this momentary pause, take a breath and try to discern precisely what it is that you’re feeling. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, shares that naming our emotions is the first step in dealing with them. Try to be as specific as possible. In addition to being surprised, you may feel frustrated, discouraged, hurt, deflated, betrayed, angry, miffed, irked, or deeply disappointed or just plain sad. There are many subtle flavors of negative emotions, and parsing out the specific emotion you’re feeling will help you create greater self-awareness and enable you to process your feelings more effectively and respond more constructively.
It’s when we’re not conscious of these negative emotions that they can unexpectedly emerge from below the surface, triggering unconstructive, reflexive comments or behaviors that you may later regret, such as lashing out or making a sarcastic jab or snide remark. It’s ill advised to share that you feel betrayed or angry, even if that’s the case — here, discretion is the better part of valor. However, if you’re sad or disappointed, it’s okay to say, “I’m so sad you’re leaving, but it sounds like a great opportunity. We’re going to miss you.”
Depersonalize the news
When we feel hurt or betrayed by such departures, it’s because we take the news personally. Even if you could stand to improve as a manager (let’s face it, we can all find ways in which we can do better), their departure is not a statement about your personal worth or how good you are as a person, so it’s best to put your ego to the side and rise above any strong or harsh feelings you may have. The individual might be leaving for a better opportunity, better compensation, personal reasons, or all of the above. The best career development path for them may be to leave the organization and get experience elsewhere. It is their career, so respect that they made the best choice for themselves, their career, and/or their family, which is the same anyone would expect you to do for yourself. They are showing loyalty to themselves — not disloyalty to you.
Be curious and show a growth mindset
Show genuine interest and curiosity to learn why they’re leaving and what they’re going to do next. What can you learn that would benefit you, the organization, and other employees for the future? You might ask, “What could we do to entice you to stay?” At that point in time, the answer may be nothing since they’ve likely accepted another position. But one client of mine let her boss know, when giving her notice, that a competitor was willing to bring her on at a more senior level with much higher compensation — something her organization had been dragging their feet on and had been noncommittal about for quite some time. Unexpectedly, within a few days, they came back with an even better offer that ultimately did convince her to stay.
While this scenario might be the exception, it’s still important to ask the question above, which might also be phrased as, “What else could we have done to keep you?” or “What appeals to you or excites you most about this new job?” Their response may be related to better work/life balance, the ability to work remotely, a more inclusive culture, a new and exciting challenge with more responsibility, or being more empowered to make decisions. This is all useful feedback for you and the organization so that these areas can be addressed for remaining and future employees, even if it’s too late to do anything about it for this individual.
Show your support
Maintaining positive working relationships with departing employees is important, well beyond the time that you actually work together, so show your support for their decision and enable them to leave on a good note. After all, you may need a positive reference from them one day.
Further, as a former employee, they are still a brand ambassador for the company and may be a future customer, client, or referral source for business and other employees. And by showing support and enthusiasm for their new opportunity, as disappointed as you may be, you are more likely to keep the door open for them to potentially return to the organization one day. So, celebrate their contributions and next endeavor, and ask them how you can be helpful to them as they start their new role.
Ask for what you need
When an individual gives notice, they likely have a desired end date in mind. After all, they will want to take a break before diving into a new job. Get alignment on what they need and what you need from them before they leave to ensure a smooth transition. It may involve some give and take and could include finishing a specific project or set of tasks, training others to take over these responsibilities to minimize disruption, or even hiring their replacement.
. . .
Someone giving notice doesn’t have to be the end of the world or the end of a relationship. As surprised as you may be, using the six strategies above can help you respond in a constructive way that builds the relationship and helps all parties move on in a positive way.
Ken Abel, Sales Director at Trailstone Insurance Group, Interviewed on Influential Entrepreneurs Podcast Discussing the Core Values Working With Trailstone Insurance.
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