We are trained to follow orders, but our job demands that we make decisions. Too often, the importances of our decisions is overlooked. Too many organizations fail to realize that top-down decisions matter less and less in a bottom up world.
The world is being transformed from a blue-collar world of order-followers into a white-collar world of decision-makers, from a world of serfs to a world of warriors. When most work was on the production line, we just needed to follow instructions. Our decisions were simple and our actions repetitive. Today, production is less of an issue than competition. Our decisions and actions must make choices that address change. This shift has led to a host of challenges, challenges that are addressed by mastering Sun Tzu's Rules for comparing positions and situations.
What the Research Tells Us
A six-year study of the challenges facing today's organizations by the Ken Blanchard Companies® identified the main issues. This study interviewed over 4,900 executives, line managers, and training and HR leaders from a range of companies, industries, and countries. The people painted the picture of a world in which people's roles are changing as the world shifts from the old linear paradigm to a networked one.
It doesn't matter if you work at a large company, a small company, or run your own business, the issues these executives identified affect you directly. The top four challenges these executives listed were competitive pressures, economic challenges, growth and expansion, and skills shortages. All of these issues revolve around the changing nature of work in the information age requiring more and more individual decision-making.
Competitive pressure directly impacts everyone. We are all warriors now. If you don't understand competitive comparison, you can waste your time and effort in competitive conflict. Your inability to make good choices inhibits your growth and advancement. The expertise most in demand is the ability to make the good decisions under competitive pressure but historically that skill comes only with years of experience.
The Top Challenges
When asked to rate the top challenges facing their companies, everyone gave answers related to the changing role of the workforce. Twenty-three percent saw this primarily as an economic challenge. Eighteen percent said it was a culture change. Thirteen percent said it was the competitive pressures. Twelve percent said the skill shortage. And twelve percent saw it as a problem with innovation and creativity.
When asked to to choose the top five issues they would focus on, the issues were:
- Creating an engaged workforce (58%),
- Managing change (55%),
- Developing potential leaders (53%)
- Selecting and retaining key talent (50%)
- Communicating mission, vision, values (39%)
These are all challenges of decision-making in the more networked world. The linear issues that once topped this list, such as controlling costs, declined dramatically over the six years of the study, from 58% to 38%. Meanwhile, the top issue, creating an engaged workforce, which is another way of saying a connected workforce, continues to grow steadily in importance over this same period of time, from 47% to 58%. When asked to pick just one issue to focus on, the most popular responses were creating an engaged workforce, managing change, and selecting and retaining key talent.
Workforce Development Challenges
When it comes to expressing what this change means in terms of employee development, executives found many ways to express the challenge.
A large majority (78%) see the challenge in terms of "performance management." How do you judge the quality of people's competitive decisions? While managers cannot judge each decision, it is possible to assess how complete people's decision-making models are.
Nearly as many (74%) also see this as a problem with "management skills" because decision-making has traditionally been a management job, even though developing front-line decision-making skills is different from traditional management training. Interpersonal communication skills (63%), team building skills (59%), customer relationship skills (58%) and the ability to innovate (42%) all part of this picture of training your people to be more effective for the future.
Key executives are clearly aware of the need to engage their people into thinking and acting more competitively, like warriors instead of serfs. However, most are at a loss for ways to actually do this. This failure is seen in terms of executing corporate strategy which has been traced directly to the problems with front-line decision-making.