Mastering the elusive people challenges of the modern workplace

Mastering the elusive people challenges of the modern workplace

Published On:
May 22, 2023

Are you managing a project, functional team, business unit, or organization? Have you also had the feeling over the past years that the people side of management seems to become increasingly challenging? And that’s on top of many challenges caused by the external environment that SUCCS (i.e., is driven by accelerating speed, mounting uncertainties, rising complexity, exponential change, and regular surprises).

While working on a project recently, I noticed that effective people management has become more complex and challenging due to the interplay of five layers that play a role in a  modern organization. Allow me to explain.

Layer 1: Country-specific cultural factors at work

The first people-related layer that plays a role is culture related to the nationality of people and organizations. Variables that play a role here are the local host culture of the country where your enterprise is located, the home culture of the head office in the country of origin, and the home culture of yourself and your fellow managers.

If you’re a domestic enterprise solely doing business in the local market and mainly employing local people, then this layer does not necessarily impose a challenge. But suppose you’re a delegated expatriate managing people in a subsidiary of an international non-listed family business from Switzerland. In that case, you have to adapt to the local culture and the host country (say, Thailand) while staying true to the standards of the head office in the home country. Now, if you lead people in a Multinational Corporation, the cultural challenges increase even further. For example, one top executive of a local MNC subsidiary we work with has to effectively lead people from a myriad of cultural backgrounds:

  • The host country culture (Thailand).
  • The home country culture of the head office (Germany).
  • His own home culture (India).
  • The home cultures of his multicultural management team (Germany, France, Russia, India, China, and Thailand).

That’s quite a rich and complex cultural mix to lead effectively. And at times, it might feel like herding cats.

Layer 2: Organizational cultural factors at work

Organizational culture is the second layer shaping the people side of modern management. Every organization’s unique culture has evolved and represents “the way we do things around here.” Having said this, three ecosystemic factors tend to trigger certain cultural similarities in organizations:

  • For one, the industry tends to have a strong influence on an organization’s culture. For example, think of how things are done in an FMCG company compared to a bank.
  • For two, the business function in which you manage a team often reflects a particular subculture (e.g., a marketing team versus an accounting team).
  • For three, different organizational types also resonate with different cultural vibes (e.g., a creative agency versus a government agency or a tech start-up versus an MNC).

If you started your career in a particular industry, organizational type, and business function and never made a change, then you might not be aware of these cultural differences. But if you’ve switched industries, business functions, or organizational types, you surely have noticed how your new functional team, business unit, or organization changes play a different cultural tune. So, to work and manage people in this novel setting effectively, you need to quickly figure out “the new ways they do things around here” in your new ecosystem.

Layer 3: Personalities at work

Personality is the third central layer affecting the people side of the business in the modern post-industrial organization. People differ in their personalities, which is great because we can use this to bundle strengths in a team while collectively minimizing individual weaknesses. Interestingly, once again, the organizational ecosystem (industry, business function, and organizational type) you’re operating in strongly influences the typical personality mix in a team, business unit, and organization. Put differently, specific ecosystems attract certain personality types.(I explained this in an earlier blog article titled Do your talents fit your work environment?).

So if you lead an organization or a business unit, invest in finding out more about the personality mix in your management team and talent pool. As a manager, likewise, profile your team members to become aware of what types you have on your team. Fortunately, over 2,000 people profiling tools are out in the market to capture how people differ in their personalities and preferred cognitive styles. For example, the oldest instrument in the market (MBTI) distinguishes 16 personalities, while Thinkergy’s talent and innovator profiling system TIPS distinguishes 11 unique talent & innovator types.

Layer 4: Generational cohorts at work

The mix of generational cohorts is another people-related layer that plays a vital role in the modern workplace. I discussed this aspect in greater detail in an earlier article titled How generational shifts will impact business and innovation (Part 1) and (Part 2).

Typically, at least three generational cohorts work alongside each other in an organization at any given time. In some Asian corporations and family businesses, there are even five generations at work, with Traditionalists often still calling the shots from the back or leading from the front.

Currently, we’re starting the process of a new generational shift. Members of a new generational cohort (Gen Z) have begun entering the workplace while the late Baby Boomers are about to retire in masses by the end of this decade. Gen X and early Gen Y managers will take over senior roles in the coming years. They need to harness and preserve the know-how of retiring boomers while providing career growth opportunities to the now dominant Gen Y cohort. Most importantly, they need to successfully onboard, develop, and retain promising Gen Z talents (which will be easier said than done, given the attitudes of this generation towards work and life).

Layer 5: Hierarchy levels at work

In some companies, a fifth and final layer also has an impact on how people are managed: organizational hierarchy levels. Adapted from the ranks and designations in the military in the industrial age, organizations have placed everyone on a particular hierarchical level that comes along with certain responsibilities, remunerations, and benefits.

I predict that hierarchical levels will lose some of their importance as the innovation economy comes into full swing and as the Sixth Wave begins to unfold in the second half of this decade. In the coming years, many businesses will shift from steeper to a flatter organizational hierarchies or flexible network models (where teams will form and dissolve to deliver projects or perform ongoing tasks in the most cost- and time-effective way) to become more agile, flexible, and innovative.

Conclusion: Resolve the people challenges of the modern organization by developing creative leaders

Leading an organization or business unit and managing members of a work team in the globalized innovation economy of the early 21st century requires you to become aware of the various people-related layers at play at your workplace. So first, become aware of the people-related complexities at work in your organization. Then, align the different people factors in your team with empathy, respect, and resolve. I believe that to maneuver the increasingly complex organizational people layers successfully, managers need to develop a mindset that is flexible and mindful; collaborative and win-win-win-oriented; open, positive, and playful; motivating and passionate; solution-oriented and holistic; and able to strike the right balance between focused, results-oriented work and relaxation. In other words, it requires the mindset of a modern creative leader (as propagated by our Genius Journey program of creative leadership development).

So if you’re a CEO or CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer) and you want to make your organization  seize the opportunities of the Sixth Wave of technology innovation and master the identified people challenges in this decade, then consider investing in developing your top talents into creative leaders to lead teams, business units, and organizations creatively and effectively in times of the innovation economy and a VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity).  

  • Are you curious to learn more about Genius Journey, Thinkergy’s creative leadership method created to help organizations develop their managers and promising talents into agile creative leaders? Download our booklet for free. We can familiarize your creative leader candidates with our Genius Journey method in our training courses (1-3 days) or alternatively tailor a more comprehensive creative leader development program that fits your organization’s needs.
  • Do you want to learn more about TIPS? Check out our TIPS website or download our TIPS booklet. Or are you curious about what’s your TIPS profile? Buy your TIPS online profiling test coupon for USD 89 now. Or would you like to find out more about how we can support your human capital management initiatives with a tailor-made TIPS project for your organization?
  • How can we support you in your talent management efforts and innovation initiatives in 2023 and beyond? Contact us to tell us more about your executive agenda and get a free consultation session.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2023. This article is earmarked to be co-published in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.

Credits: Icons on Flaticon created by Freepik | Nhor Phai | Smashicons | Sumitsaengtong