While goal-setting is most commonly associated with New Year’s, the truth is that we’re constantly looking for ways to improve. Maybe we’re going to eat a little bit healthier or start doing yoga every day after work. Of course, we also try to look ahead to see what coming trends are most likely to make a difference in our lives and the way we view the world.
In my work, I’ve seen the exact same things happen in the business world. CEOs usually refer to this as “design thinking” — a process where they identify a problem, explore and prototype different ways to solve it, and then test and refine the best ideas before implementing the desired change. In other words, they make a goal, explore different scenarios and options that could help them accomplish it, fine-tune their ideas and then pick the best way to reach that goal.
Just like in our personal resolutions, there’s hardly ever a “one-size-fits-all” solution for different businesses. However, there are different leading practices that come up that help companies find better ways to solve their problems. With design thinking, companies can do a better job of figuring out which insights will make a difference for them, as well as how to use them in the workplace.
So which trends should CEOs focus on in the months ahead? I reached out to three business experts to get a better idea of which leadership trends will help companies of all shapes and sizes find new solutions and be better prepared to grow their business.
1) Provide Ample Learning Opportunities
CEOs are often focused on their own personal developments, but those who are really looking to take their businesses forward are increasingly embracing the idea of supporting continuing education for their employees.
“People are always looking for ways to advance their careers,” says Jay Peters, design thinking expert and director of Grow USA, which provides leadership training to professionals from 3M, Honda, Bose and other major brands. “A company that provides learning opportunities energizes their staff and helps them become better prepared to lead in the future.” As the saying goes, “Leaders are made; they are not born.”
Helping employees develop new skills is ultimately a win-win for everyone. It shows you care about their success, and they’ll repay you with better results. As Cameron Herold, founder of COO Alliance, adds, “The best CEOs in 2018 are the ones focused on growing their people. Grow people, and the company grows.”
2) The Rise of the Remote Workforce
Whether working as a freelancer or a full-time employee, more and more people want the option to work from home. In fact, the opportunity for remote work has already demonstrated a significant impact on employee retention, with the “most flexible” organizations having a significantly higher retention rate than the competition.
As Trevor Mauch, CEO of Carrot explains, despite its advantages, business leaders will need to learn to navigate the unique challenges offered by remote teams. “[With remote workers, CEOs] have to keep people inspired, build a culture, and create internal connections at a distance. You can’t walk down the hall and give someone a pep talk and, sometimes, you can’t have difficult conversations at the best moment because time zones are different.” Strategic thinking is needed to overcome these potential stumbling blocks.
While organizational savvy is needed to manage and motivate a global team, offering this level of flexibility could be key to attracting and retaining the most talented workers in the years to come.
3) Greater Emphasis on ‘Soft Skills’
Technology is playing a bigger role than ever in our lives, and this has caused a lot of businesses to focus on bringing in more people with technical skills. However, if you truly wish to grow future leaders within your company, you also need to ensure that you’re bringing in people with “soft skills” — things like the ability to communicate clearly or be a good listener.
A 2017 study from the University of Michigan found that companies that provided soft skills training experienced “a whopping 256 percent net return on investment.” With these types of results, don’t be surprised to see many CEOs work on improving their team’s soft skills to increase productivity and collaboration.
Creativity is a key “soft skill” that is increasingly valued by savvy CEOs. Using design thinking to generate and test new ideas to find innovative solutions is so valuable, in fact, that IBM’s 2010 Global CEO study named creativity as the “most crucial factor for future success.” Ultimately, thinking outside the box is where many of the best ideas are born.
4) Millennials In Leadership
We can’t talk about business trends without bringing up millennials! As Ian Altman notes, “Millennials are not children anymore. In fact, the oldest of them are now 35. Millennials are increasingly taking leadership roles within organizations. In addition to managing their peers, millennials will soon be managing Gen Z employees.”
Peters is quick to add that this growth in millennial leadership should be a priority for CEOs, most of whom are from an older demographic. “CEOs can’t afford not to begin grooming the next generation of leaders in their companies, and this often takes internal training programs to grow not only their skill sets but also their ability to lead. These are the leaders of tomorrow. Smart CEOs will carefully consider what they can do to prepare them for these responsibilities.”
5) Finding Purpose
As a direct result of having more millennials in leadership, more and more businesses are becoming purpose-driven. Today’s employees want to work for something greater than themselves. We don’t just want to make a difference in our free time — we want our job to have a positive impact on the world, too.
Forward-thinking CEOs know this “purposeful” approach isn’t going away anytime soon. As such, they will lead by example to help their employees find greater meaning in their work. This could involve partnering with a charitable organization or emphasizing how their products and services make the world a better place.
As Mauch notes, even seemingly small touches can help build this positive culture. “At Carrot, for instance, we … have a Slack channel called ‘Awesomeness’ where we share inspiring testimonials from our customers. Those little details help us build a culture and keep employees inspired, all at a distance.”
While changes to the business world are definitely going to bring their fair share of challenges, they will also bring plenty of opportunities to those who are willing to use design thinking to discover new solutions. Which of these trends do you think will have the biggest effect on your business?