Throughout my 30 year career as a senior leader first with a Corporate Fortune 20 company and now a global engineering firm, I’ve witnessed the birth a new revolution.
Our connected, global economy has transformed business so that companies of all sizes now have access to information and resources previously available only to mega-fortune 100 companies. Startup companies have become competitors thanks to this unfettered access.
Our global economy – and our new level of connectedness – enables my firm to live out our vision to “improve society through the built environment” from our backyard (Chicago), to global markets like UAE and KSA. Today, thanks to emerging technologies, international design firms create 3D models that simulate environmental conditions resulting in better engineered solutions, which almost instantaneously get translated into traditional style construction documents in dozens of languages. The way we do business has been fundamentally changed by technology and connectedness.
With this new leveled playing field, what will be the next revolution? What will be the differentiator that gives companies the edge to compete?
No matter how connected we are, no matter how small the microchip, or how much data that becomes available to our PDAs, there is one resource that technology cannot master. The resource that cannot be robotized, commoditized, or put on the internet is human intellect and ability to turn data into usable information. Human intellect is required to align values of compassion, understanding, hope, forgiveness, and loyalty.
The Coming Revolution
The next revolution to drive world change and allow companies of all sizes to be competitive is the human capital revolution. Capital investments of the past referred to financially based assets applied toward business plans with an expected return on investment. Capital investments of the future and ROA (return of assets) will refer to knowledge management and employee retention using metrics such as training, teaching, mentoring, and investing in the people we hire.
Already I see this in my industry: there is a workforce shortage of people with advanced engineering skills, but these skills can be taught. It is much harder to train for strength of character, enthusiasm, and care for others. I can teach young engineers to operate 3D modeling software or perform energy computations with a short training course. As a leader, I must also make a more critical investment of employee engagement, which is necessary to teach the emotional intelligence skills of the coming revolution. On the level playing field created by the new economy, this is how we will compete.
So what kind of people should companies search for? Is it important for new hires to be fully trained or an expert in your business upon hire, especially knowing technology changes? The answer is a definite Maybe. Companies need to separate teachable skills from character traits, often listing current technical skills as “desired,” while setting character traits like honesty, compassion, benevolence, and the commitment for team success as the priority. Candidates with these traits combined with the appropriate expertise will help companies build more sustainable business models through flourishing cultures. Successful leaders of tomorrow are those that realize the importance of finding and retaining these values-centered employees.
That is how companies will differentiate and thrive in the global company.
Mike Kuppinger is EVP/GM of Engineering Services at ESD , a consulting engineering firm. He is a doctoral student with the Center for Values-Driven Leadership.