Cadenza Conversations

Bringing public, 3rd sector and private sectors together to define and co-design creative solutions to public service challenges 

New leadership for a digital age

The future workforce is predicted to be full of generation-Z giggers, managing portfolio careers who pitch their talent to the employer who offers them the best reward for work and life. Our future economy will be fuelled by digitally-enabled workers operating upon a virtual platform that facilitates intuitive, solution-focused collaborations to generate and game solutions. Gone are fixed work places and steadily trodden career paths: in future work will be an experience, the career path an adventure and the work place an environment of fun, freedom to explore and self-determined expansion of virtual horizons.

We know that the fourth industrial revolution will follow the previous three; it will present and deliver change that many of us are not yet ready to face. The difference is the pace of change and that the change itself, being digitally driven, becomes the driver of ever faster, even further-reaching change as machines themselves learn and advance capabilities.

In the inaugural Cadenza Conversation* representatives of health, government, banking and service sectors considered the opportunities and impacts of workforce futures on the role of leadership in Wales. The conclusion is that there are three changes to address in order to attract, retain and develop digital age leadership:

Firstly, the concept of the employer-employee relationship. The work-place is no longer somewhere to go; employers must be confident in managing absent and remote workers. Presenteeism has never been an indicator of productivity but increasingly it will be a constraint. If the best talent does their best work at 2am business leaders must enable them to do their best work. Building ever more offices may not be the answer – what impact will that have on regeneration investment?

We also considered boredom to become a threat to employment retention. To attract and retain the best, employers must offer flexibility, mobility and a commitment to nurturing personal growth. Future leaders need reconcile themselves to harvesting the fruits of talent before releasing it to the next challenge with a mutual promise to endorse their capabilities on LinkedIn in return for them posting “likes” of their great experience of your employment!

As the employment relationship changes so must the models of leadership and governance. Flatter structures, fluid collaborations and giving way to the technical insight or relationship owner will quickly out-rank time-served or hierarchical position. How will risk-averse, Welsh public services accommodate lowest point decision-making – founded on subject matter or relationship expertise rather rank and technical credentials? Arguably emergency services operate this way in crisis management: a three-tier command structure places control of the scene with the often junior rank on the ground (the Bronze Commander). Silver command (senior peers one stage removed) provide access to resources and infrastructure support whilst Gold Command provides strategic oversight e.g. managing the media, reassuring the public and reporting on progress. Similarly, Japanese industrial culture set the trend in process-led, lean and agile practices where equally important insight from customers, creators, craftsmen, cleaners and corporate heads digest, diagnose and design solutions to advance competitive edge.

Finally, there is increasing societal recognition that the use of an evidence-base in decision-making  is suffering a seismic shift.  Formerly,  policies were developed, decisions informed and choices made using expert content, experiential information and unassailable fact or data analysis. Instant access to the internet is proving a leveller of learning, literacy and life-chances. But can it be trusted? The power of personality and celebrity challenges our reliance on data and evidence in favour of populist opinion. The previously esteemed pronouncements of government, academia and institutions holds court on-line with the back-bedroom postings of teenagers, terrorists and self-proclaimed talent. Data and information may no longer be the currency of decision-making. It will be replaced by instant, often value-driven judgements presenting the choice to believe what you read hear or declare it fake news!

Already doctors find patients presenting with armfuls of downloaded expertise and convincing remedies switching their role to patient coach to help the patient differentiate between trusted remedies and snake oil. Likewise, new recruits can access as much Harvard business strategy as seasoned leaders. How easy is it to differentiate between the data rich / experientially poor employee and the insight led / intuitive brilliance of future talent? Increasingly it may not be based on who presents the best evidence but how persuasive their argument and what social media following they have that will benefit your business through the hire.

Preparing for the digital age requires leaders to re-think their offer to the workforce, becoming stewards of the best experience not providers of place. They need to lead, not just manage and that demands letting go and learning through others (even the most junior). They also need to engage all players (citizens, customers, corporate heads and practitioners) in defining and designing future solutions taking account of popular opinion not just facts and figures. Above all leaders should develop approaches that offer flexibility around the individual, navigate seemingly chaotic environments and embrace the people, structures and choices that enabling a digital future presents. Inevitably all our futures depend on it.

*The Cadenza Partnership is a cross-sector team of senior talent with diverse styles, knowledge and perspectives who work with clients across sectors to co-design tailor-made responses to complex strategic, organisational, service delivery and socio-economic challenges.  The Cadenza Conversations is a mechanism for facing organisations as they deliver services for today and improved outcomes for tomorrow.

Our next Cadenza Conversation takes place on 23rd April 2020 in Newport (08.30-10.30hrs). We will discuss inequality in the modern age – details to follow.  Please contact us on