Talent, Flexibility, and Leadership: Business Leaders Discuss the Changing Workplace

Talent, Flexibility, and Leadership: Business Leaders Discuss the Changing Workplace

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The Fall 2020 Dolan Dean’s Executive Forum capped off its lecture series with a panel discussion, “Defining Talent for Tomorrow – a Leading Perspective.”

On Nov. 10, Zhan Li, DBA, dean of the Charles F. Dolan School of Business and Lisa Stafford, management professor, moderated the final Dolan Dean’s Executive Forum of the semester. John Kinney ‘93, executive vice president and chief claims officer for The Hartford; Elixabete Larrea Tamayo, partner, McKinsey and Co.; and Kia Javanmardian, senior vice president at McKinsey and Co. offered their insights on leadership, the changing workplace, and the attributes they look for when seeking new talent.

Asked how the past year has shifted work in their organizations, all pointed to the importance of data, as well as having a company – and a workforce – that was able to adapt.

“Prior to last March, about 60 percent of our staff was already remote,” noted Kinney. “But within a weekend we had to scale up to 97 percent remote. At the same time, we lost all our support in India and the Philippines. What helped was all the data we had at our fingertips. Ten years ago we could not have done this.”

Larrea agreed. “The pandemic has been a catalyst for a lot of innovation,” she said.  The need for data, analytics, and technology was happening, but has accelerated, she said, noting that companies now have large analytics groups, user experience designers, and data specialists.

Looking ahead, the routine parts of many jobs will disappear, predicted Kinney, replaced by artificial intelligence. “So the question becomes, what are you going to need when only ten percent of the job is rote, versus 50 percent?” he asked.  The answer, he said, is a greater reliance on employees with problem-solving skills and the ability to collaborate with others. “You can train computers to do IQ but you can’t train them to do emotional intelligence.”  

All the panelists agreed that young talent seems to want jobs that are purposeful and have a positive impact on society.

“When I talk to new graduates, I explain that I believe in insurance because it’s about being there for people when they are going through a difficult moment in their lives. Through the work we do, we help them get back on their feet,” said Larrea. “Leaders need to reflect on their own purpose so they can convey this to newcomers.”

A lot of our parents had jobs that stayed reasonably the same from the time they started until they retired, noted Javanmardian. Not so now. “At McKinsey, our jobs are massively different from when we came in. You’ve got to be a learner. I would even say that learning post-school is more important than learning during school.” When interviewing a prospective hire, he said, “I would take a pretty smart person who can adapt over the genius who struggles with change, any day.”

Asked how today’s employees will be evaluated for leadership positions, Javanmardian noted that “it’s less about ‘Did you do the job?’ and more about ‘Are you pushing yourself and taking on new challenges without being afraid to fail? Are you building relationships? Are you trying to make the process better?’ “

“When you’re a leader, it’s not about you being in the spotlight,” said Larrea. “It’s about making others shine and empowering them. Surround yourself with people to help you in that journey.”

Dean Li was particularly pleased with the fall series. “It’s been spectacular, reaching out to a bigger and broader audience than before,” he said, adding, “We have a group of amazing speakers lined up for the spring 2021 series as well.” 

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