Climbing the talent summit

As a first-time attendee at the Davos summit, I couldn’t help but be awestruck. It’s not the fact that political and business leaders from all over the globe convene in a picture-perfect Swiss village that inspires awe; it’s what draws them there. Davos represents an unparalleled opportunity to debate, discuss and hopefully advance the thinking on critical subjects that impact not only businesses, but society as a whole.

As senior vice president for strategy at Project Management Institute (PMI), I feel a strong connection to the topics that dominated discussions at Davos, where the theme was Globalisation 4.0, and to the role project management can play in addressing them.

I am proud that PMI’s stakeholders and members are working to tackle challenges around such critical issues as water, energy, space exploration, medical technologies, drug discovery and genetic engineering, to name just a handful. Our constituents are inventing the next generation of mobility, of autonomous cars and artificial intelligence, all of which will bring dramatic transformation to our world.

Indeed, many of the conversations at Davos focused on the fourth industrial revolution and the implications of automation, artificial intelligence and augmented intelligence for the future of work. In this context, I was positively surprised to see that the issue of diversity and inclusiveness took on such importance at Davos.

If there was an overarching theme to Davos, it was how critical the human element is to all our endeavours

A high-performing team isn’t one where everybody looks the same; in fact, just the opposite is true. Ideally, a high-performing team will have many different viewpoints and types of experiences represented. That means we need to be more inclusive at both the organisational level, as we hire talent, and at the project level, as we build teams.

I find this an interesting parallel to the position PMI has taken in the last 18 months about embracing different approaches to project management, using waterfall, agile, hybrid or any other approach, as appropriate. Given the speed with which transformation is occurring and its scope, success requires that organisations be both nimble and quick to adapt. Teams that are diverse and have learnt how to function optimally because of their diversity have that adaptability as part of their DNA.

Automation and artificial intelligence raise the questions of what will happen to not just the way we work, but whether people will in fact have jobs. Like the previous industrial revolutions, this one will enable us to be more productive and do things that are grander in scheme. There is no denying that automation, artificial intelligence or any number of other technologies will take some tasks away from humans. And yes, in certain cases, there will be entire sets of jobs that will be made redundant.

But at the same time, this type of revolution creates a significant amount of new jobs. I believe that we will have more jobs than we can potentially fill. That’s why the focus should be not on whether people will have jobs in the future, but whether they will have the skills needed for the jobs of the future.

The challenge and the obligation, whether for a government, a company or any organisation, is to ensure that we invest in our current talent base. And yes, that causes a dilemma and is the source of some anxiety because while people know that investment and upskilling are needed, they don’t necessarily know what it should look like.

Where there was unanimity of thought on this subject at Davos was that every individual and organisation must invest in continual learning. And that’s something PMI has been advocating for a long time. I am glad the idea is being universally embraced beyond our own profession.

Jack Ma, the co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, pointed out that one skill which will surely be needed in the future is creativity and he raised the issue of how we can teach children to be more creative so they will be equipped to do the things machines cannot do. And he is right, but I think creativity is not just something children need to learn. A challenge for all of us is how do we operate in a world where there is significant digital enablement and enhancement, and what is it that we need to do, or do better, so that we can actually achieve our goals and the necessary productivity gains?

People talk about “a digital skillset” being essential for both individual and organisational success, without recognising that creativity is as much part of the digital skillset as coding. We need to devote significant resources to teaching both students and workers how to be more creative. Organisational success will depend in no small part on innovation and innovation is directly correlated with creativity.

Finally, the last issue that drew considerable attention at Davos was trust. I would go so far as to say we are seeing a “trust gap”. People have lost confidence in both the private and public sectors, partly because of the anxiety created by an increasingly digital world where human connection seems more fragile and remote, and less important. I believe that project management can go a long way to helping restore trust.

Trust is created by transparency. It is not a set of tools, but rather a comprehensive capability that must be built into governments and organisations. At its core, good project management is tantamount to transparency. We define the problem and seek the solution. We bring the right people to the table. We offer visibility into both the process and the results. We aim to have “one version of truth”.

Where there is trust, individuals are able to be open and contribute based on their diversity and their background. In a project environment, trust and transparency go hand in hand. And when they are combined with creativity and other essential skills, teams and organisations are equipped for success.

If there was an overarching theme to Davos, it was how critical the human element is to all our endeavours. It is both motivation and the truly essential element for any kind of success. We must never lose sight of that, whether it is in terms of how we build our teams, how we ensure they have the skills needed and, finally, how they help to build and grow trust.

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