Notebook from Vienna: The MERIT Summit 2019 – Where Corporate and Higher Education Leaders Met
Notebook from Vienna: The MERIT Summit 2019 – Where Corporate and Higher Education Leaders Met

It was my pleasure being a guest at the MERIT summit in Vienna in January where I was impressed by the line-up of HR leaders and business schools. A great organisation and location contributed to a very inspiring conference where insights, challenges and success stories in the corporate learning and people development realm were shared. Many future of work topics were discussed and there was an agreement by many on the key topics that are relevant in the HR space of today and in the future.

When I looked at my notes, I decided to use the inspiration that it gave me to share with others. I curated my learnings under some buzzwords. I hope it’s inspiring despite seemingly chaotic being pulled from many speakers and sessions. It should be noted that my summary contains some of my personal thoughts and ideas and does not necessarily represent exactly what was said in the sessions.

Innovation: Technology and Industry 4.0 speeds things up. VUCAD² - Volatility – Uncertainty – Complexity – Ambiguity + Dynamics + Diversity. Accelerated acceleration! Explosion of the Unicorn business – private start-up with a market cap >1b USD. Be late in the game / late adopter – you lose. Intrapreneurship. Ideation – Discovery – Incubation – Launch. Disruptive idea – Problem Solution Fit – Product Market Fit – Sales Traction. De-risk innovation – see culture and teams. Consider incremental changes vs. innovation – both needed. Create a commitment to innovation!

Agile:Agility is the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in productive and cost-effective ways.” Sprints, Scrum, design thinking etc. OD thinking must be agile. No more learning apps with badges – contradicts agile – promotes egos. 50 shades of agile”

Leadership: Inspiring, caring, charisma, visionary, honest, feedback, empowering, humility, risk taking. Measured by growth, performance, authenticity and collaboration. Servant Leadership making a come-back? Trust and respect for people + clear goals + instant feedback. Bullies need to be taken out – can’t be afforded anymore – glassdoor / networks / bad news spreading quicker. Top management agreement to exit bullies? What do you do with a leader who does not want to learn & develop? Push for exit – not the right attitude for being a leader. Leaders who ask for feedback and training – already good vs. obliging them to learn – better exit them. Get leaders to bring their challenges and issues into the learning process. Think of two types of leaders: The Visionary leader who cares for innovation and the product and the People leader who cares for talent.

Collaboration: Collaboration is co-construction. Working together to create more. Allowing, accepting instead of control, judge, proving, claiming to know.

Inclusion: (this time not the diversity topic about gender only) More listening – accepting that people down the hierarchy know more. Explore – don’t assume – by listening. Not only top-down assumed challenges but also challenges that lower levels identify need to be seen. HIPPO - Highest Paid Persons Opinion model phasing out. Vertical and Horizontal inclusion – through hierarchy and tearing down silos.

Learning: life-long learning – daily needed. Continuously developing ourselves in any interaction at any time. New dynamics, use of technology, celebrate the learning, make / give time and place for learning. Nudging for learning – driven by AI. Teach – Monitor – Measure. More data analysis needed to what is needed, create better LX, identify what is good & bad. LinkedIn survey 2018: 94% stay longer if invested in their career development. 56% spend more time learning if suggested by their manager. Flex economy: Shift the responsibility for learning to the flex workforce? Attraction & loyalty created by offering learning also to the gig workers. IQ – EQ – AQ (Adaptation Quotient) - CQ (Cultural Quotient): Learning mindset, cognitive skills, emotional traits (persist & dealing with failure). Becoming accountable for learning. Key question: What will success look like?

Executive education: Evolution of content. Essence / nature: curation of general and special content – Experience: creating LX by the right mix: Individual vs team, online vs face 2 face – Purpose: Life-long learning. Find multiple ways to provide exciting content.

Skills: From technical to adaptive skills: new knowledge – new skills – new attitudes – new mindset. Listening is e.g an adaptive skill. Adaptive learning includes unlearning before learning and embracing new paradigms and happens on the individual level. Values + Motivation (purpose) + technical skills vs. attitude and mindset as adaptive skills. Both need to be nurtured. Skills requirements vs. skills inventory thinking. From the T model of skills to the M model. The search for a new word for soft skills.

Purpose: Purpose is a state of being. Living one’s core values, driven by one’s passion, creating deep inner fulfillment. Purpose creates engagement and performance. Company – team – individual purpose. Book: Aaron Hurst – The Purpose Economy. The Why in the center: Simon Sinek – not only for products but also for Humans. Factors to observe where purpose plays a role: Way of working, people, org design, leadership mindset, governance, work environment. HR purpose: Building capability of an organisation to deliver strategy. Alternative: “HR’s role is not to do HR ‘stuff’ but to build the capability of an organisation to deliver its strategy and create sustainable value for its key stakeholders”.

Generations: One of the only topics with contradictions. Panel discussing differentiation of learning for generations: Differentiation yes, but by individual needs / career stage / learning curve etc and not by generation. Practice example: Specific measures to implement learning methods and practices for Next Gen. Generally CX to EX: Next Gen workforce needs are for: Instant - Flexible and Clarity. Delivered by the CX they are used to and now also demanded by the workplace.

Culture: Culture change comes from the top. Culture needs to match aspirations & purpose. Peter Senge: Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Safe environment, work-life: leading by example. More inclusion needed for culture AND strategy. Avoid toxicity – policing toxic behaviour – see leadership. Triangle: Culture – Strategy – Structure. Failure culture! Reduce penalties for failure – if the cost for failure is too high, people take no risks. Not who is responsible, but how and why? Creating a learning culture: Licence to learn – role modelling – formalizing it (hiring for growth mindset, onboarding – offer when to learn, performance management: growth and accountability) – Embedding new technology. Old paradigm: reward – tell people what to do vs. new paradigm: Listen.

Teams: Characteristic of best performing teams: psychological safety, Google study – top 5 indicators for high performing teams: 1. Psychological safety 2. Dependability 3. Structure and clarity 4. Meaning 5. Impact.  High safety leading to comfort, learning and high performance while low safety leads to apathy and anxiety. Book: The fearless organization by Amy C. Edmondson. 4 critical team phases: new leader, teams in transition, cross functional teams, teams in trouble. Team size maximum: Two Pizza teams – to be fed by 2 pizzas – better autonomy, quicker decisions.

Technology: Tasks not positions are replaced by AI, not whole companies, but only parts of business models are disrupted by AI. Watch out for algorithmic pieces – they will be disrupted. AI has the moral compass of a 4-year-old. Massively fragmented and fast growing market of HR Tech available. Reading: Josh Bersins' HR Technology Market 2019: Disruption Ahead study.

Data: Start with the question to which you search a better answer – what’s the problem? -> what data do we have? – how will we measure? Data never for data’s sake. Very helpful to transform assumptions into evidence. Powerful to engage Leadership, great to use in business cases for change.

New operating models: Ecosystem view. Wirachy – networking company. Changing talent tracks – gig economy. Learnings from working in a self-managed organisation (Holacracy): Hybrid of Hierarchy and self-management working best. Hierarchy provides safety, comfort, strategy coordination and Self-Management drives autonomy, responsiveness and innovation. The muscles to describe the interplay are: empowerment and collaboration. The new boss is the work!

So many new ideas, insights, paradigms…and so little time. Hope the above inspiration saved you some time. Let me close with one of my favourite sayings from William Ford Gibson: “The Future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Chris Debner is an award-winning Mobility Thought Leader and frequent speaker on the future of HR and International HR who is providing Strategic Global Mobility Advisory and Coaching Services. He has 20 years of experience in international HR advisory and worked in over 35 countries across all industries. Chris runs his own consultancy for Strategic Global Mobility Advisory out of Zurich, Switzerland.