Adapt to Survive – a picture of leadership in 2030

By Georg Vielmetter

The business world is changing. Over the next twenty years, various global pressures will have a major impact on European organisations and leaders.

Dr Georg Vielmetter, head of leadership and talent for Europe at global management consultancy Hay Group, introduces the six key megatrends set to shake the business world and explains how leaders must adapt to survive in the new world order.

Hay Group’s latest research – Leadership 2030 – identifies the key global ‘megatrends’ that will change the business world as we know it. In this groundbreaking report, we challenge leaders to adapt and hone a fresh new way of doing business.

Through extensive research and futurologist modelling Hay Group has been able to map the changing landscape of global business over the next two decades. The six most prolific megatrends we identified are: globalisation 2.0, climate change, demographic shifts, individualisation, digital lifestyle and work, and technology convergence.


The report sounds a warning for senior executives the world over; today’s business leaders must act immediately to change their leadership style in order to react to these overarching trends. Those who fail to act or move too slowly risk rendering themselves obsolete and their organisations unsustainable.

This article takes a closer look at these six global megatrends and identifies the new leadership qualities needed to succeed, and how leaders can help future-proof their organisation.

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Global power shifts

Globalisation is progressing at speed, with international competition likely to grow fiercer and markets even more diversified over the next two decades. However, as the global balance of power continues to shift towards the East, the nature of globalisation is changing. In Leadership 2030 we call this globalisation 2.0.

In the same way, with emerging nations increasingly trading between themselves and regional markets behaving more idiosyncratically, local ‘re-regionalisation’ will feature heavily in the new world order. Yet despite this introversion, the global business world is getting riskier: greater inter-connectedness creates greater volatility, making financial crises, pandemics and cyber-terrorism increasingly likely.

Globalisation 2.0 is already having a decisive impact on global business operations and strategy – a trend set to endure over the next twenty years. To keep up with the game, organisations must stay abreast of the changing political and economic sensibilities in different countries, particularly emerging and developing economies.

For leaders, Globalisation 2.0 will change traditional authority structures…Greater collaboration and discussion with regional colleagues will be critical to success.

In practical terms, this means that international companies must adapt their global strategies for local markets. This includes fostering local participation in decision-making, creating culturally diverse leadership teams, and encouraging more cross-country and cross-functional collaboration.

For leaders, Globalisation 2.0 will change traditional authority structures. The days of one or two ‘heroes’ at determining strategy from up on high are well and truly over. Leaders will need to demonstrate unprecedented agility, strategic thinking and cognitive skills to navigate the new global organisation. Greater collaboration and discussion with regional colleagues will be critical to success, engendering a sense of personal loyalty in extraordinarily diverse teams.


The great balancing act

Over the coming two decades, climate change will be further exacerbated. Continued over-consumption and population growth will lead to growing levels of waste, particularly in emerging and developing countries. Meanwhile, the growing scarcity of resources such as water, minerals, metals and fossil fuels will cause price hikes and could trigger regional and global conflicts.

As natural resources grow more scarce, organisations and leaders will be asked to take greater environmental accountability. Going forward, organisations will be required to put environmental concerns at the heart of operations, and contribute to the funding and creation of cleaner technologies, collaborating with peer organisations. Savvy companies will be able to drive cost reductions and efficiencies by fully integrating sustainable practices and processes.

In order to adapt, leaders will need to effectively balance compliance, financial success and CSR – demanding a higher degree of strategic and conceptual thought. They will also have a role to play as advocates of environmentally friendly solutions and operations within and outside the organisation.


Worldwide ‘brain cycle’

An ageing and fast-growing population is changing the demographics of the global workforce, and talent is at an absolute premium.

In the developed world, life expectancy is rising but populations are stagnating or declining. By contrast, populations in developing countries are booming, creating definite demographic imbalances. And as a result, many countries will suffer skills shortages as growing numbers of migrants return home and use their new skills to accelerate local development.

For the developed world, this ‘brain cycle’ will intensify the war for talent and as a result, retaining employees with key skills will be absolutely essential to the future success of the business. The workforce demographic will change as many organisations look for fresh talent in new places.

Future leaders must place staff loyalty at the top of their agenda, displaying a sensitive understanding of diverse employee groups and engendering a sense of belonging. They will need to understand, integrate and motivate teams of increasingly diverse employees, promoting inter-generational and inter-cultural working and ensuring diversity amongst senior colleagues and rising bright sparks.


What’s in a career?

Leadership 2030 identifies individualisation and value pluralism as a key trend within the ‘new’ workforce, as freedom of choice reigns supreme. The notion of ‘career’ is becoming increasingly important in the quest for self-fulfilment and self-expression – particularly for women – as individuals create joint personal and professional goals. Individualisation will have a significant impact on employee loyalty and motivation to perform.

In the new order of things, traditional motivating factors such as pay and succession potential will fall by the wayside. Recognition, self-development, self-direction, values-driven engagement and work-life balance will take precedence.

For the effective organisation, readjusting work processes to promote independent work and individual time management will resonate with and engage the ‘Individualist’ employee. To support this, leaders must take on the roles of boss, mediator and coach, to encourage autonomy whilst securing commitment to organisational objectives.


The virtual workplace

New media will continue to blur the boundaries between private and working lives over the next twenty years, as digital lifestyles take hold.

Constantly connected to the internet via smartphones and tablet devices, employees are now always ‘switched on’. Furthermore, with digital tools offering inexpensive, easy and fast communication, co-operation, organisation and production, workplaces are no longer tied to bricks and mortar locations.

The notion of ‘career’ is increasingly important in the quest for self-fulfilment and self-expression. Individualisation will have a significant impact on employee loyalty and motivation to perform.

To keep up with the digital revolution and channel its impact positively, leaders must engage the ‘digital natives’ in their workforce without leaving traditionalists behind. They should embrace the creativity, curiosity, and open minds of generations Y and Z, and promote collaboration and knowledge exchange between them and older workers to bridge the information gap.

However, to negotiate the pressures and risks of the digital world leaders also have to develop ‘digital wisdom’. Providing clear, transparent and practical guidance to using new digital technologies offers a much needed framework for employees, and will seek to safeguard corporate reputation.

Leaders will have to learn to lead remotely, but must guard against relying purely on virtual communication. Combining virtual and face-to-face contact is important for both effective decision-making and fostering motivation and loyalty.

Acknowledging the ripples of change spreading through organisations is the first step to survival. To flourish, leaders must put the wheels of change in motion.

The rise of innovation

Leadership 2030 demonstrates that trends towards miniaturisation and virtualisation will drive the convergence between nano, bio and information technologies and cognitive sciences (NBIC).

NBIC technologies continue to drive advances in fields from medicine to energy. For leaders to become advocates of visionary development and innovation, it is therefore more important than ever for them to build on their knowledge of complex sciences and collaborate with other businesses to exchange knowledge.

Adaptation will become critical for business survival and competitiveness. Organisations should look to integrate industry specialists across newly ‘open’ teams.

Companies that ranked in Hay Group’s top 20 Best Companies for Leadership 2010 ensure the diversity of their leaders and workforces reflects the growing diversity in their markets.

Is your organisation ready?

As we have seen, these six emerging megatrends impact on a number of key business and organisational components, from employee engagement and motivation to the very make up of the workforce itself. They demand new ways of working and innovations in technology. As these emerging trends become business as usual, adapting processes, protocol and styles is the only way for companies to safeguard future viability.

The weight of this responsibility ultimately falls to leaders. Senior executives must adjust their leadership styles and ways of working to accommodate the new workforce, embrace different ways of working and rise to the demands put upon them by the modern business world.

Acknowledging the ripples of change already spreading through organisations is the first step to survival. To flourish, leaders must now put the wheels of change in motion.




About the author

Dr Georg Vielmetter is head of leadership and talent, Europe, at global management consultancy, Hay Group.

For more information on Leadership 2030 please visit




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