Is your talent ready for the New Normal?

BMES talks to digital workspace platform provider Citrix about adaptive talent and how to attract, develop and retain it.

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It is spreading like wildfire across the globe and makes for a strong contestant for “Phrase of the Year 2020”. No, I am not talking about COVID-19 or Novel Coronavirus, but another phenomenon closely related to it: the “New Normal”.

Rushing into the New Normal

According to a survey BMES conducted among 700 professionals in APAC in April, the pandemic caught many companies by surprise. The initial response typically focused on implementing mandatory work from home (422), providing protective equipment (359) and improving crisis communication (349).

covid coronavirus company measures APAC Asia
BMES COVID-19 Pulse Survey. Company measures and level of satisfaction with those measures.

One of the survey respondents, Yutaka Nakazato, APAC President of Coleman, points out that speed was more important than perfection during the first weeks of the pandemic: ‘We gradually implemented work from home from end of February. And, by mid-March we managed to have everyone working from home. Though we were not fully prepared from a technical point of view, it was important we started early (fixing infrastructure issues in parallel) so that the team did not have to worry about taking public transport.”

Now, after many lockdowns have been lifted, organizations are trying to figure what the New Normal will look like for them. While some companies like Twitter have given their employees permission to work from home forever and progressive politicians like New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are contemplating a 4-day work week, other organizations have tried to move their employees slowly back into the office putting mask-wearing and hand-washing guidelines into place.

But the “New Normal” is not just about new workstyles or general health measures. There are many more disruptions companies need to face head-on. These include rapidly changing customer demands, supply chain interruptions, cash shortages, governmental interventions, shifts in business and production models, increased levels of stress and anxiety for individuals, and so on. And, while rewriting organizational processes and setting up contingency plans to tackle those issues is not necessarily difficult, there is one urgent question companies have to ask themselves before considering anything else:

Do you have the talent to survive and thrive in the New Normal?

1. Adaptability is key to striving in the New Normal

Citrix is a US-based solutions provider that has not only set out to “create people-centric solutions for a better way to work” for its customers, but also invests heavily in strategies to engage and retain the best talent for their own organization. I sat together with Isao Obazawa, President of Citrix Japan, and Izumi Kobayashi, Japan Head of HR to learn more.

Interviewing Citrix: Isao Obazawa (right bottom), Izumi Kobayashi (l), Yoriko Obokata (right top), author

Most of the challenges we’re facing right now are not technical in nature but are all about adaptability. In such an uncertain environment we need to shift our mindset from what is known to what is possible.

Izumi Kobayashi Citrix
Izumi Kobayashi, HR Head of Citrix Japan

“The most critical skill for talent going forward is adaptability,” says Kobayashi. In these times when every aspect of life, whether personal or professional, seems to be changing by the day resilience is more important than any technical skill. “Most of the challenges we’re facing right now are not technical in nature but are all about adaptability. In such an uncertain environment we need to shift our mindset from what is known to what is possible.”

When talking with Citrix, I was reminded of a concept I came across recently: the Adaptable Organization by Deloitte*. The Adaptable Organization is an organization that “[…] remove[s] the belief in scarcity, structure and control and replace[s] it with an ecosystem that learns from the past and adapts accordingly to help ensure survival of the overall system.” At the heart of the Adaptable Organization are individuals that are resilient and accepting of change – character traits that have long been neglected by companies that traditionally viewed their employees as inherently resistant to new ways of working.

Isao Obazawa Citrix
Isao Obazawa, President of Citrix Japan

To achieve a high degree of adaptability as an organization, Citrix puts a strong emphasis on “Curiosity” which has always been one of the company’s core values (along with Integrity, Respect, Courage and Unity) but now has highest priority. “Curiosity is all about having a growth and learning mindset as well as being agile and self-aware. We see a shift happening from optimizing for efficiency to optimizing for resilience. That’s why traits that have been valued in the past such as a heroic mindset or the ability to run PDCA cycles are losing more and more of importance,” says Obazawa.

2. Working together while working apart

Another crucial component of the Adaptive Organization is the team. Instead of believing in high-performing individuals that deliver organizational performance, Adaptable Organizations recognize that performance is intrinsically linked to team composition. Similar to Deloitte’s theoretical concept, Citrix highly values collaborative skills in their employees.

“The people who can lead Citrix through this global crisis are adaptive and purposeful collaborators. People who can contribute not just to the team or the organization but even beyond. They need to be able to challenge their own biases and work with many different ideas,” explains Kobayashi.

Obazawa agrees. “Diversity of thought is extremely important in this rapidly changing environment. Japan is mostly perceived as a homogenous society, but I believe that valuing differences drives better decision-making. Our leadership team is quite diverse, and I personally welcome anybody who challenges my opinion. This attitude is reflected in our leadership principles: Talk less and listen more. Ask questions instead of giving direction. Rather break a rule than follow a norm.”

The people who can lead Citrix through this global crisis are adaptive and purposeful collaborators. People who can contribute not just to the team or the organization but even beyond.

Curious collaborators who can strive in uncertainty by being highly adaptive and embracing diversity of thought – this is the talent organizations will need to successfully tackle the New Normal. “But in contrast to technical skills this kind of mindset is very hard to develop,” says Kobayashi. “That’s why we try to strike a good balance between growing future leaders internally and bringing in new talent from the outside.”

Hiring adaptive talent – Talent Acquisition at Citrix

Citrix puts great emphasis on their talent acquisition process, valuing it as “one of our most important jobs” according to Obazawa. “Together with internal and external hiring partners like Boyd & Moore, we are trying to create an end-to-end process that provides a great candidate experience while delivering the best results for the organization. This includes having a dedicated intake session for each new role with all stakeholders to make sure that we capture all requirements from the start and are on the same page regarding our hiring approach.”

Interviewing and onboarding are the most crucial steps in Citrix’s talent acquisition process to ensure that they bring the right talent into their organization.

Asking the right questions

Interview questions at Citrix are intentionally designed to go beyond self-proclaimed skills and experience. For example, candidates are asked to describe situations where they turned potential issues into opportunities, or where usual approaches to trouble-shooting did not seem effective and required a creative re-think in order to succeed.

To gain deeper insights into a candidate’s unique strengths and levels of adaptability, Citrix provides dedicated training sessions where interviewers can practice how to ask smart follow-up questions and have engaging conversations with the interviewee – another reflection of Citrix’ core value Curiosity. “Being very intentional about the questions we ask and making sure that all interviewers are able to ask them effectively is especially important now, as most of our interviews happen online,” says Obazawa.

Nobody’s perfect

The second most important step in hiring adaptable talent is onboarding. “We are very aware that no-one is perfect,” says Obazawa. “During the interview process we gather a wide range of assessments not only about the candidate’s strengths but also about their growth opportunities as well as potential risks.”

Based on those assessments, Citrix creates a personalized 180-day onboarding plan with the goal of helping each individual adjust quickly to the new environment and integrate smoothly into their new team.

An environment of continuous learning – Talent Development at Citrix

In addition to bringing new talent into the organization Citrix puts great effort into developing future leaders internally. One important part of this development effort is talent assessments.

Holistic talent assessments to identify future needs

While many organizations conduct talent assessments on a purely individual level and use them to review and respond to past performance, Citrix follows a rather different approach.

We strongly believe that the skills and behaviors which got us here won’t get us there.  It is easy to focus on past performance, but it’s also very reactive and doesn’t tell us much about the future.

First, the state of talent as a whole is a key topic for the organization at any time but particularly during talent reviews. These top-level discussions start with current and more importantly future needs of the business including any challenge or trend that might impact Citrix in the future. This high-level approach enables Citrix to take a holistic approach to talent development.

Secondly, Citrix’s talent assessments are forward-looking: “When assessing our talent needs, we always ask ourselves, what does the talent need to look like that will lead us into the future? We strongly believe that the skills and behaviors which got us here won’t get us there.  It is easy to focus on past performance, but it’s also very reactive and doesn’t tell us much about the future,” says Kobayashi. That’s why Citrix focuses mainly on Potential, which the company defines as the sum of Ability, Engagement, Aspiration and Learning Agility. “Learning Agility is especially important in our current environment,” explains Obazawa. “It is all about demonstrating an open mind as well as the ability to work through ambiguity and finding new solutions to new challenges.”

Creating an environment for continuous learning

Citrix office & values: Integrity, Respect, Curiosity, Courage, Unity.

Citrix’s focus on learning is also reflected in its investment in creating an environment that has continuous learning and development at its very core. Citrix’s development strategy consists of 4 areas: Experience, Exposure, Environment and Education (4 Es). Experience is mostly gained while on-the-job and is all about setting stretch goals and identifying challenges that will help the individual grow and advance their careers. Exposure provides access to mentors and encourages senior members to become mentors to more junior colleagues. A digital Learning Center that offers a wide range of on-demand e-learning, resources and tools is part of creating a learning Environment that supports employee development. Last but not least, Education points to a culture of constant learning through seminars, conferences and a variety of media.

We strongly believe that learning does not only come from trainings and reading materials but rather from the everyday encounters and interactions we have with each other.

“Our 4 Es help us make learning part of our day-to-day work. We strongly believe that learning does not only come from trainings and reading materials but rather from the everyday encounters and interactions we have with each other,” explains Obazawa. “For example, from bite-size videos to intensive virtual training courses, we provide a wide range of learning opportunities so that every employee can choose whatever fits their needs best at any given time. This focus on information sharing and learning has been the key for us to develop an adaptive workforce.”

Citrix has laid a strong foundation for becoming a highly Adaptable Organization. Through strategic Talent Acquisition and by creating an environment of continuous learning and development that is flexible enough to be carried into a Post-COVID world, the company is ensuring that they have the talent they need to not only survive but also thrive in the New Normal.

*Citrix is neither affiliated with nor endorses Deloitte in any way. The author of this article chose to use the “Adaptable Organization” for the sole purpose of structuring her arguments and observations.

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