143: Jim Hemerling, BCG. Co-author of "Beyond Great: Nine Strategies for Thriving in an Era of Social Tension, Economic Nationalism, and Technological Revolution"


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Jim Hemerling is Senior Partner at Boston Consulting Group’s San Francisco office and a leader in the firm’s People & Organization and Transformation Practices. He has been the leader of BCG Greater China and is a Fellow of the BCG Henderson Institute. His work with clients and his research focuses on holistic human-centric approaches to organizational transformation. Jim is a co-author of BCG's new book - Beyond Great: Nine Strategies for Thriving in an Era of Social Tension, Economic Nationalism, and Technological Revolution.

Global companies remain hamstrung by organizational forms that leave them mired in bureaucracy and slow to respond to changing needs. To grow in the volatility of the 21st century, firms must go beyond the familiar matrix structure and reconfigure themselves in more flexible ways. COVID-19 and its myriad effects on ways of working will force leaders to rethink how they build teams and acquire, upskill, and retain talent.

Hemerling and his colleagues launched a study of dozens of global companies to determine successful leadership strategies and found that, though seemingly obvious, the best leaders put people and their needs first, rather than regarding them as resources to exploit.

Hemerling and coauthors write about these topics in Beyond Great: Nine Strategies for Thriving in an Era of Social Tension, Economic Nationalism, and Technological Revolution (October 6, PublicAffairs). BCG’s first major book in years, it will redefine strategy in the post-COVID era.

Extending their research far beyond the expected Silicon Valley players, Hemerling and his coauthors at BCG looked at over fifty companies and interviewed hundreds of CEOs across sectors and geographies.

The trends:

  • By 2030, companies around the world will have some eight-five million skilled jobs unfilled—a gap that will exact a severe economic toll;
  • In a 2018 BCG survey of 366,000 people from two hundred countries, ranked “good work-life balance” as much more important than “financial compensation”
  • Over 40 percent of hiring managers anticipated that nontraditional educational criteria—like a coding “boot camp”—would soon be just as good a credential as a college degree when evaluating candidates.

For incumbents to thrive amidst these challenges, they must deploy new strategies that touch every part of their business, from value propositions and global supply chains to leadership and social responsibility goals. A huge part of this is leadership and the future of work—how to retain employees, attract top talent, and navigate tension when global forces are changing attitudes about work and life.

Examples of innovative leadership:

  • Deemphasizing hierarchy encourages employees to take ownership of projects and propel them forward without bothering to seek approval from bosses;
  • Exploiting the gray area of informal conversations that typically take place between colleagues allows employees to break free from their daily work and innovate;
  • Gamifying candidate screening and identifying talent via online competitions and hackathons to appeal to a new generation.

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166 episodes