How comfortable would you be with having an intimate conversation with a member of your work team? A conversation where you question why they are not getting enough sleep or suggest incorporating more fruit into their diet. Perhaps it might involve presenting a graph detailing their average daily number of keystrokes over the past 3 months, as an indicator of forthcoming productivity issues.

Perhaps your conversations are more along the lines of a half-hearted, “Did you have a nice weekend?” before rushing into, “Where are we on task X?”

These two interaction styles reflect the world of leadership as it was and as it will be. Hopefully you can sense which is which.

In my previous post, I flagged the role of talented people in cultivating market-pleasing innovations. But it isn’t simply a case of having your human resources (HR) department throw money at the market to secure such people. Let me introduce you to the likely missing pieces of your talent management jigsaw puzzle.


Let’s imagine after reading the first paragraph, you race out into the open office space and start to remark on what people are having for lunch. The chances are that the recipients of your advice would be offended. Soon after, you might find yourself in a room with one or more aggrieved staff members and a representative from HR, with each of you holding a copy of the company’s terms of employment. This is the nature of industrial-era work. There is no real trust. It is a purely commercial arrangement built around a contract designed to protect both parties. To thrive in the Digital Age, organizations need to be built on a foundation of trust.

A cognitive gymnasium

Digital Age work requires your people to be at the top of their cognitive game. You might think of those who have the ability to remain economically relevant in the Digital Age as cognitive athletes. This requires you to be less of a boss and more of a coach. The coach-athlete relationship requires a high degree of trust because conversations such as that portrayed in the opening paragraph are typical of such a relationship.

Similarly, cognitive athletes need to develop their cognitive muscles. In fact, that is one of the key reasons for them choosing to engage with an organization. The best organizations have turned themselves into cognitive gymnasiums, where cognitive athletes go every day to work out with other such athletes and do great work together. Consequently, they leave the workplace energized, rather than burned out.

Is your workplace more of a cognitive gymnasium or a cubicle farm?

Deep talent analytics

Managing cognitive athletes requires more than the annual appraisal, which enables people to underperform for up to a year without correction. Athletes seek real-time feedback. They want to know how they are doing now and whether their performance is on the ascendency or whether they are careering towards injury.

In turn, your HR department needs to move away from the traditional one-off lagging appraisal approach to a real-time predictive model. This requires a high degree of trust in order to consensually acquire the personal data needed to do this effectively. Remember, track athletes do not resent being timed or having their heart rate monitored. You know you have evolved into a Digital Age organization when you can engage with your people in this manner.

This predictive analytics approach will likely measure leading indicators such as the extent to which people move, socialize, and display curiosity and courage, among other anthropological drivers. Because it is only when we are behaving as we were designed to that we create the flow conditions for great innovation. The upward trend depicted in a keystroke graph might highlight a lack of movement and sociality — thus predicting early signs of disengagement.

It is clear that the aloof command-and-control leadership model that worked well in the factory-based industrial era is no longer fit for purpose. Those leaders who recognize the value of cognitive capital and develop the coaching skills to manage it will be in great demand.

So, it seems that big cigars and pinstriped suits are giving way to tracksuits and stopwatches.