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YGN Futuresight - Leadership

It is the YGN's role, as part of the professional body for the nuclear sector, to look ahead, to envisage a better world and a future in which our members and our industry will flourish.

Times of great societal pressure and motivational shifts such as this create innovation and will inevitably result in a change in behaviours and attitudes towards the vocational aspects of our lives. This is our opportunity to rethink work and the workplace - what does our future workforce value and what skills are required for the future of work?

The previous YGN Futuresight article explored how COVID 19 has created conditions that prompt us to re-evaluate what is really important to us, and what this might mean for the relationship between individual, business and society.

In the second article below, we focus on Leadership as individuals, organisations and industry, and how our actions now will define our story beyond the current crisis.


Spring Forward or Fall Back

737 YGN

The collective efforts of public, private and third sector organisations have already contributed to the flattening of the COVID growth curve and, in time, pharmaceutical and biological industries will address the epidemiological aspects of the pandemic.

Technology is helping to reinvent the way that we work, learn and interact socially. We have seen nearly an overnight shift from <10% to 90%+ remote workforce, something we never thought possible just a few weeks ago, but which brings with it new leadership challenges.

Disruption is having an impact on organisational and industry-wide critical workforce, right now and for the future. As organisational and industry leaders, we must understand the impact on our workforce, supply chains and critical skills, if we are to thrive beyond the crisis.

We are in an uncomfortable situation - uncertainty about the future means that we are unable to plan in the way that we usually do. The "schedule" for the months ahead is not defined by a timeline but by undefined time horizons. This thought-provoking article by PA Consulting’s Chris Sheryn terms these as, “Getting Ahead of the Curve”, “Embracing the Jolt” and “Exploring the New Normal”.

In this Futuresight article, we explore leadership challenges through and beyond the crisis, at the micro (people, teams and organisations) and macro (industry, economy and policy) scale. The common themes through all of this are leadership as behaviour, and the opportunity to help individuals and the workforce at large to connect with a renewed sense of organisational and collective purpose.

Leadership through the Crisis

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How do we as humans make sense of the world? We connect, we communicate.

People feel more connected to things they understand – How do my actions impact me? How do my actions impact the world? How does the world impact me?

Social isolation poses a challenge for maintaining connection on a personal level and between individuals and organisational purpose. In place of face-to-face leadership and workplace management systems, we now need our leaders to demonstrate a different management skillset – more focused on connection and pastoral care – if we are to sustain employee motivation and engagement through and beyond current pressures.

It is positive that we have been forced to challenge cultural norms, working practices and the perceived barriers to change. “We can’t because …” has become “how can we do this by tomorrow/next week?”. We have already surprised ourselves by rapidly implementing changes in working practices for which there was never time, money or appetite for under business as usual, but which have now been shown to offer huge untapped value. This prompts us to consider which aspects of current working practices we want to retain for the future, and which aspects of the past we could or should leave behind.

We often talk about cross-sector learning, so here I take the opportunity to share some insight from academia. The blog below on Leadership in Uncertain Times, written by my former high school headteacher, offers 5 strategies to help leaders in challenging circumstances.

The most important thing that leaders can do right now is to connect with their teams by communicating on a personal level, providing clarity, honesty and support, and calmly moving forwards through uncertain times.

Almost overnight, workplace conversations have become more personal and human as we seek to understand our colleagues’ and employees’ personal circumstances and how work fits within that, not the other way around. With this has come an increased focus on wellbeing, in recognition that everyone will be affected differently - some will experience direct impact to their health or that of their loved ones, while the mental health impacts of COVID anxiety, health concerns, social isolation, physical isolation, loss of income could be less apparent, longer lasting and just as serious.

Our leadership credentials are being tested like never before. This is not about HR infrastructure and agile working policies, it is about real people, real issues, connection, support, trust and honesty.

Leadership behaviours now will be the foundation for workforce/organisation connection beyond the crisis. Leaders - over-communicate, do it with empathy and explain why we are doing what we are doing.

Leadership Beyond the Crisis

Net Zero

Micro: People, Teams, Organisations

As organisations, we must make space at senior leader and operational leader level for forward thinking NOW.

This is an opportunity for senior leaders to reassess organisational purpose. What do we stand for now? What do we want to stand for? What will we stand for beyond COVID 19? Whose needs are we fulfilling as an organisation?

When tough choices have to be made, this provides us with clarity of our strategic objectives – which areas of our business deliver most value and align with our purpose? Which don’t? What will we retain for the future?

At an operational level, we have disrupted working practices and found ways to do things differently – therefore, what do we want to hang on to, and what can we let go of in the future now we have seen a different way?

Act fast, don’t revert, capture benefits and sustain value.

The key here is not to wait until the end to do “Learning from Experience” in hindsight. The organisations that are able to pivot to capture further opportunities from the changes that lie ahead are those that will thrive.

What can we as leaders learn about the conditions created by the current crisis that have catalysed so much creativity, activity and innovation, and how can we create those conditions to stimulate innovation and creativity in future?

In terms of workforce, there is a proportional relationship between connectivity (between people and to organisational purpose) and performance. Leadership is key in re-engaging the workforce and the lost opportunity to do so could be significant if we by design or omission re-norm to the prevalent culture of our organisation without extracting learning for the future.

This is also an opportunity to break out from our silos, and to learn from what analogous sectors (i.e. those that are highly regulated, with legacy systems, complex infrastructure assets, ageing workforce etc.) are doing.


Macro: Economy, Policy, Industry

What the COVID crisis has demonstrated is that we can’t wait to solve "tomorrow’s problems". Climate change has always been tomorrow’s problem, but our current situation shows us the urgent need to foresee future impact and to take action now. Perhaps this global event will galvanise governments, industry, organisations and individuals to take the action required.

UK government's strategy for post-COVID economic recovery could be to invest in large infrastructure projects to stimulate productivity, particularly those projects that drive clean growth. Nuclear energy generation should be at the forefront of this.

But this poses a challenge for the UK as a whole and the nuclear industry specifically - how to restart multiple programmes simultaneously in a post-COVID world while accelerating other a capital new build programme for the UK. If this activity is not coordinated there is a risk of cost increase and performance dip as companies vie for a limited pool of resource to make up for lost time.

It is critical that as an industry, we provide support to supply chains, particularly SMEs, and academia through tough times to ensure that jobs and livelihoods are protected and the capability, capacity, skills and workforce are retained and ready to remobilise in future and take the opportunity at hand.

This is a chance for the nuclear industry, with support from Government, to come together to bring forward shovel-ready infrastructure projects to stimulate the post-COVID economy and meet the UK's Net Zero commitments.


Spring Forward

Rediscover Nuclear

Young people (i.e. the future workforce) will take this pandemic and use it as a platform to drive change. A society driven by young people will not tolerate now-ism any longer. Business should be a force for good in addressing the world’s problems – the COVID crisis has shown how business can collaborate with public and third sector to deliver against the immediate needs of those in danger, those who are most vulnerable and society as a whole. Young people expect the same urgency to be demonstrated in action to address "tomorrow's problems", including the climate crisis.

One positive result of this motivational shift could be a re-focussing of priorities towards long-term value: for employees, society and mega problems such as global heating. And therein lies the opportunity for the nuclear industry.

Low oil prices, jumpy price triggers for other energy sources and overall drop in demand in recent weeks only strengthen the nuclear industry’s case for a significant contribution to the UK’s future energy mix; to provide low carbon, secure, firm energy to decarbonise heat, power and transport.

With this renewed sense of purpose, now is the time for our industry to step up to provide clean energy and address climate change, creating high value jobs, driving growth for UK and regional economies and wider societal impact in communities - all of which appeal to the young people entering the workforce now.

As leaders of people, organisations and industry, the way that we respond to this crisis will live in corporate and societal memory far beyond the immediate impacts – our actions now will decide what that story will be.

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