The future of work is here. With such widespread digital and societal change (i.e. AI, the metaverse, climate change, hybrid work models), the OECD estimates that nearly 14% of jobs will be automated within the next decade, while another 32% will be heavily disrupted. So, while keeping up with this rapid change is just fine, the leaders who empower their people to stretch themselves and explore beyond the next curve of the future of work will generate greater relevance and thrive.
The key to advancing beyond merely “keeping up” is embracing exploration. Exploration is the act of traveling into unknown territories to learn and make new discoveries, and ultimately, to discover more possibility and advance innovation. To take that a step further, motivating yourself and others to embrace what’s not known, and discover more possibility is what we call Exploratory Leadership. This way of leading focuses on taking small steps even when you don’t have answers, and looking at ebbs and flows as learnings instead of failures. By codifying exploration as a cultural value, and incentivizing teams to go out into the world, learn, apply and share their findings, you are setting your organization up for higher retention, creating more value and mitigating a great deal of volatility. The great Buzz Aldrin gave us a quote we at Studio/E love: ‘We explore or we expire”. It's that simple, and it’s that hard.
Exploration is a skill that requires ongoing action and is essential at all levels of any organization. And it’s important to recognize that it is indeed a skill that can be honed with tools, a bit of time and intentional practices. Like any developed skill or practice, exploration requires support, measures and incentives to maintain sustained effectiveness and perpetual development.
So, where to start? Here are just a few ways to begin incentivizing exploration within your organization, laying the groundwork to cement it as a cultural value.
1. Ongoing support for exploration.
- Clarify what exploratory behaviors look like up front. Leaders should be the earliest adopters, publicly supporting, encouraging and modeling exploratory behaviors.
- Highlight team members that are demonstrating these behaviors in newsletters, at company events and leadership meetings (sharing wins, losses and learnings).
- Conduct ongoing communication and learning opportunities (e.g., Leadership updates, lunch and learns, occasional speakers, etc.) to reinforce the importance of exploration and set team members up with ways to further practice the skill together.
2. Eliminate and create performance measures.
- Eliminate or reconfigure metrics that are in direct competition of exploration. If you have metrics that place too much weight on execution or productivity alone, this can easily discourage your teams from taking the time to explore.
- Create simple metrics for exploratory behaviors. The metrics you choose should be very simple and limited (i.e., 1 or 2) with an achievable performance target (e.g., conduct 3 small and simple experiments over the next 12 months) and then discussed, both on an ongoing basis, and in any conversations where performance is being evaluated.
3. Reward exploration.
- Once you’ve developed target metrics, consider how team members are recognized and rewarded. If an individual hits their target that could yield a slight merit increase such as a bonus, appearance in company communications, face time with senior leadership, additional time off or positive lift on the performance review in general.
Change is constant, and the secret to navigating it successfully is to encourage a culture of exploration and adaptability that touches every corner of your organization. By demonstrating the right behaviors and creating measurements that reward those behaviors and support them, you will nurture an environment where your teams embrace this skill and lead the way in creating meaningful change for themselves personally, and for your organization.
Questions to Explore:
1. As a leader, where can you begin embracing exploration yourself and modeling its’ behaviors to your team?
2. What performance measure can you eliminate (or modify) and create to adopting exploratory behaviors?
3. Which rewards can you provide for exploration within your organization?