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By Alyson Nyiri, CHRL

Future First: How Successful Leaders Turn Innovation Challenges into New Value Frontiers

By Alice Mann
Routledge, 2018


We are facing huge global challenges: resources are becoming scarce, climate change is increasingly volatile and our culture is rapidly evolving.

All three demand that we accelerate solutions in clean energy and manufacturing, create new materials and means of production and redefine how people work, eat, travel and live.

“Through a combination of storytelling and statistics, Future First delivers a 21st century roadmap to leaders and HR professionals for helping companies develop the leadership mindset and business capabilities to win at the innovation long-game,” said Alice Mann. “[Using the] experiences of companies ranging from Unilever to Method Products to Opower, Future First illustrates the distinctive talent strategies and business practices that executives and organizational development practitioners can use to design companies that embrace global challenges as innovation opportunities.”


Business practices

“Future first” companies get ahead by innovating within the limits of commercial success while making a net positive material impact on the world’s biggest challenges. Their positive impact comes from reducing harm and scaling benefits to the environment and people’s lives. Future first leaders are those who, regardless of the size of their company, the size of their vision and the scale of their impact, are large enough to remake the markets and industries in which they operate. Future first innovation transforms entire business ecosystems, like food, cars, energy, clothes and technology because it happens through a network of exchange among big and small companies. Globalized companies are more compelled to evolve away from operating as self-contained entities with one commander-in-chief at the top than in previous decades, collaborating more with their competition.


Talent strategies

Central to addressing future first talent strategies is acknowledging the pervasiveness of “powerful leadership roles and jobs in the most lucrative and authoritative industries [are] still predominately held by white men.” Mann doesn’t back away, arguing that this “self-perpetuating dynamic is dangerous” and ignores the tidal wave of shifting demographics and power dynamics across countries, cultures and business ecosystems around the world. She argues that future first leaders must go beyond the one-dimensional view of diversity and develop a broad set of strategies to empower their talent from pipeline to promotion. Power and authority must be more distributed throughout a network of relationships. Committing to inclusive talent now is crucial because as demographics continue to shift, white and male leadership will no longer be automatically recognized as relatable and trustworthy since they do not reflect what society looks like.

To compete on talent now and in the future, leaders have to be comfortable overcoming implicit biases in job descriptions, in recruiting and hiring processes and in developing people. If companies don’t get to a healthy level of inclusivity, they risk losing the diverse employees they do hire, increasing turnover costs and losing competitive talent. Inclusivity requires adopting the most important values of employees into their workplace culture as well as meeting the values and expectations of their customers. More diverse companies reach a larger number of consumers from different backgrounds or communities, which is vital in a globalized world.



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