SYDNEY, 14 July 2017 Successful leaders need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and invest in soft skills to succeed as digital disruption, multi-generational teams, and shifting attitudes to work challenge traditional business models according to speakers at yesterday’s AGSM Professional Forum.

Nearly 150 AGSM alumni, industry thought leaders, and corporate partners participated in the second annual event designed to facilitate discussion on contemporary leadership.

Professor Nick Wailes, Associate Dean (Digital and Innovation), UNSW Business School proposed that the future is already here, and the things that will dominate the future, such as gig economies, artificial intelligence and automated systems are already in practice and influencing the way we work.

“The challenge for today’s leaders is to figure out how to make these things that are already working more prevalent in organisations,” said Professor Wailes.

“We need to focus on what is happening now, and be careful to not go down the road of extrapolating potential changes in the future. Instead, leaders need to look around and identify the things that people in your sector are doing that look different, but are working, and consider what it would take for this to become the dominant way.”

Professor Julie Cogin, Director AGSM and Deputy Dean UNSW Business School presented findings from her research on generational differences in work values and challenged misconceptions of working with traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X and Millennials.

Professor Cogin stressed the role that evidence based research needs to play in hiring and retaining workers from different generations and argued that ill-informed assumptions can lead to missed opportunities and disinfranchised employees.

“The multi-generational workplace has received increased attention, with hundreds of airport books, websites and blogs making statements about Gen Ys being lazy and entitled and Baby Boomer workers being resistant to change, however these doomsday statements are unfounded,” explained Professor Cogin.

“By paying attention to research and critically applying it to our work, we can make better informed decisions in management, tap into diverse skill sets, and empower people to make the most of their unique abilities.”

Professor Cogin explained to build a resilient, engaged and high-performing workforce, leaders need to understand what really motivates different generations of workers. Considering 75% of the workforce will be made up of Millenials by 2025, “organisations need to focus on engaging young people differently, ensuring they feel their work is connected to the company vision, offer opportunites for reverse mentoring and provide more flexibility by shifting success measurements to output rather than time in the office.”

The keynote address was delivered by Julie Trell, Head of muru-D, a startup incubator backed by Telstra and a collaborator in AGSM’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation MBA course.

Trell described her boundary-less career journey, sharing her story from café worker, to tech teacher, to start ups, and reflected on the transferable soft skills that got her there.

“Traditional career paths have evolved over time, they are anything but linear and a wavy or wonky career path enables you to take your skills across different industries,” said Trell.

She provoked participants to questions what work means to them, explaining “the most important thing is that you are creating value for someone who is willing to pay. You are solving a problem and in every situation there is a problem to be solved, so look at your transferable skills – the ones that can be shared across occupations – and apply these to perform tasks, to solve problems, and therefore create value.

The forum closed with a panel discussion moderated by Joanne Gray, Editor of BOSS Magazine. Panellists Kevin Bloch, Chief Technology Officer at Cisco, Marina Go, Company Director, Author and Media Specialist and David Brown, Human Capital Partner at Deloitte debated the value of soft skills and whether technology is driving progress or distraction in the workplace.

“We have to not let technology be the driver, but think about people’s intent,” explained Bloch. “Having the right technology is important, but having the soft skills to understand when it’s appropriate to use it and when not to is key. Yes technology is doing a lot, but there is still the human element. It’s not just about STEM, it’s about STEM-C, the Creative part.” He introduced the concept of ‘STEMpathy’ highlighting the link between soft skills and productivity.“The productivity of organisations where there is a higher proportion of soft skill roles is outperforming others.”

The Professional Forum is AGSM’s annual academic conference and a highlight of the school’s event program. To listen to the full panel discussion and speaker presentations click here.

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