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We are now firmly entrenched in the fourth industrial revolution (aka the digital revolution) which was coined circa 2016 by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), who then indicated a massive leapfrog in emerging technologies which would define the global value chain (in terms of manufacturing, services, social & economic activities). Since then, consultants, management gurus, and large organizations have been conducting research and speaking with various clients, stakeholders, and other constituents on how they would imagine the future of work…
(Source: Industrial Analytics Platform, 2020)
Before we explore what are some key attributes needed in the future of work, let’s explore some key trends impacting our world of work (in the interest of brevity, we will only touch on key areas that has an impact on the nature of work).
There are 6 key trends that have and will continue to impact our way of life. These are:
As discussed above, the 4th industrial revolution, also known as “the digital age”, is upon us; along with that, came an explosion of technologies that can have a significant impact on how we work and interact with each other. Platforms like Cloud Computing and technologies like Automation, Blockchain and AI (artificial intelligence) have significantly impacted how we store, access, secure, and analyze data, both coming from within the organization, as well as from external sources. From an organizational standpoint, these technologies, if implemented appropriately can help with anything ranging from consumer analytics, employee engagement and analytics, financial transactions, strategy analysis, financial modelling etc….and the list goes on. Increasingly, more routine type of work will be automated. Key questions all leaders, employees, and HR needs to answer are things like:
- Do I know enough about these technologies to advice my organization on what would be an appropriate approach to adopt?
- Do I know enough of these technologies (if already implemented) to be effective?
- How can I ensure the security of the data (applies to employee as well as consumer information)
- Do I understand the global/regional/local regulations (e.g Eurozone GDPR) pertaining to the type of data I am handling?
These new technologies have of course fueled the rise of the gig and/or “on demand” economy, where several mindsets about earning an income or paying for a work activity has changed (or needs to change). As more and more people take on gig work both as a source of their main income or to supplement their current income, employers, leaders, and HR will find it more challenging to engage and retain these individuals (especially the high performing workers) in the traditional sense. From a human capital sourcing point of view, it can act as a double edged sword. On one hand, it is becoming increasingly difficult to source for qualified candidates to take on a full time role and on the other, with the introduction of technology, it can actually be relatively easy to source for qualified individuals who are willing and able to take on the work activity at short notice, and these individuals can also be sourced from a global human capital marketplace. As more people move into the gig economy, questions that need to be answered are things like:
- How do I ensure my objectives/work activities are still being achieved through a more transient workforce? How do I manage their performance?
- How do I source for the best qualified individual to get the job done while at the same time, engaging, and retaining them (either as full time or as freelance staff)?
- How would I manage the compensation/benefits of freelance/contract workers to ensure equity in the marketplace?
- How can I as a freelance/contract employee continue to develop myself to ensure relevancy to the organizations I am working for?
The advent of technology has empowered consumers/markets with an almost infinite amount of global data points with regards to any organizations’ products/services/wins/missteps and with expanding the influence of social media, consumer and employee feedback and opinions can travel at warp speed. Consumers are becoming more vested in an organization’s mission, vision, supply chain, treatment and compensation of its workers and leaders. In addition, consumers are also expecting seamless integration of products/services (regardless of origin) in everything they do. Here are some key questions that needs to be answered:
- Are there any issues in my supply chain/product/services/treatment of employees that needs to be resolved?
- Can I anticipate consumers needs? What are the emerging trends that will impact my organization’s products/services?
- Are there opportunities for my organization to work with other organizations to deliver an integrated approach?
A growing percentage of the workforce and the consumer market is also marked by a change in demographics. Not only are more millennials coming into the workforce, improvements in medical and social care has enabled the traditional retirement age to be outdated. This, as well as the impact of globalization from talent influx of talent from other regions, has impacted workplace dynamics and organizational culture. Each generation/culture brings along a set of beliefs, values, work ethic, that if not managed effectively, can lead to a breakdown in workplace communications and understanding. However if multi-generation and multi culture workforce can be harnessed successfully, it would be a sight to behold. Some key questions to answer would be:
- How can I best harness the power of diversity in my teams?
- How do I minimize conflict or develop an approach to utilize its positive aspects?
- How do I avoid bias in all my interactions with my workgroup?
Governments have fluctuated their influence into how organizations operate, and in some cases to a harsh degree (i.e China cracking down on various industries). There are many avenues in which politics can impact businesses, see list below for a sample:
- Anti-trust law
- Consumer protection and e-commerce law
- Corruption level
- Data protection law
- Employment & anti-discrimination law
- Environmental regulations
- Health and safety regulation
- Intellectual property law (Copyright, patents)
- Political stability
- Tax policy (tax rates and incentives)
- Trade unions and work agreements
Unfortunately the political decision-making apparatus in many countries are not as transparent; hence, difficult to predict in terms of government direction. Some key questions to take note of:
- Where or from whom can I obtain the latest regulation/government approach as it applies to my industry?
- How can I ensure that my organization is in compliance with related laws/regulations (e.g. employment law, environmental regulations)
The last 2 years (era of the Covid-19 pandemic) has accelerated the pace of digital transformation in all aspects of what we know of as “work”; it has forced us to think about delivering on outcomes, collaborating and still being productive in different ways. Most businesses have had to pivot to the new way of work while at the same time ensuring that the employees are still able to generate value and are safe (physically & psychologically). Some key questions that need to be answered are:
- How do I manage performance in my team whilst not being able to see them physically?
- How do I keep myself and my team mates motivated in these trying times?
- How do I pivot my mindset/skillsets and that of my team to ensure we are relevant and continue to bring value to the organization?
Based on the trends/challenges listed above, Hatch Asia has come up with a future-focused leadership framework which we believe can propel leaders into the digital landscape we are all facing now. We have divided these attributes or competencies into four categories for easier reference.
- Digitally Savvy: This is the foundation of a digitally ready leader, this attribute supports the technology trend. Being “digitally savvy” goes beyond consumer technology adoption. It is about having digital acumen and digital ambition. It is about understanding the technology levers that drives the organization and also constantly thinking about how one’s objectives can be better achieved via technology and analytics.
- Resilience: This attribute supports the Environmental Factors and Politics trends. It is about taking ownership and responsibility for challenging and ever-changing tasks/assignments, and persevering till its completion, despite setbacks, obstacles, and potential conflict in order to deliver results. Key aspects of this attribute are persistence (with flexibility when necessary), speaking out boldly when needed, and being accountable for one’s action.
- Diversity and Inclusion Management: This attribute, addresses the challenges of Generational/Cultural mix and Gig Economy trends. D&I management is about taking a conscious effort to hire, manage, lead, and develop diverse talent and support an inclusive workplace that values and recognizes its diverse set of employees. This is accomplished by seeking to understand others (background, mindset, thinking etc), establishing and maintaining awareness of diverse individuals, and being able to inspire, lead, and develop these individuals towards accomplishing shared objectives.
- Focused Collaboration: In the VUCA environment we are all faced with, we recognize that one can only be successful as part of a larger ecosystem and its time we go above and beyond our current means of collaboration in order to meet market/customer needs. This is about working cooperatively with a diverse community of others (e.g., internal colleagues, external partners, community stakeholders, customers and even competitors) to ideate, innovate and create; it is the belief that innovative ecosystems, not organizations, will be in the best position to deliver on unique solutions/systems that will delight and engage the customer. In other words, it goes beyond having a great product/solution and into having a great integrated ecosystem (think of Apple and/or Google).
- Strategic/Integrative Thinking: This attribute is relevant for meeting all the above mentioned challenges/trends; it is about long-term thinking coupled with short term viewpoints, detecting trends in disparate sources of data, and perceiving issues from multiple angles and these integrating insights into a coherent view. This requires asking the right questions, observing and reflecting on the responses and situation, and considering ideas/opinions that are counter to one’s own thinking while keeping an eye on the end goal.
- Agile Leadership: Agile leaders are those who can adapt to an ever-changing and uncertain environment and motivate/inspire their team members to flourish under such conditions. This is not to be confused with, but also linked to the agile methodology (see Agile Manifesto). Given the current and likely future VUCA scenarios we will be faced with, having business and leadership agility will continue to be a main differentiator in any market/industry. It is about creating and then leading a culture of empowered and self-directed teams who can then pivot with speed, rather then deal with the bureaucracy/decision processed in a typical large organization.
- Design Thinking: This is a key skill for anyone who is in a position to design/develop/ contribute to their organization’s improvement/transformation of its processes, products & solutions; or resolve organizational/business problems. This attribute is relevant for all the challenges listed above. It is an iterative process for engaging with customers, challenging assumptions, and driving creativity in order to achieve an optimal outcome. Any designing thinking process will have a deep focus on understanding the end user/customer engagement and the design approach is closely aligned to achieving an outcome which enhances the end user/customer experience.
- Customer Focus: This is about recognizing that the customer (internal and external) is at the core of every decision and action and is aligned to the Market/Consumer trend discussed above. This also requires a keen sense of the market forces, recognizing and supporting different customer segments, whilst keeping an eye on the different organizational and business context. It is also about understanding market/industry trends to decide on which customer segment or customer attribute to focus on.
Transforming and leading into the future of work is distinct for every organization, as each has its own mission, challenges, transformation goals, and desired outcomes. And it’s not a “one off” event but an ongoing journey.
All senior leaders & HR will need to re-evaluate their organizational and business strategies against the trends listed above and review the attributes listed above against their leadership bench; consider how they will recruit/develop/manage/transform their teams and functions into a future resilient organization.
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