My news feed is full of articles on the Future of Work (“FoW”). A number of trends are converging so that it feels like we are on the cusp of big changes in the workplace. Some of those trends include:
- Increasing use of contingent workers and talent exchanges like Work Market.
- A more diverse workforce, meaning, for example, that teams comprise people with widely different experiences.
- Employees who have grown up with social media and who have consumer-type expectations of their experience at work.
- A workforce that is geographically dispersed and reliant on social media rather than face-to-face interaction.
- Jobs that are far more technology-dependent, with routine tasks automated by artificial intelligence or robots.
- Demand for new skills, such as those required to make sense of the huge volume of data that our on-line participation leaves behind.
Within this shifting mix, many people are wondering what it all means. In practice, “disruption” is an over-used term and transformation will be incremental. But it’s clear that there are new challenges and also opportunities for those companies that are able to seize them.
One area I am interested in is what the future of work means for leadership and culture. This can sometimes be low down on the to-do list in FoW articles, as it relates to something that is generally hard, ongoing, sustained effort. Some writers have even speculated that in the future there should be less focus on culture as attention shifts to the work itself. But I believe the leadership challenge is to glue together the shifting workforce into a community of shared interests and this is as important as ever because people want meaning from their work.
Some of the emerging priorities for this are already clear and are being explored by my clients:
- Focus on employee experience. This means identifying the key interactions that employees have with the organisation and then applying design thinking to improve engagement and performance. It is a joined-up approach to jobs, teams, rewards and the way people work. It includes understanding employee journeys and maximising the value of key episodes. It also means improving the digital tools employees use and reviewing the physical workspace in order to increase collaboration and productivity.
- Adopt a comprehensive listening strategy. This means deploying a mix of consumer-style approaches, including pulse surveys and social media analytics. An important part of the mix is also supporting managers to have dialogue and conversation, rather than only managing from their desktop “cockpit”.1 It also means shaping the physical workspace so that it is easy for face-to-face conversation to occur.
- Create a strong identity through shared experiences. Although artefacts and rituals are changing (workspaces, flex working, mobile tools, dress code, etc.), the fundamentals of culture building remain the same: role modelling, strong values, clear purpose. Increasingly, shared experiences are digital. These provide the opportunity to engage a broad group at the same point in time. However, breaches of trust are also more public, which highlights the importance of authenticity and consistency.
- Reinforce meaning and purpose through feedback. Technology makes it far easier to provide useful, regular feedback, not only from colleagues, but also from customers and partners. In fact, it is vital to provide customer feedback and to align employee and customer experiences. The critical “cog” in using feedback remains the team leader. So selecting and developing front-line managers who are able to build line of sight and help people understand the contribution they make is key.
Because change is incremental, the FoW is not as far off as it might feel, so it’s important to build preparedness now. But there is an additional challenge, namely who will be your most effective leaders in the future of work? In our recent Global Workforce Study only 39% of people said their organisation is doing a good job of developing future leaders.2 It’s quite likely that your current definition of leadership reflects your old hierarchy and old ways of working. Leading people in a flatter, networked organisation requires a different set of skills.3 Understanding the behaviours needed for your future success, and incorporating those into your assessment and development programmes now, is one of the most critical components to get right.
- Sherry Turkle “Reclaiming Conversation” (Penguin Books, 2015)
- Willis Towers Watson “Employers look to modernize the employee value proposition” (2016)
- Ravin Jesuthasan and Marie S. Holmstrom “As Work Changes, Leadership Development Has to Keep Up” (HBR, 2016)
Tags: #Leadership #Culture #FutureOfWork
This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 20, 2017