Organizational leaders — fathers of the digital era

By 2020, the need for analytics and data based decision skills will increase by 42 percent.

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Author: Horațiu Cocheci, partener asociat, People Advisory Services, EY Romania

Many studies and recent researches increasingly focus on the impact the technology will have on jobs in the next future. According to the findings inside the "Future of Jobs" study published by the World Economic Forum, the technological evolution will transform more than seven million jobs globally by 2020: some five million jobs will disappear, as two thirds of these belong to the administrative branch of jobs, but at least other two million new jobs will emerge.

Similarly, another recent estimation says that 65 percent of the children taking primary school classes today will occupy jobs that currently don't exist. More, we find out that over on third of abilities sets associated to the future jobs will include by 2020 elements that today are not seen as "basic". Consequently, the fact that technology, with its evolution, and digitization will significantly impact the way we work and, last but not least, the way we live, increasingly becomes a reality.

Organizationally, an increasing number of international (and local) companies begin to investigate and to experiment, although on an incipient level, benefits generated by advanced technologies in various areas of activity – mostly connected to the operational management of simple and repetitive activities (e.g. invoice registration). Inside such companies (and generally at market level) concepts like digitization, Robot Process Automation (RPA), Chatbots, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are increasingly often taken into consideration.

We may notice that in most cases the accent is placed on the tangible element of digitization, namely on the deployment of a modern and innovative technological structure. Such a new technological structure will service both organizational needs (by making the human resource allotting more efficient and focusing such resources on added value activities) and the future workforce needs (a workforce that wants technology embedded in all life aspects).

However, organizations still have to find a solution to an important aspect: creating a digital mind set for the other three generations of people that currently share the global workforce. This digital mind set requires to change the current paradigm that says digitization and technology destroy certain job categories and to win over the "automation anxiety". In other words, it requires shifting the current organizational culture from traditional to progressive and from industrial to digital.

As usual, the key factor that secures the success of the cultural transformation early stage process lies in the personal example provided by the leaders of the organization and by the way they position themselves against the digitization concept deployment. As long as the leaders are not the first users and advocate the new technologies, as long as they don't share their own experiences and benefits gained from using new technologies with the employees, and as long as they don't show an appetite and good abilities in using the new technologies for everyday activities (e.g., the ability to understand technological opportunities, challenges and consequences, or the ability to manage teams and activities inside a virtual environment) the change will be very difficult.

In this respect, new leadership competencies systems, constantly upgraded in terms of digital age adapting, began showing up since last year. Among other things, they include attributes such as:

  • virtual leadership: the ability to manage using technology and cultivating virtual/dispersed teams;
  • cultural interconnection: understanding demographic and geopolitical phenomena, and accepting diversity;
  • accepting interferences: the ability to browse through disruptive environments and to decide whenever an intervention is needed.

Conversely, one has to highlight the fact that due to the existing risk related to the new digital approach taking over all interaction channels, besides injecting new competencies within the leadership matrix, the need for balancing these competencies is also felt. A new competency thus appeared is connected to the "balanced use of technology", meaning the ability of knowing when human interaction is preferable to technology.

Shifting the perspective toward the longer term, the sustainability of organizational transformation toward a digital mind set will be secured by an increase of the institutional capacity within the digital environment.

For example, an increase reaching some 500k jobs in operations and some 300k jobs in sales is foreseen – both these domains being considered as activities where, traditionally, analytics competencies were not seen as basic.

Practically, there is a whole range of specific tools and techniques that can be used to the above mentioned end (training programs for using new technologies, internal communication campaigns, and so on) but actions to secure long term success for this entrepreneurship will consist of encouraging and awarding behaviours associated to these new abilities of the employees, including here the relationship with new technologies and with the digitization of the company as a whole.