New technologies are increasing the velocity of innovation and collaboration. While machines will enable digital innovation, the main driver for this innovation is people… exceptionally talented people.
But there is a severe shortage of digitally literate, socially savvy leaders capable of capitalizing on the innovation opportunities presented by the fusion of human creativity and new technology. And it’s that unique leader that is needed to create a prosperous and confident digital future. Those who do possess the right digital skills are generally not attracted to companies that don’t share their vision for transforming the working world.
For those companies that lack the forward-thinking vision and leadership to overcome the challenges of digital disruption, there will be a significant talent shortfall that will jeopardize their survival.
The digital revolution will disrupt everything we take for granted today about how work is done. For leaders who fail to embrace this new reality, the old mantra of “Our people are our greatest asset” could become “Our people are our biggest problem.” New technologies require new skills, and importantly, new ways of working. Just employing people with different skills, or upskilling existing employees is not the answer: to compete with disruptive start-ups, organizations need people with a different approach and attitude to their work. Companies that cannot change the way their people work will be marginalized, becoming irrelevant to customers, shareholders and employees themselves.
To avoid that unwelcome fate, here are the workforce changes that leaders need to start understanding and embracing right now.
A more diverse workforce
Diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace are increasingly recognized as critical to corporate success, both to help organizations get access to the in-demand skills they need, and to allow them to benefit from the business expertise of aging populations in developed economies.
“Surviving in an age of constant disruption requires getting your people balance right — combining the digital skills and knowledge needed to innovate with the business sense and experience needed to survive for the long term,” says David Storey, Global Talent Leader, People Advisory Services, EY. “Don’t get too focused on age or ethnicity — but the different experiences and perspectives that people of diverse backgrounds can bring.”
Greater diversity in the workplace also brings with it a wider variety different viewpoints, which can be a critical enabler of innovation. Jeff Wong, EY Global Chief Innovation Officer, points out, “An open exchange of ideas is essential to challenging how we think and work — which in turn sparks innovation. Encouraging diversity of thought is key.” To maximize the benefits of diversity, a culture of inclusiveness needs to be encouraged to ensure that those different perspectives – and the alternative insights they can bring – will persist.
However, effectively managing a diverse workforce will continue to stress and change the dynamics of the workplace, as organizations seek to develop inclusive cultures that can accommodate what is going to be an increasingly diverse range of employees. For example, Harvard Business Review states that for the first time in history five generations will soon be working side-by-side. As people work longer and delay retirement, internal career paths have changed. Grandfathers and grandmothers will be reporting to leaders no older than their grandchildren. Consider what impact that will that have on your company culture, workplace and beliefs.
A space for different faiths
Tomorrow’s workforce will demand a working environment in which everyone feels valued and where everyone’s differences are respected. Significant advances have been made in gender, ethnic and LGBT diversity over the last several decades, but despite the fact that an estimated 84% of the world’s population is religiously affiliated, there is often still an assumption that workplaces are purely secular spaces, where religion is a topic of conversation best avoided.
This assumption has made it difficult for organizations to address issues relating to religious difference. For example, in its 2013 Survey of American Workers and Religion, US non-profit Tanenbaum reported that one-third of workers in the US had seen, or personally experienced, incidents of religious bias in the workplace.
To build a workplace fit for a more diverse future, organizations must make sure their employees feel that they can openly discuss their beliefs at work and can raise any issues they face relating to their religion.
Getting to that point will take some serious work. But that doesn’t mean businesses should bring in more religious education — teaching employees about different faiths, their practices and festivals. Religions are too complex and varied for such an approach to be wholly successful. Instead, organizations should focus their programs on increasing religious literacy — the skills and understanding people need to effectively respond to issues relating to religion and belief, as and when they arise.
The gig economy – change of working practices
Contingent worker demand is rising rapidly, with predictions that 40% of the US workforce will be contingent workers by 2020, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Most companies lack the ability to track, manage, forecast or effectively engage these workers. This shortcoming should be viewed as management malpractice. Managing contingent workers by “purchase order” fails to recognize the growing reality of the “gig economy” — and marginalizes the full talent and capability of those who choose to pursue a non-traditional career path.
Motivating and rewarding the workforce of the future
As baby boomers retire and the gig economy expands, the nine-to-five corporate workplace will become far less prevalent. These two separate but concurrent trends mean that traditional models of corporate hierarchies are changing. One of the consequences of that is that traditional tenure-based, one-size-fits-all corporate rewards (compensation, benefits, succession planning) are not fit for purpose for this new dynamic. Diversity of rewards programs will be essential. What motivates someone with a young family is going to be very different to what motivates a new graduate or someone nearing retirement. And ensuring a sense of team spirit across a diverse workforce that may only temporarily overlap in a shared workspace will prove challenging for even the most talented people managers.