The Evolution of the Workforce

Evolution is typically energised by a single but significant change, the effects of which are radical but slow coming. Language, the ability to walk upright and the introduction of money each happened in pockets spread over land and generations. Yet now we’re being hit by numerous and instant technological changes that affect us worldwide, and employers are struggling to keep up.

“Due to exponential technological disruption, digital can completely transform a business within a year,” warned Nils Michaelis, Managing Director for Digital within the APAC Products Operating Group at Accenture.

Speaking at Criticaleye’s Asia Leadership Retreat, held in association with Accenture and CEIBS (China Europe International Business School), Nils went onto explain how another important factor — the consumer — has been a catalyst for the creation and evolution of many jobs, even among the top roles.

“A couple of years ago, the then CEO of Macy’s gave himself the title of Chief Customer Officer and was one of the first CEOs to do so. This got the whole company to rotate towards being customer-centric,” Nils explained.

From a leadership perspective, the difficulty lies in creating a talent pipeline that is able to deal with these changes. “As leaders, we need to turn our attention to how we bring the workforce together, and how we reskill them,” said Chris Harvey, Managing Director for Financial Services across APAC at Accenture, who led the keynote address.

However, in a Criticaleye survey of attendees at the Asia Leadership Retreat, only around half said their executive team are collaborative and 85 per cent said the behaviour of their executives can create silos.

While it’s a global business issue, it’s particularly important in Asia where talent is in dangerous demand, competition has led to high staff turnover, and many of the family and founder led businesses aren’t doing enough to train and promote talent. So, how can we progress?

From aptitude to attitude

For many business leaders, including Alan Armitage, CEO for Standard Life (Asia), the spotlight has turned from highlighting an employee’s functional aptitude to their attitude.

“I used to focus on the project plan, but realised more effort had to be put into behaviours and people,” said Alan. “We’ve put a strong emphasis on behaviours, both individually and collectively, especially on whether we have the right blend of individuals within the team and if they will work together in a productive manner.”

In her work with businesses both in the UK and Asia, Jamie Wilson, Managing Director at Criticaleye, has found that “high performing teams show collaboration, innovation, trust and the ability to handle the ambiguity of change”. She added: “It’s these traits that will see them through today’s fast-changing business environment.”

Alan recognises that in order to attract the best talent, Standard Life needs to offer its staff the opportunity to develop in a way that suits them. By doing this, the organisation will also reap the benefits of having a diverse range of skills across its workforce.

“The next generation have less affiliation to the company itself but more to those that develop their skills and brand at a personal level,” Alan noted.

“Every single member of our team has an individual development plan. Those plans need to be absolutely distinct from the individual’s day job and their performance-related plan. They are focused on where the individual would like to be in three years’ time. They need to be challenging and also outline the steps an individual needs to take.”

The fluid workforce

Leaders must acknowledge their workforce will be more fluid than ever before; that may mean hiring more people on a part-time or consultative basis, and also acknowledging that an employee’s development might result in them leaving the company.

This is something Criticaleye Board Mentor, David Comeau, realised back when he was President for Asia Pacific at Mondelez International. Rather than being afraid of the fluid workforce, he saw it as a way to improve the company’s reputation as an employer.

“People need to own their own career and development,” said David. “We realised people would leave the company, so we told them we would celebrate when they leave − but also when they return.”

David explained that three-years ago the company launched a programme through social media that openly recognised employees who chose to develop their careers by moving on. “This allowed both us and them to promote their skills and success to those outside of the business. It’s helped their development while also getting the word out on the great things going on at our company,” he said.

Planning ahead

This kind of attitude teaches leaders to embrace, rather than fear, mobility and succession planning. Indeed, it’s an increasingly crucial way to manage tomorrow’s liquid workforce. “Succession can be a great exercise as it forces honest discussions about building the team,” said David.

Neil Galloway, Executive and Group Finance Director at Dairy Farm Group, said that “we’re increasingly trying to learn from exit interviews with people who we didn’t expect would leave the company”.

One of the things he discovered was that employees wanted to see there are opportunities for them to grow within the organisation. “In some cases, we had to create mobility through forced changes in order to make room for talent to move up the business. This has meant putting all roles − including mine − into a succession plan. It was a surprise to some that I was already talking about finding an internal successor within a few months of joining the group, but it sent a strong message,” Neil explained.

Although the requirements on your workforce – be they skills or entire roles – are both changeable and unpredictable, your employees will want reassurance.

“You need honest, transparent discussions with external candidates, so they understand the situation they are signing up for,” said Neil. “And you need to give colleagues candid feedback on their capabilities and potential, both the opportunities and limitations.”

These views were shared during Criticaleye’s Asia Leadership Retreat 2016, held in association with Accenture and CEIBS.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate

Do you have any experiences of the changing workforce you would like to share? If so, please email maryanne@criticaleye.com

Read more from our interviewees as Nils Michaelis discusses the customer experience and Alan Armitage reveals how to motivate the executive team.

And, don’t miss next week’s Community Update on how to tackle international expansion.

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The Future of the Workplace

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Ideas on what constitutes a fulfilling and productive working environment are shifting rapidly. They’re raising questions about mobility of talent and what it means to be an effective leader as the way in which knowledge is transferred, both within and outside an organisation, becomes more dynamic. Indeed, a perfect storm of new technology, globalisation and changing demographics is blowing away assumptions about how we work.

Lynda Gratton, Criticaleye Thought Leader and Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, suggests that the formal link between ‘work’ and ‘place’ is beginning to soften: “We are already seeing the rise of flexible and remote working arrangements as well as creative hubs where people use workspace as and when they need to.

“It seems to me that as working lives become more of a marathon than a sprint, we are going to see more emphasis on work that excites and inspires people and helps them to grow…These concepts are not just about employee well-being, they are… crucial to the competitive advantage of a company.”

It’s incumbent on leadership teams to get a grip on what is already underway. Stuart Steele, Partner for Human Capital Consulting at professional services firm EY, comments: “There is always competition for good talent and an inability to predict what the work environment will look like in three or four years’ time, I think, can put an organisation at a disadvantage.”

Let’s get digital

From the mills and factories of the industrial revolution to assembly-line car production at the turn of the 20th century, technology has reshaped working practices by reinventing notions of efficiency and productivity.

John Lewis, Chief Operating Officer for communication services provider Airwave Solutions, says: “Mobile working or process improvements are absolutely there for the taking. There are lots of different examples that I’ve seen, such as the creation of collaboration zones and the use of tools for collaborative working.”

How best to take full advantage of this flexibility is open to debate. Susanna Dinnage, EVP and MD for Discovery Networks UK & Ireland, explains: “A great deal of people working on their own, possibly at home, may benefit individuals in terms of family commitments and reduced time spent travelling… I understand that, we have busy lives… but what you lose is the alchemy of teams working together.”

John notes that organisations must be careful not to underestimate peoples’ appetite for interaction. “That can be the biggest challenge,” he comments. “How do you get over the fact that people just sometimes need to spend a bit of time gossiping or just having a reaction with others in their team to help process what’s going on?”

The hierarchy that traditionally existed in organisations is being broken down by the volume of information now available at employees’ fingertips. This is causing leaders to rethink how they engage with employees, encourage collaboration and make decisions.
Julian Birkinshaw, Criticaleye Thought Leader and Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School, says: “Think back to the traditional role of the leader. Back in the industrial era, he was responsible for squeezing as much value out of his resources – money, people – as possible.

“In the knowledge era, he or she has become used to being an expert… They were also the conduit of information, the person who accesses and then disseminates information across the organisation. But if this information is now widely available, and if there are experts at all levels, the leader of the future has to think about what their value-added role is.”

According to Julian, leadership in this context will entail a more interpersonal role, helping other people to make decisions and avoid becoming overwhelmed by the volume of data available: “Good leadership… [will] be action-oriented; that is, following through with people to ensure they deliver on their commitments. One of the risks of ubiquitous information is that it causes analysis paralysis – there is always an opportunity to collect more.”

Melting pot

A more age-diverse workforce will certainly throw up some new challenges. Susanna says: “I am observing a new generation that is very smart. I look at our interns – they are engaged, they have plans and they have expectations. They don’t come here to stuff envelopes.

“They are not afraid to ask for half an hour in your diary to understand how you got your job – that’s fantastic. I love this confidence they have… [as] they step forward and… are contributing.”

There is a sense that the expectations held by millennials in the workplace are, in some respects, higher than of generations gone by. Stuart explains: “There have always been career-focused individuals, with an appetite for rapid progression, however, looking at groups, if you’re 25, your aspirations for broad opportunity and rapid progression in an organisation are typically a lot greater than what a 50-year old person’s was when they were that age.

“Where an older employee may have taken 20 years to progress three-quarters of the way up the organisation, the 25-year old wants to get to that same position in five years or less. How do you balance that? How do you meet their aspirations of rapid progression while not disenfranchising this person, who has delivered good service for the last 20 or so years?”

These are the types of questions which senior leadership teams need to be thinking about and addressing. Stuart adds: “As organisations’ demands for skills and capability change over time, the intrinsic value of the employees with 20 or so years of experience – those with real depth and breadth – changes from a position where one could arguably describe them as a commodity, to a situation where they have become ‘key retains’ focused both on delivery and the development of our younger workforce.”

It calls for a closer awareness of how to bring the best out of a diverse mix of talent. Lynda comments: “It’s clear that encouraging different age groups to work productively and harmoniously with each other can be tough. Those who have made it work often put job design and collaboration at the centre.

“Those that design jobs in an inflexible, linear way have found that they cannot be responsive to a person’s life stage and aspirations…. Right now, companies are struggling with this inflexibility – for example, not knowing how to handle mid-career hires because their processes are all geared towards hiring graduates.”

A multigenerational workforce will require organisations to consider different career paths and job designs simultaneously, rather than opt for a cookie-cutter approach. Specialisation, limited contracts and partnerships are expected to become the norm.

Julian comments: “The workplace of the future I would like to see is one in which people are given a lot of freedom to pursue the work that interests them, with a lot more bottom-up accountability, and far fewer formal bureaucratic systems for co-ordinating our activities. This is the model we see in many start-up companies, but once they go above 100 people or so they often lose this vitality.”

The impact of what is happening in the workplace will be genuinely game-changing and that’s why it’s something boards must take the time to try and understand. Unless they’re thinking about what it means for an organisation’s future, they won’t be able to turn what’s occurring into a tangible competitive advantage.

I hope to see you soon.

Matthew

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