2020 is likely to be remembered as a year of unprecedented disruptions to our work life. Although the long-term consequences of what we have experienced in the past 12 months are yet to be seen, it is reasonable to assume that the way we work and the way organizations are going to be structured will change in the near future.
The post-COVID crisis will likely accelerate some trends already underway, for example, automation, the gig economy, and remote work.
As the 2020s unravel, our current business environment is certainly more dynamic, volatile, and competitive than it has ever been in recent history. We live in a world where disruption happens rapidly, with effects that are not just felt locally, but on a large scale.
For organizations to be relevant in the future, they will need to respond in fast and efficient ways to such changes: they will need to fundamentally restructure themselves to become “organizationally aligned”. In the words of Cal Handerson, the co-founder and CTO of Slack, “the biggest source of potential upside for any business is establishing alignment among the people who work there and improving the way they work together. It’s true today and will be even more so in 50 years.”
In this post, I will attempt to explore four ways in which organizations can effectively transform how they operate in order to build a more resilient workforce for the future. In my view, these are not four alternatives routes, nor a prescriptive sequence of steps, but simply four ideas that would be sensible for organizations to explore further.
1) STRIVE FOR ANTI-FRAGILITY
Until only a few months ago, organizations were proudly defining themselves as lean… but reasonably, what is lean also breaks more easily. One could say that lean companies are in fact fragile.
My opinion is that organizations should strive for anti-fragility instead. The mathematical statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2012 book “Antifragile” states that: “antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. […] Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”
According to the 2019 Gartner Organization Design Survey, before COVID-19 hit, 55% of firms were focused on “efficiency” as a priority. The crisis generated by the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread, showed instead, the importance of “redundancy”.
When a certain level of improvement is reached and there is a focus on “doing more”, organizations need built-in systems of redundancy, so they are not relying on one person, one process, one tool to get it all done. For example, this is something that was dramatically clear when many countries across the globe experienced a saturation of their ICU beds due to a sudden influx of patients, which was not planned for.
2) CO-EXIST WITH “NON-TRADITIONAL WORKERS”
Before COVID19, just 3% of the work in the average company was performed by non-traditional sources (eg self-service, robots, AI). By 2029, it is forecasted that this percentage will increase to 28% (Gartner Research).
Rather than anticipating a dark future where the world is run by nasty robots, I support the view of a future society where human capabilities are enhanced by the machines – a process that has repeated itself throughout history a number of times in different forms and has propelled humankind to the levels of progress we all enjoy these days.
Twenty-four centuries ago or so, when Aristotle described slaves as “living instruments”, he was talking about human beings – however, in more recent times, “living instruments” are tools with the voice of Alexa, Siri, or Cortana, that are able to speak and follow instructions, even handle complex assignments better than humans can. Organizations are shifting towards a blended workforce model that will include more of these non-traditional “workers”.
Additionally, the ‘gig economy’ phenomenon brings cost-effectiveness, flexibility (for both the organization and the individual), as well as continuous “fresh eyes” to the day-to-day operations. In this sense, the “benchmark business organization” of the future may as well be a movie production company: a sophisticated large enterprise, with significant budgets and yet “temporary” in nature.
3) LOOK FOR THE RIGHT SKILLS
Research has shown that over 30% of the skills needed to do a job in 2017 will be obsolete by 2021. A 2018 McKinsey model shows that by 2030, up to 30-40% of all workers in developed countries may need to move into new occupations or at least upgrade their skillsets significantly.
Organizations will have a few questions to find an answer to. How to predict what skills will be required for the job? How to target investments accordingly? How to train employees in meta-learning disciplines (learning about learning), so that the workforce members are able to swiftly cross-skill themselves?
On the cusp of this fourth industrial revolution, talent analytics should be an integral part of how organizations conduct workforce planning and strategic sourcing. Companies like the Australian Faethm, focussed on showing the implications of automation, augmentation, and addition at a technology and job level, help to proactively evolve the workforce.
Such type of analytics platforms and forward-looking scenario tools use machine and deep learning to model the impact of emerging technologies on any economy, industry, organization, or job. Organizations will have to leverage the power of data more heavily to proactively look for and plan the right skills for the jobs.
4) GO CROSS-FUNCTIONAL AND SELF-DIRECTED
In order to create high business value at high speed, organizations will have to keep promoting the creation of truly cross-functional, self-directed teams.
For organizations to succeed, they will have to:
- design adequate incentives for their employees structuring themselves in cross-functional teams
- train their employees and upskill them via cross-pollination across different practices
- empower the team members with decision-making abilities based on skill level rather than seniority only
- promote a mindset shift from hierarchies to networks, from controlling to empowering.
These trends have been clear for quite a few years – decades in fact. William Bridges wrote in his “JobShift: How to Prosper in a Workplace Without Jobs”:
“In a market, you don’t do something because somebody tells you to or because it is listed on page thirty of the strategic plan. A market has no job or boundaries […] There are no orders, no translation of signals from on high, no one sorting out the work into parcels. In a market one has customers, and the relationship between a supplier and a customer is fundamentally nonorganizational, because it is between two independent entities.”
And, interesting enough, this book was published in 1994!
In conclusion, organizations have weathered an unprecedented crisis in 2020 due to COVID19, however, they have now the opportunity to improve and rebuild themselves for the new decade and beyond, with a focus on workforce resilience. The companies that will be able to do so, will likely reap outsized rewards in this decade.
Maurizio joined Infosys Consulting in 2016 as one of the senior leaders within our Financial Services practice in APAC. Over the last 15 years, Maurizio has worked in Europe, America, Asia, and Australia where he has successfully advised banking and insurance institutions on how to strategize, build, transform and orchestrate their business and technology capabilities. At Infosys Consulting, his key responsibilities include providing management consulting leadership capabilities to a number of financial services and insurance clients in the region, in key areas such as core banking, core insurance, digital transformation, operating model design, AI-led data analytics. He is also the consulting leader and representative for Infosys' award-winning corporate social responsibility program, aiming to contribute to education for our youth and support for the disadvantaged. Maurizio holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the prestigious University of Padova in Italy.