Everyone knows the world of work is changing. Through digital transformation, increased remote capabilities, advances in AI and the growth of the gig economy, working environments have evolved significantly over the last decade – and continue to change at a frightening pace.
Frightening, not least, for today’s employees – many of whom are concerned about the working world of the future, and what it might mean for them.
Concerns, perhaps, are justified. The workers of today face a genuine challenge if they are to fulfil their potential as the leaders of tomorrow. And many of those in leadership positions today are battling with long-standing beliefs towards work that are becoming less and less relevant.
Mindsets must change and new skills must be developed in order for leaders to thrive in the ‘new world’ – and HR will be vital in guiding their development.
In this post, we’ll explore the key challenges that leaders must meet in order to adapt to the fast-evolving workplace, and look at how HR teams can help them build the attributes they need:
FIVE key considerations for the leaders of tomorrow…
1 Adapting to the agile workplace
Advances in communication and collaboration technologies have already re-invented the concept of work, pushing the ‘9 to 5’ pattern towards obsoletion and giving rise to an army of remote and flexible workers.
As a result, the gig economy is booming, and the lines between contractors, freelancers and employees are becoming ever-increasingly blurred. Indeed, HRexective.com suggests that over the next 10 years, “the number of freelancers will surpass the number of full-time employees in the workforce.”
Tomorrow’s leaders must, therefore, be prepared to relinquish older ideas of traditional teamwork, and instead, embrace agile, blended people networks – focused on making the most of talent in all its forms.
Feasibly, the entire concept of long-term employment may one day become a thing of the past – with businesses reshaped into a series of individual projects, each fulfilled by ‘hired guns’ most suited to the task at hand.
2 Embracing diversity
The rise in remote working means talent pools are no longer restricted by location – and geographical barriers continue to fall all the time.
Leaders of the future can, therefore, expect to head-up a more diverse group of people than ever before – with the workers under their charge likely to represent multiple cultures, working methods and ways of thinking.
Other factors are converging to increase diversity in the workforce too. In the United States, for instance, The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will soon be more women working than men – and by 2050, there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the country (source: www.anneloehr.com)
It’s the job of tomorrow’s leaders to not only embrace difference and foster a culture of inclusiveness, but also to make the most of workplace diversity in arriving at new insights.
3 Learning for life
Self-development has long been a trait of business leaders, but the rapid nature of business change requires tomorrow’s leaders to adopt a mentality of life-long learning.
Formal training will always have its place, but qualifications and accreditations can quickly expire in a world that evolves so swiftly. Leaders will need to seek out extra opportunities to learn while they work and adopt a mindset of learning from, not competing with, others.
4 Driven by data
The age of Big Data is here to stay, and analytical capabilities will be a key attribute for the leaders of the future. Businesses will increasingly run on data-driven insights, and the ability to look beyond the numbers to identify trends and opportunities will be critical.
Yet at the same time as delving into data, tomorrow’s leaders can’t afford to lose touch with the human side of management.
Indeed, according to Cheryl Cran, (author of The Art of Change Leadership), Human Intelligence Quotient is the ‘superpower skill of the next decade’.
In a piece for SiliconRepublic.com, she argues that “Leaders must build the ability and agility to look beyond the face value of employee behaviour, and instead investigate the psychology behind it.”
5 Working in flatter structures
With many businesses steadily shifting from ‘top-down’ to ‘side-by-side’ structures, tomorrow’s managers will perhaps not be managers at all.
As Michael Warech suggests on hrexecutive.com leaders in the flatter organisations of the future will gain their credibility “not from role or title but from the ability to create a vision, articulate clear standards, and create an environment of diversity and inclusion.”
They will be coach, rather than a manager – a role model who leads by example, rather than relying on status.
Why HR needs to lead the way – not just for leadership but the whole workforce
While addressing the needs of the workforce today, HR departments play a critical role in laying the foundations for the workforce of tomorrow.
It’s a key responsibility of HR to grow, shape and future-proof a company’s capabilities – not just through the right recruitment, but by implementing the learning and development programmes required to re-skill the existing workforce and leaders where necessary.
After all, automation and AI will inevitably see some job roles disappear in the not-too-distant future. Equally, new tasks will emerge that rely on inimitable human ability.
As PwC partner Alistair Woods says “Organisations cannot protect jobs likely to be made redundant by technology – but they do have a responsibility to their people. (business should) protect people, not jobs.”
It’s therefore essential that HR teams develop a clear understanding of their organisation’s future needs, and put in place the tools to smooth the transition.
Facing the future together
In many ways, leaders are more immune to the major changes in the workplace, than their employees. So it’s important for them to realise how the lives of their people could be affected and it’s an opportunity to show great empathy.
HR and business leaders must acknowledge the concerns that employees may currently have about their future, and appreciate how these fears can have a very real impact on the business’s bottom line.
When employees are worried about change or fear their role may not even exist in the future, it will inevitably cause anxiety in the workplace – manifesting itself in a lack of productivity at best.
Here, it helps to adopt a policy of open, honest communication, facing the future together with your teams. Listen to concerns, while actively promoting agility and adaptability.