Article: Decoding the dynamics of a modern workplace


Decoding the dynamics of a modern workplace

The rapid pace of technological change is having a significant impact on our working practices that are becoming increasingly global and remote.
Decoding the dynamics of a modern workplace

What does it mean to be a part of the corporate workplace today? How is rapid change and its technology manifestations impacting our jobs and our increasingly millennial workforce? How do we view today’s dynamic workplace? On the face of it, there is volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity that makes long-term planning impossible. Alongside, perhaps to deal with this environment, there is seemingly less formality and greater flexibility. Diversity and inclusion, culture and mental health are all on the menu of today’s corporation. 

Opportunity is nowhere!

How we read the sign determines our approach as managers. Is it that, ‘opportunity is nowhere’? Or that ‘opportunity is now here’?  If you are in the group that sees the latter then you need to know, what factors are in play?

Technology or rather the pace of technological change is perhaps the biggest: both for the corporate and for its employees. It can be enabling as well as daunting. What does it mean for our work, for life at work and for the individual employee’s career journey? What implications does it have for managers and leaders? These are questions we need to ask ourselves and understand the impact on our everyday work lives.

The rapid pace of technological change is having a significant impact on our working practices that are becoming increasingly global and remote. In many work activities today being physically present, for example, is not required. Be it meetings, presentations we are making or training sessions, we can attend and engage on the move or from our desks wherever they may be located.

To facilitate this working across time and space, work processes and flows are increasingly being standardized and many are moving towards automation. AI and machine learning are already a reality in sectors like financial services, hospitality, and retail.

In many cases because of the merging of content and platforms, businesses (other than manufacturing) must provide a service rather than a product, often offering the latter free. As a result, marketing is changing to become more customer-driven rather than based on product supplies. This means your relationship with your customer needs to be bespoke, personalized and not transactional. Commercial modes are also changing and evolving to keep up with this fluidity between products and services.

To make customer interface more effective, customer usage data is being used to monitor patterns and trends to have better customer impact. From being a waste product, coming out at the end of a cycle, data is now a key input to drive strategy. As it becomes precious, protecting and safeguarding it also becomes important and hence we are witnessing the flush of data protection laws emerging all over the world.

Alongside, markets are changing geographies, moving from the rich Western world to Asia. This will hopefully mean a more balanced orientation between East and West for future business. Not just bigger, growing markets but more expertise and management, both theory and practices, will be coming from Asia. The way we are doing business will thus make our work world more global and this will impact our work lives in many other ways.

Keeping pace with the rapid changes in technology and in fact fueling these changes is the pace of knowledge creation. Consider this.

One million new research papers are published each year, i.e. one every 30 seconds and human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. This will soon scale up to 7-8 months. As a result, 90 percent of all data we use today was created only in the last 20 years.

With this speed of change, today’s jobs may not exist tomorrow. A PwC study across 29 countries predicts that 30% of all jobs are at potential risk of automation by the 2030s. Alongside, it is safe to say that, with this pace of change in knowledge and technology, tomorrow’s jobs haven’t been invented yet.

All this means that the learning universe is changing at a fast pace and the need for learning is no longer episodic but continual. Earlier, we had two discrete phases, studies and then working life. Now university curriculums are hopelessly out of date even before we start our education and cannot address the need for continual learning. Neither is there scope or time to learn on-the-job as employers expect job-ready candidates. Individuals, therefore, will increasingly need to make self-learning agendas that will now be lifelong. This involves a complete shift in our thinking and how we approach learning and career growth.

When the path to growth both individual and corporate is no longer linear or universal, and one size does not fit all, the need for diversity in skills and attitudes and an agile approach becomes necessary. In such an environment, failure is inevitable but NOT fatal. The attitude to failure, therefore, has also to change.

What is the role of HR in this environment?

What does all this mean for the peoples’ people or HR? Does HR need to have the ability to believe in things that don’t exist? Let us look at the key functions of HR in this context:

HIRING has already moved from a mere matching of skills and experience to assessment of competencies and behaviors; from CVs to social media profile reviews; and further from there to psychometric testing, with mindset prevailing over skill set; diversity over cultural fitment.

RETENTION tools are also evolving differently from the past. As diversity and inclusion become increasingly relevant, work practices and processes go global and remote and self-learning and ethical working become a priority, the workplace is transforming and so must retention tools. Flex and remote working; time and space to upskill & learn; cross-functional opportunities; bespoke solutions and empathy are all becoming part of the retention repertoire.

REWARDS & RECOGNITION practices need to change in tandem to the changing workplace priorities. So continual feedback and correction mechanisms are being put in place at all levels. Innovation and entrepreneurial attitudes within roles need to get greater recognition as a diverse workforce and an open workplace allows for this. With this, the approach to failure, as a step in the ladder of learning and growth, needs a space in the review process.

What about managing millennials?

Attitude and aptitude is important with a growing millennial workforce. There are a lot of studies on this generation. My own experience of managing them suggests that they are smart but impatient; quick to try something new but equally sure that they know best. They want a larger purpose to work for and will go the extra mile to do so; equally, they have a sense of entitlement and expect to be given everything in the palm of their hands (just like their smart phones).

So, the biggest challenge of HR is to convince them that in the modern, enabling work place, they are the ones who are in charge of their careers and work destinies. It is their attitude to the unknow and untried; ability to upskill, self-learn continually and most of all to not fear failure, that will chart their career graphs. That’s why I hire for attitude, aptitude and strength of character. Everything else can be picked up along the way.

As we look at the changing nature of work, the work place and the role of key functions like HR we see a big shifting and moving of the modern corporate. This will obviously impact leaders and their leadership styles.

What does all this mean for leaders?

Leaders have never had it tougher: look at the number of leaders who have had to apologies for their or their companies’ transgressions, appear before congressional committees or are having public meltdowns. Clearly, they need as much empathy and support as their followers. They also need to have, and this is the message underlying the entire essay: openness to learning, willingness to change, ability to say yes and no, the courage to act—to plunge into the unknown. A tough listing of mindset requirements for anyone to tackle.

Here is my personal checklist to make sense of this amorphous dynamic workplace:

A) COMMUNICATION in the touchstone of the modern, diverse, global, remote workplace. Clear, simple and repetitive messaging is needed to be effective across time, space and cultures.

B) ETHICS/ VALUE CODES are your personal guiding compass to navigate the world. Never stop listening to your inner voice.

C) EMPATY & BELIEFS are what makes us human. Remember machines cannot feel passion or compassion; or believe in what’s not tangible or is still unknown. That’s why they are not questioning or curious and can’t change and grow on their own.

D) SUSTAINABILITY of our world is vital. If we can relate what we do and who we are to a larger purpose, add social or environmental value to work done we will be happier and retain our teams longer.

The happy part of the a modern workplace though is that, just like the workplace of yesteryears, none of us, neither leaders nor followers, have to do all this alone: we have the choice to share the burdens of leadership; to enable and empower, to be live examples, and most importantly, to fail our way to growth. The workplace of the future will provide ample opportunities for learning both for leaders and followers.

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Topics: Technology, #BuildingHRCapability

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