Is today’s approach to work sustainable? The global pandemic has turned our working world upside down and accelerated disruption, from the blurring of industry lines and economic and geopolitical uncertainty, to disruptive technologies such as AI and automation and the shrinking of company, product, and even job lifespans. It has forced us to rethink how and why we work, job satisfaction, and the urgency to remain relevant when the only certainty is uncertainty. With 9/10 organizations saying they want to reinvent themselves in 2020, and almost all HR leaders reporting significant skill gaps, the C-suite is making upskilling and reskilling a strategic priority for success in a volatile operating environment. Employees also see upskilling and reskilling as an attraction and retention driver and integral to supporting their health, wealth and well-being. When only 1 in 5 employees believe their opinions matter at work and only 1 in 10 have the freedom to experiment with new solutions, we can safely say that today’s work-model is broken.
Change used to happen as a breeze. Now it feels like a category five typhoon. This isn’t very surprising, considering most companies (93%) expect technology to continue as a primary business disruptor, followed by rising customer expectations (87%) and industry consolidation (80%). And 1 in 3 employees believe their job will not exist in a few years due to automation at work and the gig economy. As awe mixes with anxiety, employees expect consumer-level digital experiences at work and more fluid work-based models that don’t just react to disruption but anticipate it and turn it into advantage.
As disruption accelerates and business models decay at a faster rate, HR leaders are tested in terms of both business continuity and organizational resilience: they must stop, flip the switch, turn on the lights and see and ask what’s up ahead – without fear or concern.
- How do make re-skilling a priority?
- Will our work models attract new generations?
- How will we reposition and renew our organizations?
- Are existing practices agile enough to withstand future waves of disruption?
- How do we incentivize transformation and make our talent future-ready?
- Which old mindsets, operating models and assumptions must we eliminate?
Like many organizations, Novartis – a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company experienced significant talent disruption after it underwent a digital transformation. It faced the challenge of determining which digital talent was most important to the business and where it resided in the company — which was less than transparent. Workforce capability and lack of future skills are a primary reason why transformations fail. As founder of Hack Future Lab, a London based think tank looking future of work trends, our research shows that a lack of an integrated approach to strategic workforce planning (which takes account of how skills may change) will erode an organization’s future resilience and cause it to inadvertently lose the war for talent.
- 70% of large-scale transformation efforts fail to meet all their goals.
- 75% of employees agree reskilling is important but 40% say they lack the time to take advantage it.
- Just 34% of HR leaders are investing in workforce learning and reskilling as part of their future of work strategy.
- 53% of HR leaders do not know what skills their workforces possess.
- 98% of CEO’s expect significant disruption over the next 3 years but only 23% are fully prepared.
Source: Hack Future Lab
Make upskilling and reskilling a top talent investment priority
With so many unknowns, how can companies, individuals and society as a whole win? HR leaders must first understand the new logic of competition. The 20th century was about scaling efficiency and doing things right rather than doing the right things. The winners of tomorrow will scale intelligence, with the race to reskill and upskill being a top leadership priority. I call it ROI. Not return on investment, but return on intelligence. Every organization says it wants to outpace disruption with capability which requires the cultivation of a learning mindset at both the individual and organizational level and a relook at goals and the setting aside of both time and financial investment for learning. Today just one in three HR leaders say they are investing in future learning and workforce upskilling and reskilling as part of their strategy for the future of work. Data aggregators such as Humu can help quantify the impact of emerging technologies on existing jobs and matching skills from one job family to another to identify transferable skills. Further, the use of digital twins (or “mirror worlds”) and scenario modeling is on the rise to support workforce strategy design and planning. By visualizing scenarios, companies can bring to life the implications of choices on the bottom line and on the workforce.
Focus on the Future
Agility starts with knowing your talent ecosystem — that is, knowing who you have and where. Honestly appraising where your workforce is today through pulse surveys, job simulations and hackathons can set the agenda. Companies that are making inroads such as HCL Technologies and Saleforce are identifying required skill clusters and mapping surplus talent with transferable skills. These employees (unlike contractors and outside hires) are already wired for the culture and are full of vital organizational know-how. Mental retooling needs to happen throughout the organization. It’s now no longer just about return on investment. It’s about return on intelligence. Royal Dutch Shell, for example, recently announced it is expanding an online program to teach AI skills. So far, 2,000 of its 82,000 employees have expressed interest or have been approached to participate. The online courses are offered by learning platform Udacity, which has rolled out an ‘AI leadership program’ to help leaders reinvent how their organizations operate and compete.
Scale lifelong learning, curiosity and urgency
People are already comfortable blurring work and life, so the next challenge is to appreciate a blended work-learn model. If employees are ready and eager for upskilling and reskilling, what’s holding them back? For the majority, it’s time. Almost all (87%) employees experience barriers to reskilling. And the most commonly cited challenge is time constraints (38%), followed by a preference to spend spare time in other ways (35%, see figure 23). Lifelong learning means changing from training, working and rewarding in a linear fashion — with progression pegged to static career levels — to a cyclical model of reinvention. Ultimately, people will stay with companies they feel are making them marketable and leave those that are not.
There will be winners and losers in the race for upksilling and reskilling. It has multiple purposes: to meet talent shortages, to help organizations and employees thrive but also to ensure livelihoods and ethical sustainability for future generations. It’s time to elevate humanity.
Terence Mauri is an HRD Thought Leader and #1 global disruption thinker, challenging leaders to thrive in the age of disruption. His new book The 3D Leader: Take your leadership to the next dimension is out on September 1, 2020.