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March 10, 2017
Future workforce: Fragmentation
By: Arabel Bailey

What does good leadership look like in the era of digital transformation? This is the question we’ve been asking over this series of blogs. In this post, I want to look at the second trend thrown up by our research into this subject: the fragmentation of the workforce.

We all know that digital technology is great for keeping us connected, but counterintuitively this very connectedness is pulling apart the traditional, "monolithic" workforce. What we’ve for a long-time understood by the term "workforce"—a group of people employed by the same firm that work from locations connected with that firm—is becoming a thing of the past.

Our research of 37 senior executives involved in digital transformation in their companies has revealed what the workforce of the future may look like, and it’s a very different proposition.

The data-driven workforce

For a start, it will be shaped by data. People will be hired not based on their c.v. or interview performance but on the analysis of relevant data; a much better predictor of success. In the process, the workforce will become increasingly heterogenous.

Meanwhile, specialised talent exchanges will emerge to match people with worldwide job opportunities. This will enable enterprises to tap into new talent pools such as remote workers, rural workers, those with talent but without formal credentials, older workers, part-time working parents, and freelancers.

What we’re looking at here is a digitally connected, often crowdsourced network of skilled expert contractors and collaborators—a kind of “human cloud.” This is essentially the definition of the "Liquid Workforce"—a concept Accenture has championed as the best model for success in the digital age.

Taking the lead

But what do these changes mean for leadership and people management within organisations? How do managers engage with this fragmented workforce and keep them motivated and productive?

Clearly, the ability to integrate people from very different backgrounds working in very different locations and often in different time zones will be crucial. Leaders will therefore need to be unfailingly present; making themselves as available as possible to keep teams cohesive and productive.

A fragmented workforce also demands agile leadership. Groups of people will come together to solve problems or exploit opportunities and then to disband just as rapidly. The leaders of such groups need to be able to work across multiple business functions and geographies and integrate ideas seamlessly.

Finally, the managers of the future workforce will need to be able to inspire. Liquid workers are not loyal by default: They need a good reason to stay with a company. Increasingly this means leaders need to be able to form and articulate a compelling vision of the company’s values. Leaders must also be able to share what’s on their minds to help workers understand their motivations and goals and thereby build engagement.

Start the journey

Make no bones about it: The workforce of the future will be unrecognisable from today. Our advice to enterprises is to start experimenting with liquid workforce models sooner rather than later, so you can understand the ramifications for leadership and make the necessary changes. Those that evolve first will benefit from a significant competitive advantage.

The next article in the series looks at how businesses are opening up, and what this means for leadership.

Read the full report on what digital transformation means for leadership: Leading the Digital Enterprise.

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