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February 06, 2017
Future workforce: A new type of leadership for our digital age
By: Arabel Bailey

Digital disruption is, perhaps, one of the most used phrases of 2016. And so it should be. Business leaders now realise they have no option but to embrace digital business models if they want to remain competitive. The twin shocks of Brexit and Trump have added further impetus to change. Our economic future has seldom been more uncertain, and digital transformation provides businesses with a means of optimising their operations to help them navigate the choppy waters ahead.

New leadership for a new enterprise

The types of enterprises that emerge from digital transformation are fundamentally different to those of the past. They are data-rich and AI-augmented; built around new business models and delivering intensely-connected services.

Much has been written about the impact of the digital enterprise on customer experiences, but what I’m interested in is how leadership will be affected by digital transformation. After all, even in a digital enterprise, there are still people who need to be organised, guided and rewarded; but there will be several complicating factors.

The future workforce, for example, might be one where employees live in different time zones and never meet each other face-to-face. Smart machines may become so integrated into the digital workplace that distinctions between human and machine intelligence will become hard to define. Even the concepts of employee and employer are likely to change, replaced by combinations that are transient, yet remarkably productive.

The future workforce

Over the course of this five-part blog series, we’re going to look at exactly what digital transformation means for enterprise leaders. In this, we’ll be informed by the results of an extensive Accenture research study into leadership in the digital age. Our research identified three key trends:

  1. Traditional enterprise hierarchies are giving way to networks as the core principle of workforce organisation within enterprises. Linear chain-of-command models are simply not fit-for-purpose for the digital age. Leaders will instead be tasked with enabling collaborative and flexible networks where information can flow easily to where it’s needed.

  2. While it’s true that digital technology is connecting people like never before, it’s also working to fragment the workforce. A digitally connected, often crowdsourced network of skilled expert contractors and contributors is changing what we mean by the term “workforce.” Leaders will need to integrate dispersed collaborators, share what is on their minds and extend the conversation to others to refine ideas.

  3. The third trend involves ever-greater levels of organisational openness, driven by advanced sensing and tracking technologies and real-time communication. Organisations will need to be more open than ever with employees and customers, to increase trust and engagement. Leaders will therefore need to practice emotional intelligence, to bring people together and cultivate and articulate the organisation’s purpose.

It’s become clear that all enterprise function will be affected deeply by digital transformation. As we shall see in the coming posts, business leaders will need to adopt new behaviours and practices if they’re to ensure their much-changed workforce functions at its best. For those that can adapt successfully, the result will be a much more effective and efficient workforce.

The next article in the series looks at the rise of the network organisation 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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