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March 17, 2017
Future workforce: Leading open businesses
By: Arabel Bailey

Digital disruption is transforming enterprises inside and out; changing everything from how they engage with customers to how they build productive workforces. In this series of blogs, we’ve been looking at the implications of digital transformation on the workforce of the future and how leadership within businesses needs to adapt, based on the findings of our recent research study into the subject.

In this blog, I’m going to discuss the third of the workforce trends that came to light in the report: an increase in the openness of organisations.

The quantified business

One key driver for more open businesses is the trend towards quantification, which is being driven by the availability of low-cost digital measurement devices and the advent of advanced data analytics. Business leaders are realising that open access to the data trails of employees and machines can be used to create competitive advantage—providing, of course, that sensitive data is appropriately secured/anonymised. For example, Royal Dutch Shell now uses machine learning and data analytics to quantify the attributes of its workforce, and this is helping it better identify star talent.

Of course, some employees may feel uneasy about this level of openness, but it’s no different to how people share their personal data with tech companies like Facebook and Google in return for free services. What’s important is that employees see upside from sharing data: Business leaders need to be able to show them clearly how data tracking leads to a happier, easier or more satisfying work experience. For example, businesses might be able to demonstrate that tracking work activity in real-time can enable efficiencies, which in the long-term can result in an extra half-day holiday for staff.

Leading the open business

What’s clear is that open businesses call for new approaches to management and leadership. First, leaders must be willing to lead by example. If they require openness from their staff, then they too must embrace a level of genuine openness. Leaders will therefore need to have the courage to try new things and even fail publicly from time to time.

Leaders also need to be aware of the downside of openness. As Brexit has shown, when people are able to freely express diverse opinions, conflict can follow. This shouldn’t be avoided, but it does need to be managed with skill. Leaders will therefore need to develop a high level of emotional intelligence. They will need to be able to set aside hurt feelings, to use feedback for honest self-examination and to participate in dialogue in which they might not have all the answers.

Ours is a quantified world where the value of individuals and companies is increasingly measured by how much data they can share. The use of this data will change our world and will benefit us all. But companies also need to recognise that it demands a new approach to leadership and adjust accordingly.

The final article in this series looks brings together all of the learnings from this series to discuss how they are redefining leadership roles.

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

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