When Google Glass famously failed in 2014 amidst widespread public criticism, it wasn’t because it was a bad product. The hands-free technology, developed by Google’s semi-secret research lab, X, pointed to a glaring hole in the company’s unique innovation formula: as much as X needed teams of scientists, technologists and researchers to develop solutions to problems, it also needed teams of people to prepare those products for the real world.
Today at X, rocket scientists and marine biologists work alongside concert pianists and puppeteers. But it doesn’t stop there: X also fosters a strong multi-generational culture, where employees are told “not to worry about making stupid comments or asking ignorant questions” regardless of age or experience level. What’s recognised at X is that diverse teams foster innovation.
It may not be the conventional approach to assembling a workforce, but the organisation’s success stories—Waymo, Google Brain and Google Watch, to name a few—speak for themselves. And there is a lesson here for all: to increase success, today’s businesses must understand how to deploy diverse teams to their advantage.
Critically, there are two questions business leaders must seek to answer: What value can we gain from a dynamic workforce? And how do we recruit and motivate people, utilising skills and knowledge across generations and disciplines?
What are the business benefits of a dynamic workforce?
For perhaps the first time in the post-industrial era, there are no fewer than four generations in today’s workforce. Advances in intelligent and applied technologies are driving demand for new skills and disciplines with increasing momentum. And the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the urgency with which workforces must adapt to uncertainty.
By ensuring teams are multi-generational and multi-disciplinary, businesses can maximise the value diversity offers and respond to the constantly shifting business landscape. In short, establishing and optimising dynamic teams can be do or die in driving transformative, data-driven change.
The benefits of a multi-generational team stem from differing generational contexts and experience levels. For instance, research shows younger employees are more adaptable as they aren’t yet hardwired to respond to circumstances based on past experience. In addition, they bring new skills and ways of working, spurring innovation and contributing to revenue growth.
On the other hand, experienced workers have the advantage of practice and repetition to draw on, meaning they take less time to plan their intended response. With the benefit of both industry and life experience, these workers are able to apply a more pragmatic approach to an idea or a project that could prevent known challenges from arising and add to a sense of stability within an organisation.
Meanwhile a multi-disciplinary workforce offers value in bringing together varying skillsets and specialisms to solve problems comprehensively using different perspectives. The Stanford Institute for
Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI), for example, was established as a collaborative hub that would place “humanists and social scientists alongside people who are developing artificial intelligence,” to understand the impact and potential of AI, and use it to improve humanity. This collective of diverse thinkers embodies the potential for comprehensive knowledge across a wide range of fields, allowing organisations to apply that knowledge to a wide range of problems.
How can businesses recruit and motivate a dynamic workforce?
Optimise talent pipelines
Attracting, retaining and motivating diverse teams is a core challenge for many. Recent Gallagher research reports, for instance, that two-thirds of UK businesses find it difficult to create a standardised benefits package that appeals across an increasingly diverse workforce. Revelations such as this should prompt organisations to take a close look at their processes for hiring and attracting the talent they need.
To optimise their talent pipeline in this context, leaders must ask questions like: Why would top talent be motivated to work here? And what kinds of skills do we want to attract?
It’s not only about employing the brightest or youngest minds; a firm might unlock new value by reskilling experienced employees through apprenticeships or by gravitating away from traditional two-stage interviews towards gamified recruitment tools. Other examples include ensuring job ads use neutral language that does not exclude different demographic groups, or applications that are initially anonymised to avoid unconscious bias.
For instance, a large European bank needed more science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers but found it challenging to identify, hire and retain the best people. To overcome this, we worked with the organisation to revamp its employer brand and target profiles that matched open positions. Taking a data-driven approach, the bank overhauled not only its selection criteria and hiring processes but also how it monitors teams to optimise ongoing employee experience. The firm is now better able to attract and retain top STEM talent, resulting in an increasingly engaged and diverse workforce and future leadership pipeline.
Enhance data literacy
Not only are today’s data tools and skillsets radically different to those of the past, the very concept of data has shifted from the outcome itself to the process of discovering an outcome. Critically, this change signals that data literacy is not solely based on the ability to code or create data—it is just as much about understanding, interpreting and communicating the impact of that data and making data-based decisions, as it is technical skills. Data literacy fuels a data culture.
This puts the onus on companies to think about new and innovative ways to engage employees. In one case, a leading Asian bank faced several challenges at its contact centre: training needed to adapt to a skills-based model, onboarding and upskilling were slow, employee engagement in classroom training was low, and customer experience was inconsistent as a result. To overcome this, the bank deployed a digital learning experience that included gamified knowledge assessments, interactive and tablet-enabled learning content, knowledge sharing exercises and real-life simulations. As a result, upskilling accelerated by 25-30% alongside a 50% time saving in classroom delivery.
To succeed in this landscape, firms must understand the levels of data literacy across their teams and establish a common baseline for it. Indeed, a workforce that is both multi-generational and multi-disciplinary can derive value quicker from data by pairing new technical skills with the benefit of experience.
Incentivise change, reward adaptability
As businesses deal with the shockwaves and aftermath of the pandemic, overcoming a change-averse culture has perhaps never been as critical. Indeed, as the case above illustrates, adaptability is a core component when it comes to maximising the potential benefits of a dynamic workforce.
Developing a high-functioning, multi-generational workforce in particular relies on this—especially given that the youngest generation currently in the workforce (those aged between 15 and 24) is estimated to account for 20% of the workforce in 2020, yet 28% of the generation that came before it (those aged 25 and 40) doubt their ability to recruit, retain and train these younger employees.
Our research into the growth of younger workers in the US healthcare sector finds that more than half (54%) of new grads feel underemployed in their first role. This could explain why, on the one hand, 20% will leave nursing within three years, and on the other, they are 2.5 times more likely to remain for more than five years if work is challenging and meaningful.
To retain and motivate this cohort, organisations must seek to align rewards with generational values, at the same time as incentivising the rest of the business to adapt to welcome cross-generational working styles.
How quickly can businesses unlock this potential?
The long-term value of a dynamic workforce has been proven time and again – and has led to world-changing developments and innovations from the nuclear age to the computer and internet.
But it’s the uncertainty of the near-term business landscape that suggests a multi-generational, multi-disciplinary workforce is now critical for survival. In this context, the dilemma firms face is not why they should build a dynamic workforce, but how quickly can they do so.