Let’s face it: Today’s workforce faces a number of challenges that employees even a decade ago did not have to consider—contending with virtual coworkers (bots, automation, artificial intelligence), the onset of a near 24-hour work cycle, higher demands (both internal and external) thanks in part to social media.
But in my view, many of these threats can be turned into opportunities.
Seize an unprecedented opportunity
The way I see it, today you have unprecedented opportunity to be more productive, engaged and satisfied than any time in history. Instead of staring at your computer monitor blankly, you can take a decidedly active role in the business. If you’re an organization leader, you face an opportunity to not only train your employees to manage through the challenges, but also truly inspire them. Instead of generic platitudes and occasional mandated morale boosters, you can be creative and independent in your thinking. You can offer real leadership by setting an example and easing the anxiety of what the future may hold.
Not to oversimplify things, but I’ve found that developing a truly successful workforce of the future requires taking three important—and related—steps:
- Reimagine the work
- Shift the workforce
- Scale up new skills —we’ll cover this one in a separate blog post
Of course, taking each of these steps requires a series of smaller steps, and there are challenges along the way. So, let’s take a closer look at what’s involved.
Reimagine the work
I’ve found that an effective way to begin the process of creating a more engaged and successful workforce is to step back and take a look at the work your teams and the employees that comprise them are already performing.
Assess their day-to-day tasks:
- What is prime for automation?
- What isn’t adding value anymore, and how could you eliminate that work?
- What do they wish they were doing to add value, and what’s stopping them?
- Revisit the skills they need for the future
- Consider the seams across the functions, particularly which still drive differentiation vs. where you can blend the work cross-functionally
- Create an inventory of the work left across your team(s)
Once you’ve assessed the work, you can start to actually reimagine it. For example, find tasks that can help you build, sustain and collaborate with AI capabilities. Set clear parameters around which work humans should perform and where you augment with machines. Now, you can take the “human’ tasks” and arrange these into jobs that leverage synergies. Based on this new arrangement of the work, update your job descriptions.
Once you’ve clearly defined new roles, you’ll be ready to draw clear, direct lines from those roles to current skills. This may include conducting competency assessments to see which internal skills you already have on the team to match the new roles you’ve created. This will also help you find any gaps between the work and the skills required to accomplish it, allowing you to either develop those skills internally or look outside the organization for additional talent.
Shift the workforce
While you’re rethinking the work your team does, it’s time to get a jump on repositioning your workforce for the future. And a first step is to build a strong business case for integrating new tools such as AI and automation into your regular work and figuring out the cost savings that will bring. In addition to finding opportunities to save costs, an important piece of this stage is prioritizing those areas as potential places to reinvest the savings you’ll realize.
Hand-in-hand with building a business case for tools such as AI is defining the value proposition for an AI-integrated workforce. Some questions you should ask as you set out on your journey to transform your workforce:
- Will it save costs?
- Will it help free up employees to do more engaging work?
- Will it help create new, more captivating customer experiences?
- Will it help the company realize greater value?
Beyond AI, redesigning and repositioning the workforce means considering other technology that will affect your employees. Consider creating new working structures and operating models that will optimize any results you see from automation, for example. This will require implementing new processes and models through careful, strategic and thoughtful change planning.
It’s important to remember that change is not just about technology. It’s about people. That’s why I’ve found that developing leadership and coaching programs is absolutely critical to preparing a workforce of the future. Strong leadership sets the tone for the future, helps build trust and ultimately leads to creating a corps of competent, engaged workers. Once you’ve established strong leadership and coaching programs, you’ll need to develop a clear strategy to sustain a new culture of leadership with ongoing engagement and digital campaigns. This is your opportunity to move from the ordinary (platitudes and morale boosters) to the extraordinary.
Keep ‘humans’ not ‘robots’ at the center
At the risk of repeating myself, I want to emphasize that no matter the technological advances we’ll witness in the years to come, putting humans at the center is key to managing any successful business. It means helping them adopt the tools and adapt to the technology that will help them succeed. It means allowing people to take accountability for their work—in a sense, owning the future, rather than waiting for it to happen. And it means offering the leadership to inspire people to take calculated risks—giving them the room to learn and grow—while producing their finest work.