I was at the PMI Executive Council recently, presenting on how we have been harnessing new and emerging technologies at Accenture. The conversation naturally turned to how organizations as well as project managers (we were on PM turf, after all!) would need to reinvent themselves in step with the changes being wrought by these disruptive technologies. Following an engaging discussion, PMI and Accenture decided to further explore this subject and collaborate on developing thought leadership around this.

As we delved deeper into the topic over the course of the next few weeks, some very interesting insights emerged. A previous Accenture study had highlighted how new technologies will disrupt the way both employers and employees work at an accelerated pace—so much so that 65% of children today will work in future jobs that do not yet exist1. Navigating these disruptive times will require both organizations and the workforce to constantly reinvent and evolve. Yet 94% of organizations struggle with creating a culture of change, according to a PMI and Forbes Insights report, while 38% say employees see change as a threat. To bridge this gap between the necessity and fear of change, a robust organizational change management program is an absolute priority for organizations.

The question then becomes, what can organizations do to instill a culture of constant change and innovation? Five key areas of focus emerged.

INVEST IN CONTINUOUS LEARNING

This is a no-brainer, really. We are entering a new era of human-machine collaboration where machines take over repetitive, low-skill tasks leaving human workers free to focus on complex tasks involving critical thinking and teamwork. To prepare themselves and their workforce for this hybrid workplace, organizations need to invest in talent and continuous training on priority. After all, making use of disruptive technologies is about people, not just technology. Preparing for the next iteration of the digital age will require organizations to reimagine work, evolve their workforce to new growth models, and reskill and upskill their people to do more valuable work.

FULLY ENGAGE EMPLOYEES

With newspaper headlines proclaiming a robotic apocalypse almost every day, it is not surprising that there is a lot of anxiety and fear surrounding AI. In absence of a balanced, educated counterview, there is bound to be resistance among workers who view such technologies as a threat to their jobs. Organizations must take steps to not only equip employees with new skills but also provide timely, accurate information about new roles and learning opportunities. This includes open, transparent conversations about existing roles that might get phased out or augmented by machines, what reskilling options people in those roles have and where future growth lies. To paraphrase an old chestnut: to be well-informed is to be well-armed. Project leaders can help work through employee insecurities by driving change management from within.

ADOPT NEW WAYS OF WORKING

Constant change also means organizations must think about the whole concept of a ‘workforce’ differently. Successful digital transformation demands a very different workforce—one that is adaptable, change-ready and responsive to business requirements.

Traditional sourcing models are unable to meet the need for faster innovation, prompting businesses to find new ways of thinking, working and finding talent. While past conversations have usually centered around terms like full-time or part-time workers or contractors, we now hear about gig work, gig economy and crowdsourcing, etc. There are brand new ecosystems of talent pools connected through technology that are unleashing hidden potential that wasn't previously available. What’s more, these talent pools are available on demand and at scale.

However, the shift to crowdsourcing is an exciting but challenging transformation. It requires new management skills and processes, new ways of thinking about how to structure work, as well as new enabling technology. Employers need to adapt hiring strategies to offer benefits of a “gig” experience to millennials (who make up most of the crowd) while ensuring continuity and a consistent client experience.

CREATE A DATA-POWERED ENTERPRISE

The digital world is built on data; it is fed and sustained by data. To succeed in this world, organizations must foster a data-centric culture where leadership relies on data and analytics to make decisions and inform business strategy. Good, reliable data is both rare and valuable. Organizations routinely collect mountains of information during regular business activities that languishes in data warehouses forgotten and unused. All this data—often referred to as “dark data”—can be a veritable treasure trove of insights if harnessed properly. Organizations should look for opportunities to tap into this dark data to find solutions to unsolved problems and deliver superior business outcomes.

ELIMINATE FEAR OF FAILURE

Fostering a culture of innovation requires organizational leadership to shift from the traditional carrot and stick policy of rewarding only success while punishing failure. Experimentation and innovation—two critical ingredients for success in disruptive times—cannot thrive if making mistakes is simply not an option. By adopting a “fail fast and learn fast” approach, organizations must create space for employees to experiment, learn from their failures and quickly take corrective actions. The operative word here is ‘learning’.

Traditional measures of success such as increased profitability, reduced cost or faster time to market focus only on the successful ideas. But what about the gains from ideas that failed? Organizations should be able to measure things like how quickly unsuccessful experiments are abandoned, how much learning has been documented from experimentation, how fast the team pivots to new ideas and how well the learnings are applied. By giving employees freedom to experiment without the fear of failure and putting in place mechanisms to learn from any unsuccessful experiments, organizations can prime themselves for breakthrough innovation.

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