The future is undefined… is your organisation ready?


The future is undefined… is your organisation ready?

Constant state of flux…

Around the year 500 BC, Heraclitus stated that “no man ever steps in the same river twice.” Without getting too deep, his point was that change is constant and the metaphorical river (like everything else) is in a constant state of flux.

Fast forward ~2,500 years and most of us would probably agree that Heraclitus had a point – nothing stands still for long.

More recently, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” A year of remarkable accelerated change, 2020 certainly demonstrated Heraclitus’ point.

The corporate performance gap continued to widen

Unsurprisingly, accelerated change meant a widening of the corporate performance gap in 2020, according to McKinsey. Simply put, the highest performing companies did better than ever, whilst underperformers did worse. This performance gap is largely attributed to an organisation’s ability (or inability) to adapt, and to do so at pace. Adapt quickly during times of turmoil or crisis and exceed, fail to change and feel the pain.

Leading organisations are ready for an undefined future

The issue with being ready for the future is that the future is not guaranteed; Covid-19 has removed any lingering doubt we may have had about that. But one thing is certain… an organisation that is able to change and respond to whatever is thrown at it has a much higher chance of being successful.

It’s about being constantly ready to take on the undefined, but how do we do this?

  1. Relevant and adaptive Organisation Capability
  2. Employee Adoption within a flexing operating model
  3. Nurture strong & compassionate Leadership & Culture

Your people are your biggest asset and the rapidly changing world is your biggest opportunity. As sure as night follows day, boom will follow bust, and those who can flex with it, by having all the foundations of a change capable organisation, will benefit from both.

Being ready to take on the undefined…

Organisation Capability

How can you be ready with future skills whilst delivering today’s reality?

Gartner TalentNeuron™ data shows that the total number of skills required for a single job is increasing by 10% year over year, and one-third of the skills that were present in an average 2017 job posting won’t be needed in 2021.

The stark reality is that the future (and the present) is no longer black or white. Grey is the new reality and we need to build capabilities that are adaptive, flexible and focused on continuous learning. Gone are the days where we can plan for one scenario.

Organisations must ensure they have capabilities that are aligned to future business objectives, whilst delivering for today’s customers. Designing carefully curated capability programs, enabled by AI, focused on existing employees is the first step of the journey; only then should the right (and best) external talent be sourced to fill any gaps. Investing in an employee’s future means empowering them to play their part. Make ‘relevance’ part of the job spec; capabilities are no longer static, and so it is imperative that executives put in place the foundations to continually identify, enhance and evolve the capabilities needed whilst empowering and equipping employees to determine their own future relevance.

Employee Adoption

To improve customer experience and address pain points CxOs, rightly, continue to invest in new technology. From artificial intelligence to edge computing, new tech is the norm and will continue to play an increasingly important role in the workplace.

But other imperatives will also dictate priorities for change; in 2021, cost optimisation will be a big focus for many executives as they look to balance the cost inflicted by the pandemic.

But whether it is new technology, cost optimisation or some other change program entirely, it is employees who will make or break the business case. If employees do not come on the journey and adopt the change with you, the investment is all but useless.

Even when change is ‘intuitive’, people do not change overnight. You may have heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit… whether that’s true or not, it is people that need to change and it is people who will drive value from any investment in change. And that requires a conscious and concerted effort.

People and technology should not be siloed as workstreams, independent of one another – one cannot work without the other and the most successful organisations recognize that the future operating model reflects man and machine augmented in perfect harmony, empowered to adopt new changes as they materialise.

Leadership & Culture

2020 saw the need for very different leadership behaviours. The last decade has told us that we need leaders who are good at communication or decision making or setting direction… and here we are talking about how the very best leaders embody characteristics like empathy, conviction and trust. Essentially, we need leaders to be more genuine and human, at a time when we’re less physically connected than ever. They need to be a personified paradox.  

Human leadership drives engagement and as Gallup notes, there is a business imperative to building a culture of engagement. Engaged employees respond most positively to change, and a highly engaged organisation can see 18% higher revenue per employee compared with the average. Again, the ability to change (at pace) delivers higher performance.

The role of leadership is, now more than ever, to build an environment that is ripe at adapting to change through role-modelling with conviction, rewarding innovation, focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses and confidently smiling into the face of ambiguity.

No man ever steps in the same river twice… so let’s make sure we’re ready

“No man ever steps in the same river twice”.

The world is always in flux, the world is always ambiguous. It’s been the case for 2,500 years and will continue to be the case. We will keep stepping into a different river. The more we can do to ensure leaders, employees and the organisation are ready to deal with ambiguity, and comfortably ride the ever-growing waves of unpredictable change, the better for everybody.

As the HBR points out: ‘Much as we might like to think of 2020 as an anomaly, it may not be. Conditions for accelerating change have been building for years.’

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Roberts Group Consulting is a transformation, change and HR consulting firm helping organisations to get the most from their people, and people to get the most from their organisation. With offices in London and Singapore and a customer delivery hub in Bangalore we partner with clients around the world to ask and answer the big people & organisation related questions.

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