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Turning 2019’s Surprises Into 2020’s Opportunities


Modern workforce
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Based on the changes businesses have experienced in 2019, the next 18 months will represent the most significant workforce shifts we’ve ever seen.
I’m not talking about how technology is going to change the workforce. If you’re still on that topic, you’ve missed the boat. The digital frontier is no longer a frontier. We’re in a post-digital era. But what does that mean?
In short, digital is here and has been for a while. We no longer talk about the wonder of the automobile and how it’s changing mobility. We accept without debate that cars and trucks are part of our daily routines, and we need to do the same with technology.
The biggest surprises for many organizations in 2019 were recognition of workforce mobility, the need for enhanced collaboration, a change in the daily routine, the need to deliver a better end-user experience, and accepting the inevitability of change and knowing the best is yet to come.
With that in mind, here are a few themes that are likely to emerge in the year ahead.
Adaptable Tools for an Agile Workforce
In Accenture’s Technology Vision 2019 survey of 6,672 business and IT executives, 45% of respondents said their organizations’ pace of innovation has significantly accelerated over the past three years because of emerging technologies. Disruption — and the ultimate revolution it yields — is no longer something to be on the lookout for; it’s something to embrace and use as a stepping-off point.
Companies used to want credit for being digital-first, as if that was the metric that mattered for business success. If you’re going to make a difference, here’s a novel idea: Throw out your legacy systems. With all the tools available, why are companies trying to implement technology as they did in the pre-Internet era?
Stop implementing tools haphazardly because it seems like the posh thing to do. Find solutions that meet business objectives. Any organization that cannot explain why it is using a particular solution should stop doing so immediately.
People Matter More
Organizations are returning to an age in which the culture is the more critical element than any tool used on a given day. The technology is what helps foster the culture.
Gallup recently found that more than four in 10 U.S. employees (43%) are away from their teams at least part of the time. The perception of workplace isolation can lead to upwards of a 21% drop in performance.
Combating this requires organizations of all sizes to recognize that the old, top-down approach no longer works. Forcing employees to fit into a job description is arguably the biggest mistake companies make; why they continue to repeat their sins of the past is confounding.
While that approach was a great one for 1950, today we need to find the right team members to match the opportunity. If it’s not already, this will quickly become apparent in 2020 and beyond.
This is not a brand-new idea — just look at the rise of the “gig economy” in recent years. But, startups and entrepreneurs are no longer the only ones to recognize the need to be nimble; legacy organizations are starting to catch on to this concept and deliver a “collaborative experience.”
Aligning Expectations
Workers today want a work-life balance, or at least a work-life blend. We can sit and discuss, and perhaps even roll our eyes, about the pros and cons of such a demand, but it’s here, and it’s not going away soon. Companies need to embrace it now if they want to remain relevant.
I was struck by a recent Gallup survey that found nearly half of all U.S. employees don’t know what their bosses expect of them at work. This has major work-life balance implications. It’s hard to fathom how this is even possible and how these companies can function daily with unclear expectations of their teams.
Employees who have unclear expectations are less engaged, the work suffers and so does business results, the survey found. The results were undeniable: Creating attainable expectations leads to increased engagement and team members who want to stay with an organization longer.
A Different Kind of Leader
All of this sets the stage for the rise of a new type of leadership. For too long, companies have put in place executives or teams with lots of experience, but not necessarily the right kind of experience.
As the workplace transitions, we need to stop minting the longest-tenured person as the leader. That is unless they understand this shifting dynamic and how to harness change to deliver better business results.
Leaders of today need to inspire and know how to build agile teams that can anticipate the next wave of changes. What are the surprises of 2019 that you’ll apply to your business in 2020?