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Our future of work blog 

PEOPLE LIKE US

13/12/2018, 06:36

PEOPLE-LIKE-US

The need for certainty and reassurance causes us, I think, to seek out ‘people like us’. People who, because they share similar thoughts and beliefs about the world in which we operate, help us to feel safe and more certain about the future.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION: THE HUMAN IMPERATIVE

08/11/2018, 14:10

DIGITAL-TRANSFORMATION:-THE-HUMAN-IMPERATIVE

2018 was the year that Digital Transformation became a mainstream topic within most boardrooms. It can still appear an ambiguous term, however – what is it, how is it measured and what defines its success?

EMBRACING LIFELONG LEARNING AND THE STORY OF BOOBY CAT

10/10/2018, 09:31

EMBRACING-LIFELONG-LEARNING-AND-THE-STORY-OF-BOOBY-CAT

13/12/2018, 06:36



PEOPLE-LIKE-US


 The need for certainty and reassurance causes us, I think, to seek out ‘people like us’. People who, because they share similar thoughts and beliefs about the world in which we operate, help us to feel safe and more certain about the future.



It’s an understatement to say that the world has changed dramatically in the last three years. It’s extraordinary to consider that as little as 30 months ago, we had no idea that the UK would be in a Brexit deadlock, or that the leader of the most developed country in the Western world would continually show himself to be narrow-minded, sexist, racist and all manner of un-presidential things in between.  In parallel, we’re hearing incontrovertible truths about climate change and our increasingly erratic weather patterns are testament to the fact that our human behaviour is becoming, bluntly, more and more destructive. 

Never in recent history have things seemed so precarious. 

Increasingly, it feels that the world is torn and divided. We’ve become fixed in our worldviews and as precarity increases, we seem more and more certain about things, to the point of myopia. It’s as if when we can’t be certain what the future holds for us, we gain comfort in being certain about what we think. 

This need for certainty and reassurance causes us, I think, to seek out ’people like us’. People who, because they share similar thoughts and beliefs about the world in which we operate, help us to feel safe and more certain about the future. 

Surrounding ourselves with ’people like us’ doesn’t necessarily serve us well, however, and never more so than in the world of work. 

Digital Transformation, the widespread adoption of commercial technology, is creating vast efficiency and automating all manner of transactional functionality, leaving us humans to focus on the non-replicable aspects of business. This is arguably higher value stuff, creating new products and services to delight our customers. 

This is great, as long as within our organisations, we have the neuro-diversity to mirror the segments of customers we want to attract and serve. 

It’s my view that workplace discrimination hides in plain sight. When I worked in technology staffing, candidate CVs were often rejected for nonsensical reasons, but as an intermediary, if I wanted to get paid, to some extent, I had to suck it up. In the more recent past, with the new-found focus on corporate culture, it’s been far too easy to dismiss great candidates for lack of ’cultural fit’.  But this, in my opinion, thinly masks the bias that cuts across the commercial world. 

As we sail into increasingly volatile commercial waters, it’s never been easier to look for ’people like us’ when we go to market to source talent and collaboration partners. ’People like us’ will understand us, get up to speed faster, fit in easier, and bluntly be far more malleable when it comes to getting them to do what we want. 

This is entirely short-sighted, however. Right now, it’s never been more important to seek out people who challenge our thinking, test the boundaries of our worldviews and push us to do things differently. When we face the opposing views of others, it’s fair to say that it can be pretty uncomfortable at times, and often quite hard work, but then again, learning anything new and worthwhile has never been easy. 

Building and monetising new products and services will require vast amounts of creativity, which in turn only exists when we think differently. As Marshall Goldsmith succinctly wrote, "What got you here won’t get you there". And here’s another thing. If we want to market and sell our products and services to a diverse customer base (and if I’ve learned one thing in business, it’s not to put all your eggs in one basket), then what we create should be designed with differing worldviews and perspectives in mind. If we can’t apply diversity in our thinking, then we’re in trouble, as we’ll never manage to create stuff that appeals widely. 

As much as there is increased focus on workforce diversity, it does feel as though bias and discrimination are still as manifest as ever. Lack of gender parity is testament to that and I absolutely believe, based on my experience in staffing, that cultural and age discrimination are still rife. But until we improve on this, we will never create offerings that truly appeal to multiple market segments. 

Our primary business goal is to grow a company that thrives well into the future. For us to do this, however, we think it’s important to regularly step outside our comfort zones, to push against the boundaries of what we think we know and strive to think differently. We’re facilitating this by building a human eco-system of trusted collaborators who hold different worldviews because of their diverse backgrounds and life experiences. 

As consumers, we’ve entered an age of mass customisation. As technology becomes ubiquitous, it’ll provide diminishing competitive advantage. It’ll never be more important, then, to create bespoke and experiential offerings that somehow change the lives of those who buy them. We can only do this when we step beyond our comfort zones to embrace plurality of perspective and recognise that keeping ’people like us’ in close orbit is only one tiny aspect of a kaleidoscopic landscape.
08/11/2018, 14:10



DIGITAL-TRANSFORMATION:-THE-HUMAN-IMPERATIVE


 2018 was the year that Digital Transformation became a mainstream topic within most boardrooms. It can still appear an ambiguous term, however – what is it, how is it measured and what defines its success?



2018 was the year that Digital Transformation became a mainstream topic within most boardrooms. It can still appear an ambiguous term however - what is it, how is it measured and what defines its success?  

For us, digital transformation represents the inexorable march of technology and its pervasive creep into every corner of the workplace. It includes automation, AI and robotics and is quite simply the way we will do things from here on in.  

In 1970, Alvin Toffler described "Future Shock" as: 

"...the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time." 

Back then Toffler was considering very different societal changes to the ones posed today by technology and the Future of Work. The psychology of change however remains the same, and to our mind, is largely overlooked in the prevailing narrative about the rise and rise of technology. 

Over 70% of transformation programmes fail due to lack of engagement. But what does this mean exactly? We asked Helen Crosby of Nimble Results to help us with this. Helen has worked on Transformational Efficiency since 2000, so is well placed to comment. Here’s what she had to say. 

1] What, in your view, makes for a successful digital transformation programme?   
Business often assumes that digital transformation will provide the silver bullet to deliver competitive edge.  But digital transformation on its own won’t deliver this unless the technical transformation is underpinned by a clear plan to transform the way people work and the processes they follow.  While technology has opened up endless new possibilities, the problems I perceive in companies are invariably the same: the need for an internal execution capability that joins up the functions and the people so that everyone is aligned and focused on delivering the same outcomes:

  • Are you really listening to your customers and what they think about your offerings, or are you hearing what you want to hear? 
  • Do you have a clearly defined and widely understood Product roadmap that is realistic, prioritised and focused on maximising benefits, or are you trying to do too much at once? 
  • Are the Sales strategy and targets aligned to the product strategy and the ability to deliver technically, or are Sales selling capabilities and features that you don’t have?  
  • Is your Support operation trained and geared up to manage the volume and type of customer queries, or do they learn about new product features once they’ve already gone live?  
  • Are Tech onboard with the programme and adding valuable insights, or are they fighting to keep up?   

In essence, are you a learning organisation that is working cross-functionally to deliver business and customer benefits quickly, or is your organisation functionally siloed with the customer a distant voice in the background?  You can have excellent digital transformation but the ability to reap the benefits will depend on your overall operating model and people buy-in to the changes.   

2] We feel that the flipside of digital transformation is workforce transformation. When business adopts digital technology to deliver both efficiency and enhanced customer offering, it’s inevitable that both how people work and the work itself will change. What do you perceive as the obstacles to a successful transformation programme?   
For teams to truly back a digital transformation programme they have to really understand what you’re trying to achieve and why, together with their role and future in that organisation.  If people don’t feel valued and fulfilled you won’t get the benefits.  So how you introduce and manage change is key to success.  Top-down communication is not enough.   

  • Sell your vision!  Be clear about what sort of organisation you want to be and why, and what you are trying to achieve.  Keep reinforcing your message in everything you say and do. 
  • Breed infectious enthusiasm!  Role model change with passion.  Sell the excitement of where you’re trying to get to and how the changes will benefit not just the company but the individuals working there.  
  • Show you mean it!  Make your office look like a digitally transformed company, and change how you interact with your teams to match your vision and values. 
  • Make time for the people changes!  Coach and support your teams in how they need to change the way they work.  Give them examples of what you expect, and provide regular constructive feedback and positive reinforcement. 
  • Listen and let go!  Listen to your teams and let them work out the detail for themselves.  A bit of gentle nurturing is often enough.  
  • Showcase the quick wins!  Show the transformation is real by celebrating some early successes.   
  • Stick to your vision!  Finish what you started and make it clear that the status quo isn’t an option, but give people a chance to get on board.  People need time to absorb the implications and work out how this benefits them.  Once they engage, they will add value and improve on your ideas for change.   

3] As the pace of technology evolution accelerates, we foresee successive transformation cycles overlapping previous ones, such that change becomes constant. What challenge does this create?   
There’s a real risk of transformation fatigue.  Digital companies need to be agile and flexible, able to respond quickly to changing circumstances.  But people get turned off if they feel you’ve moved onto the next big idea before finishing implementing the previous one.  Remember, you’ll have been thinking about digital transformation for a lot longer than your teams.  

It’s essential that your digital transformation forms part of a broader vision and direction, with each transformation cycle taking your company closer to that end goal.  Keep making changes in incremental steps rather than via large-scale programmes that take months to deliver or never end.  And when you need to change direction and priority, explain the change rationale to your people.  Managed well, successive change can soon become part of "the way we work"; managed badly, people perceive chaos and confusion.        

4] If you could impart any advice to CIOs considering digital transformation strategy, what would it be?   
Design your operating model first so that your tech transformation is aligned with your people and process transformation.  All three need to work well for digital transformation to be a success. 

Make it someone’s job to act as the glue of the organisation - align what everyone is doing and ensure that the technology strategy and product roadmap are backed up with the capability to deliver across the whole business.  

Remember the people.  How you implement your digital transformation is just as crucial as what you implement.   It’s unlikely that you will get your system changes right first time, however well you specify and plan them.  You need your people to be fully engaged in finding the areas that aren’t working well and brainstorming ways to fix them.  Continuous improvement and acting on real learnings are the only ways to capitalise on your digital investment.  Without team buy-in, this won’t happen.       

Finally, but most importantly, your people are key to delighting your customers.  Do you really understand what your customers think about your products, services and your brand?  Your teams need to be your customer champions, constantly finding out what your customers do or don’t like, and brainstorming ways to make things better, be it the product itself, or how customers feel every time they have to contact you.  Analytics and research systems are key here to gaining objective feedback.  But acting on true customer insights will not come from systems alone - they need your people to really care.  And to care they need to feel part of your digital transformation.    

***** 

Mainstream narrative rarely addresses the people aspect of digital transformation. It’s easy to think digital transformation is all about technology, but at a time when technological efficiencies are more likely than ever to displace or disrupt human contribution, it’s critical to consider the people element of transformation, as ultimately, your workforce will have a significant impact on your transformational success. And it’s worth considering that the way you manage your digital transformation strategy has the potential to impact your brand reputation for generations to come.   

References: Toffler, Alvin. (1970). Future Shock. New York: Random House
10/10/2018, 09:31



EMBRACING-LIFELONG-LEARNING-AND-THE-STORY-OF-BOOBY-CAT


 



Two summers back, before heading off on holiday, my daughter and I were on a last-minute dash around Tesco, picking up some groceries. En route, Erin snuck a learn-to-knit magazine into our basket, proudly announcing her intent to learn to knit. Not wishing to discourage, I took a deep breath (how much do these magazines cost?) and said magazine was acquired. 

As soon as we were settled in France, she unpacked the kit that came with the magazine and set about knitting a toy cat. Imagine my dismay when within the hour she came to me, needles in hand - she was stuck, and could I help? 

At the time, I’d recently read Mindset by Carol Dweck. Its core premise, backed up by research, is that how you approach learning significantly impacts both your ability to learn and your ability to succeed in life.  

Because of the book, I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t knit, in spite of the sinking feeling I got when I looked at the instructions. I wanted to be able to model the growth mindset Dweck says is so important to lifelong learning and development, and so the challenge to knit a cat was on. 

Bluntly, it was painful. My ’knitting’ was full of dropped stitches, unpicking and starting again; I made so many mistakes. But the kids were eagerly watching my progress and so I persisted. Bit by bit, the constituent pieces of Booby Cat amassed. 

While the project was far more an effort to role-model a learning mindset than anything else, I can’t describe my sense of accomplishment when I finished. Booby Cat (so named because the final product was so hotchpotch, it would only ever win a booby prize), was, for me, a major achievement - I’d taken something I had no experience of and given it my best shot. While the results might not look aesthetically impressive, the ’feelgood’ that came from completing something complicated is hard to understate. 

I tell you this story because I think it’s relevant to the subject of lifelong learning. 

The future of work narrative is accompanied by a sub-narrative highlighting the need for mass re-skilling. As automation transforms the workplace, we humans will need to radically adapt and learn new skills so as to remain relevant. The pace of change before us is unprecedented, with many suggesting that life in the future will render us all perpetual newbies.  

Collins Dictionary describes lifelong learning as: 

"The provision or use of both formal and informal learning opportunities throughout people’s lives in order to foster the continuous development and improvement of the knowledge and skills needed for employment and personal fulfilment." 

I don’t consider lifelong learning necessarily as a set of ’learning opportunities’, rather than as an attitude towards learning that incorporates a growth mindset. This means having the belief that through commitment and focus, abilities can be developed and enhanced. 

Most of us have been on an uninspiring workplace training course. Most of us too can remember the boredom of school. Those who actually enjoy learning are probably in the minority; there’s something about the way learning has traditionally been delivered that sucks the joy out of it. 

And yet lifelong learning is about to become the new normal.  

But here’s the thing. We all have the potential to dig in and persevere, even when new stuff seems super complicated.  Learning obviously becomes much easier when we have an underlying interest, and whilst certain learning objectives in our emerging and future workplaces might be borne of necessity rather than desire, if we can assume a growth mindset, workplace learning will become much easier in the long run. 

One of the best ways to learn is by getting things wrong. We retain far more detail about our mistakes; remaining mindful of our errors helps us avoid making the same mistakes later on.  If I’d knitted Booby Cat without having to unravel and restart bits that had gone wrong, I wouldn’t have learnt half as much.  And in effect, my most significant learning takeaway was that I can get to where I want to be with a bit of determination. 

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed explores how learning from failure can yield transformative results. 70% of learning comes from trying things out and we should acknowledge that aiming for "right first time" is both unrealistic and exhausting.    

Knowing that our work lives are about to become increasingly disrupted can feel acutely stressful. When we re-frame this however and embrace the notion that ’perpetual newbie’ brings with it a cascade of opportunity to learn new things and do things differently, then, in fact, the future of work can be seen as a transition away from the routine and mundane towards a new world of growth and personal development. 

Mindset will be all important in the future of work. Our ability to accept instability and continuous change and to embrace learning will determine our success. If I can do it with Booby Cat, then so can anyone! 

References: 
1.     Dweck, C. (2006).  Mindset - How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, New York: Random House 
2.     Syed, M. (2015). Black Box Thinking - Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance. London: John Murray (Publishers)


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