What will the workplace be like in an age of disruption? What will employees be doing and what will managers be doing when companies are going through digital transformation? These are important MP900438708questions for the many companies that are faced with dramatic technological change in the near future…or right now!

John Boudreau, in an HBR blog post, writes that “five fundamental forces” are driving change in the workplace:

  1. Shift from traditional hierarchies and social contracts to more flexible work arrangements and more project-based and collaborative work agreements
  2. Increasingly inclusive workforce with individualized work policies
  3. Increasingly virtual with work done anywhere and any time
  4. Continual adaptation to “rapid business reinvention”
  5. Acceptance of automation and creation of new work to support automation

This fifth force seems to be the one that is causing the others. Boudreau writes:

Robots, autonomous vehicles, commoditized sensors, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things reshape the work ecosystem so that flexible, distributed, and transient workforces adapt to rapid business reinvention.

As automation takes over more and more jobs, we tend to think in terms of how many people will be put out of work. But more helpful is thinking about how to use automation to create satisfying jobs and a workplace that is joyful.

This is how the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation describes the challenge:

In an age when technology seemingly reigns supreme, people remain a company’s greatest asset. Workforce management, however, is among the most vexing challenges facing any organization. It also presents one of the greatest opportunities. When properly channeled, the collective knowledge and skill of a workforce can drive the next multibillion-dollar market. After all, disruptive technologies and business models are fueled not by algorithms, but by people—innovating, collaborating, and taking bold chances.

The DBT Center says that this will require “digital business agility” and their research suggests that the underlying capabilities are:

  • Hyperawareness – ability to gather and analyze data from employees, contractors, customers, competitors, and the marketplace
  • Informed decision-making – ability to use the collective intelligence of the workforce to make good strategic and operational decisions for the organization
  • Fast execution – ability to act quickly to find the talent that is needed and get the right people on the team to achieve the strategic goals of the organization

Companies need to develop their capabilities for lasting change, not just a short-term reaction to disruption. Companies face obstacles to lasting change according to The Boston Consulting Group:

The biggest obstacle [to developing new capabilities], however, is that new capabilities call for fundamental changes in behaviors—the ways that employees, managers, and executives work on a daily basis. And behavioral change is hard. Without a systematic and explicit approach, companies can, at best, change these behaviors only superficially and temporarily. Once the transformation process is over and attention shifts to the next priority, employees can easily revert to their old ways of working, and the improvements of the transformation disappear.

The digital transformation confronting companies requires that they develop new capabilities. These new capabilities, if they are to be sustained, require that workers acquire new knowledge, skills, and beliefs, teams learn how to make good decisions and act quickly, and whole organizations learn how to use their collective intelligence to make good decisions in the face of profound transformation of their industries.

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