The Waves of Change Are Here: Are You Ready?

Digitization, demographic shifts, and globalization will continue to intensify as the world gets smaller and faster. So how do you make sense out of this vast tsunami of change? You need to transform yourself and your workplace through six factors.

I am sure you have noticed lots of dizzying change going on all around you that is testing the limits of human convention and creating havoc in the workplace.

The digital revolution is driving away staple jobs that once were considered the bedrock of the blue-collar worker at an alarming rate. No one is safe, and it is hitting every level of the workforce. Last night while you were sleeping, white-collar jobs were being wiped out by computer algorithms.

Demographic shifts are happening in droves. There is now more diversity in the workplace than ever before. Now, five generations are working together in many companies. These demographic trends will continue at a ferocious pace as people work longer and retire later.

Globalization is now, and more people can move around the globe easier. It is hard to find a truly homogeneous national culture. Even the insular country of Japan finds itself in need of immigrants from other parts of the world to fuel its economic growth.

Digitization, demographic shifts, and globalization are not going to fade away any time soon. Rather, they will intensify as the world gets smaller and faster. So how do you cope with and make sense out of this vast tsunami of change? You need to transform yourself and your workplace through these six factors.

1) Leadership: More has been written about leadership than probably any other business topic. Still, for some reason, we often get it wrong. In the previous century, leadership referred to the C-suite. The 21st century demands the shift in leadership to be one of engagement, collaboration, and adaptability. These are also the hallmarks of organizations that can innovate.

Leadership is the critical factor to future-proof your company and career. Without a shift in our leadership mindset and our leadership behavior, none of the following factors will be future-proof. In the end, a successful company boils down to its leaders: what they say, what they value, and how they behave.

2) Culture: In the late 20th century, the notion of “corporate culture” was beginning to get some traction. Leaders realized they could have the best strategy on Earth, but if the organizational culture did not embrace the strategy, it was going nowhere.

In the 21st century, most organizations understand that culture and values have everything to do with profitability. As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Leaders now realize that values are the underpinnings of their culture. If they want a culture that truly empowers people, they must behave consistently with those values. If you don’t believe how important values and culture are to an organization’s success, just look at Uber and United airlines. Dragging a paying customer off a plane for no other reason than they needed the seat is definitely not customer service!

3) Organizing Principles: In the past, almost every medium to large organization had to have a mission and vision. You’d read the same verbiage on the walls: “We are collaborative,” said the poster, which was written without input from other employees. Everyone knew the real focus was profit and shareholder value.

Today, a compelling and impactful purpose around which teams can get excited is key. People need, and always have needed, an emotional connection to what they do. People want to contribute to the greater good and have pride in what they do, whether they are keeping an airport bathroom clean or figuring out how to provide clean water for everyone on the planet.

It is not enough to keep making a better widget or to take more cost out of a process. People want to contribute to the greater good.

4) Relationships: Historically, many organizations played down the role of personal relationships at work. Work was a place where you did your job and got paid in return. Relationships and social connections happened outside of the office.

Now, a greater understanding of the role of relationships—not only at work but in business in general—is coming to light. Google began an interesting study in 2012 to examine its high-performing teams and determine exactly what made them great. As it turned out, results had nothing to do with the order that was put in place to keep teams on track and everything to do with the emotional connection between team members. Relationships Matter!

5) Diversity and Inclusion: Let’s be frank. Diversity has been the focus of many organizations in the later part of the 20th century largely because of government mandates and laws—not necessarily because we value differences.

Yet, with all the policies, programs, and quotas put in place, the needle has only moved about 17 percent for women who are now on boards or are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, and a similarly small number for minorities. We have to understand the root causes for why the needle has not moved substantially.

Based on my research and experience, the root cause is unconscious bias. And the truth is, everyone—even the most forward-thinking manager—has bias.

Our mind and emotions react before we’re even aware of it. Is it any wonder organizational change is so challenging? In order to create a truly inclusive environment with a level playing field for all, we need to understand the role of unconscious bias and the role the brain plays in our ability to connect with people who are different from us.

Meeting quotas to ensure diversity is not enough in the 21st century. You have to create an environment where all employees feel like they belong—not just the ones who look like you.

6) Technology: In the 20th century, computing technology was in its infancy. It was used to speed communication, make information more readily accessible, and improve work processes. Efficiency was the primary goal, and sometimes the only goal.

The 21st century breakthrough in IT is about discovering patterns that were previously invisible. For example, predicting certain outcomes, particularly in medicine, will forever change health care.

In the 20th century, technology was relegated to the CTO and the IT department. Today, we’re all technology officers. And as a manager, technology must be a crucial component of your approach—leveraging every tool to enhance communication and collaboration.

The future is already hereit’s just not evenly distributed. William Gibson, The Economist

Your job as a manager is to distribute the future. These times, if embraced with human purpose, can make a difference in your workplace and create a profitable company where everyone matters. The future isn’t for the chosen few, but for those who care enough to help others transform their lives.

Dr. Linda Sharkey is co-author of “The Future-Proof Workplace,” and an expert on leadership and transformation.



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