The future isn’t a destination. It’s right here.
We have a habit of treating the future as a place, a new chrome-plated city where we’ll eventually step out of a teleporter and blink into the lights, avoiding the self-driving cars and hoverboarding pesky millennials. But viewing the future as a destination is dangerous because it’ll remain the stuff of fiction and just out of reach.
In fact, the future is happening right now. Something that seems small can completely disrupt the world, make a dent in the universe and spin us on our axis. Today, we’re seeing trends and surprises that will have massive repercussions on the jobs we do, how we’re employed and the skills we develop. Depending on your view, you can either let these trends wash over you and then play catch up – struggling to make your business relevant and meaningful – or you can act now.
If you choose to do something about it now, you need to understand what those trends are, and think about the first steps you can make to prepare your business.
We’ve been working with a number of companies to look at what the future means to them and how to adapt and future proof their people processes (eg culture, talent, career progression, learning and development, and performance). To do this, we like to go far out into the murky void of the unknown, then come back to something closer to home and help them build their plan and important first steps.
This is what we call ‘Workforce Futures’. And here are a few possible scenarios we’ve looked at.
What would happen in a world where no one is directly employed by a company? Instead it’s all about you and your brand – picking and choosing short and long-term projects that are most meaningful to you. We see this happening more and more with Uber drivers, web designers etc. And by 2020, half of all American employees will be freelancers on contracted work. So how does a business respond to this world? How do they entice people and ensure the independent workers want to join them? And how do they then onboard them quickly to understand the processes and the company culture? Would we need to think about retention in this world? Why would a company offer learning and development, or succession planning? What would be the point in HR if most people are not owned by the company?
What does talent look like in a robot world, where technology can render traditional jobs obsolete and we have to continually reinvent ourselves and our skills? In what kind of activities and skills will humanity have the edge over their robot counterpart? How are you going to build these skills, or attract this new type of employee, in a very competitive landscape? What can you offer them that other businesses can’t? We’re seeing it now as science, technology, engineering and maths skills are in short supply. How do traditional engineering firms attract talent when they’re now competing against the big tech giants? What can they offer that’s unique?
What if the world was completely controlled by data - personal data, company data, health data – all hoovered up into your own score that everyone can see? For the utopians this is a perfect world of transparency and sharing information, for others this is an Orwellian nightmare. But what would this mean for talent? What data would you collect to make decisions? And how will you assess potential? How can you offer people benefits that help with their learning points and health scores? Far from being an outdated concept, performance management could become your currency with your results and feedback accompanying you between employers.
How about a world where we’re more focused on social good? Those companies with the wrong values are cast aside as people strive for more purpose in their jobs – giving back to society and changing the world. How would companies change their cultures to be more in line with these personal values? How would this impact career paths and promotions? Is it based on roles or rather on values and social good?
All we know for certain is the world of work will be completely different from anything we currently take for granted. Don’t think the future will suddenly happen one day, and you’ll peel back the curtains to find yourself adjusting to life in a shiny new world. It’s happening now, so take the first step in shaping your company’s future for the type of world you think could become a reality. Otherwise, who knows what might happen.