The rapid rise of digital forces in an already transforming workplace is radically changing the nature of work. These rapid, simultaneous changes require organizations to better equip managers and employees for success with new competencies, new knowledge and something perhaps more difficult to accomplish — a different mindset.
HR must keep up with the changes to help smooth the way. As you race towards tomorrow, keep in mind that HR, too, is transforming. HR’s role now is to help the organization, including its leadership, to learn how to approach change differently and proactively. This is the increasingly important role learning and development professionals will play.
Learn to speak digital
Success in this new environment hinges upon being extremely comfortable playing in this new digital sandbox, no matter what your industry. Even digitally native brands are setting their sights on digital fluency across their workforce. For example, earlier this year, Amazon announced it is investing $700 million – or $7,000 per employee – to upskill 100,000 members. In a separate announcement of note, PwC developed a comprehensive workforce upskilling strategy to build the “digital fitness” of its employees to equip them with a broad base of knowledge across a variety of domains such as data, analytics, AI and automation, blockchain, and design thinking.
As a matter of urgency, leaders should start to build digital fluency among their employees in the same domains to best prepare them for what is ahead.
Keep your finger on the pulse
Beyond developing technical skills, digital fluency also means being able to spot trends early, seizing the possibilities new technologies can unlock for an organization. Not all technologies will be relevant to a business, so it is important for leaders to identify the emerging digital technologies they should investigate. Once you settle on one or more technology trends worth pursuing, leaders need to determine the value those technologies can bring to their organization and customers, as well as the skills they and their teams need to implement these technologies.
Leaders who excel at incorporating digital technology into their business will help their organization more effectively serve customers and create new value for customers and their business. They keep tabs on developments in technology and work with others to generate ideas for using digital to reinvent their organization, such as changing a company’s business model, competitive strategy, or operating model.
Learn to navigate complexity
Leaders must be prepared to navigate an increasingly complex work landscape. Complexity makes for a fluid, ever-changing competitive arena that even the most conscientious leaders are sometimes not prepared for. Complexity also often requires leaders to manage situations characterized by polarities. In these thorny situations, there are no simple answers – desired goals often seem mutually exclusive.
Leaders who know how to navigate complexity manage these kinds of polarities by making trade-offs, crafting “both/and” solutions as opposed to “either/or” answers. Both/and solutions expand the possibilities of solutions rather than limiting them. For example, a business unit may have gone from centralizing decision-making to pushing decisions out to the field finding both practices have unintended consequences. By managing this as a polarity instead of a problem, they would come up with creative ways to balance the tension between centralized and decentralized approaches, allowing the business to get the benefits of both.
Managers also weigh all the implications of the solutions they are considering, including how to manage the inevitable trade-offs. Such leaders are skilled system thinkers as well. For example, they prepare for the future by envisioning multiple scenarios that could unfold, and they consider actions they must take to be prepared. For example, there is always the possibility that teams might not work well together, creating tension in the group and causing work to suffer. Leaders are aware of these possibilities and have backup team members in place or have programs in place to mediate and resolve the conflict.
Strong leaders identify interdependencies while they’re solving problems along with considering the potential unintended consequences a solution might have. Instead of addressing the symptoms of problems, they seek and address the root causes.
Develop your teams
Harvard Business Publishing and training platform, Degreed, released a joint study that revealed 47% of those surveyed are dissatisfied with their employers’ learning experiences. The research noted that workers who approve of their company’s learning opportunities are 21% less likely to have left their organization for a new role in the last five years.
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It is vital for leaders to encourage formal and informal learning and development for those they manage. Successful leaders focus beyond structured learning experiences and also continuously coach and help employees learn “on the job.” Many of today’s employees – millennials in particular – have grown up anticipating a continuous feedback loop from teachers, parents, friends and even those reading their commentary on social media. So, putting training into practice at work and regularly sharing feedback can help employees practice new skills. While coaching was once viewed as a formal, once a year activity part of annual performance reviews, today the expectation of coaching has evolved into a much more ongoing practice. Leaders who utilize continuous feedback loop tactics allow their organizations to gain competencies critical for sustained high performance.
Make work meaningful
Customers and employees are increasingly attracted to purpose-driven and value- driven organizations, so leaders who can inspire others to deeply connect with the organization bring immense value. Leaders that inspire engagement among employees, typically see that their teams have high levels of commitment, loyalty or passion. According to research published in Harvard Business Review, 90% of employees are willing to work for less pay to do more meaningful work and employees who have work they view as highly meaningful generate an additional $9,078 in revenue per year.
Managers who know how to inspire highly engaged teams are able to articulate a clear, overarching purpose, or raison d’etre, for their organization and their employees. Such purpose includes: How the company’s activities contribute to the social good and address important issues of the day, and how employees’ work advances the organization’s mission and strategy.
Great supervisors empower their employees to generate ideas for solving pressing problems and making process improvements, then encourage them to take the lead in putting those ideas into action. All the while, they keep everyone focused on performance by motivating them to meet objectives and by recognizing and rewarding exceptional achievements.
Stay calm and carry on
It is vital for leaders to maintain a sense of calm, particularly in times of heightened stress and uncertainty. Highly adaptable leaders don’t get derailed by constant change. Rather, they remain focused, flexible and productive.
Resiliency plays a critical role in maintaining this necessary calm demeanor. Resilient leaders effectively manage their stress levels, time, energy and attention. As such, they are better able to manage their emotions around the organization, its employees, and other significant people in their lives.
Learning and development professionals have an opportunity to help organizations build and lead the workforce of the future. It’s not easy to navigate the monumental shifts happening in workplaces across the globe, but meeting this challenge is possible. It requires fresh approaches to learning and leadership development that ensure that companies have the leaders they need to transform their businesses at the speed and scale required to compete in a state of constant change.