Leadership in the future of work
It's not just the working landscape that's evolving – leadership also needs to change to face the challenges and grasp the opportunities ahead. Get started with this post.
What should future leaders do?
Over the past few years, global events and leaps in technology have combined to reshape the way we live and work. A tidal wave of disruptive influences is sparking a fourth Industrial Revolution. At the same time, the pandemic has forced employers, employees and business leaders to re-evaluate what it means to be a leader.
How technology will change the future of work leadership
Technology is one of the biggest disruptors to organisations. AI, automation, big data and the metaverse are transforming the workplace at a phenomenal rate, and leaders who maximise this potential could be those who succeed most in the future of work. Strong and successful leaders will:
- Define a clear purpose for the business that integrates technology
- Innovate continuously
- Be open and ready to accept new developments and embrace digital challenges
- Make use of a broader set of resources to meet new challenges and look for continued opportunities to introduce automation
- Give employees the tech and training they need
- Look at integration and governance, to ensure compatibility with legacy and third-party systems
- Reinvent and redesign systems and processes to maximise efficiency and productivity, while engaging and empowering employees
- Invest in upskilling. The availability of tech doesn't guarantee that it's going to be useful or effective. Investment in new technology needs to be supported by training and opportunities for experimenting
- Manage remote and mobile work trends by developing virtual and extended reality. Use cloud technology to support agile and flexible working
Leadership skills for the future of work
The future workplace brings with it skills challenges for leaders. The biggest one is how to use new technology for maximum benefit. But the way managers direct and develop their workforces is another fundamental pillar for success.
It requires a shift from focusing on disciplines, functions, and roles to recognising individual capabilities and a more holistic vision of what people can achieve for the business. Successful leaders will need to focus on critical areas. Here are some of them.
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A command and control leadership style won't cut it in the workplace of the future. Leaders need to be much more flexible. Future-oriented leaders will work towards building relationships and bridges. They'll go beyond traditional networking towards broader and more lasting partnerships and understanding between teams, suppliers, industry partners and markets.
As technologies and working models evolve, leaders need to be ready to welcome the positive aspects of unfamiliar or new resources and engage with them, embracing ambiguity and flexibility.
Work-based training will change too. It will move from discipline-based skills (strategy development and financial analysis) toward communication and interpretation capabilities (constantly analysing risk and finding solutions).
The biggest shift in company culture is the move away from a 'top down' leadership towards an environment which creates leaders at all levels. An environment that empowers team members and provides positive challenge and relevant accountability for everyone.
And while constant change is usually associated with start-ups and businesses in transition, it's now standard for many. Employees expect to be far more engaged at work. To meet those expectations, companies need to rethink policies, systems and ways of working, including IT and HR processes.
Clarity and openness
With the shift of focus towards employee experience, business leaders should be aware of a greater need for clarity and be open and ready to explain what lies behind management decisions. In a hybrid working world where employees aren't present all the time, leaders need to show clear purpose, avoid making promises they can't keep, and invite and encourage contributions and ideas from all levels to build trust.
Technology and changing working models demand new and adapted skills. This can take two forms. Upskilling – where employees build on the capabilities they already have to develop in their current roles and reskilling – where people learn new skills to take on new roles.
Upskilling is particularly relevant as tech advances break down traditional barriers and support more agile and innovative ways of working. Investing in upskilling people also protects against losing employees who leave for better work/life balance or a job that stretches them more. Plus, it allows employers to offer their teams broader opportunities to learn, be involved and thrive in the workplace.
Reskilling becomes even more crucial where automation reduces the need for human input into repetitive or predictable tasks or where technology is transforming traditional ways of working. Promptly addressing these newly discovered skills gaps helps organisations prepare for further role disruption and protect against more gaps in the future.
Successful leaders will take the initiative and invest in upskilling and reskilling to recognise the value of their teams and prevent the loss of valued talent. At the same time, they'll need to re-evaluate workstreams and tasks so they're structured around capabilities rather than hierarchical roles or job titles.
Empathy in management
In the employee-centred workforce, organisations need to do more than focus on working processes and practices. Team members may be worried about the rapid changes in the workplace. They may need time to adjust to hybrid or new ways of working, or to learn new tech. At the same time, information overload can lead to burnout. For all these reasons, health and wellbeing in the workplace will take centre stage in the business strategy of the future.
One of the lasting effects of the pandemic is the way employees are prioritising work-life balance and company values over money. According to research by Gartner, 65% of survey respondents said the pandemic had made them think more about the place that work has in their life. And fifty-six percent answered that it had made them want to contribute more to society.
So people are looking for work with a purpose and for companies that reflect their principles. Leaders need to understand these motivators, boost business capabilities and opportunities, and show respect for their employees' values, unique needs and circumstances.
Adopting a growth mindset
People with a growth mindset believe they can develop their talents, and that intelligence is built through experience. It's these leaders who will thrive in the workplace of the future. A growth mindset supports the idea that the best solutions come through innovation and experimentation.
It enables leaders to focus on their employees' strengths while helping them develop new capabilities. This will create a working environment where people can try out new or unfamiliar ideas, and incorporate both success and failure into progress.
Adapting to hybrid working
The who, what, where and when of work is changing. The emergency remote working during the pandemic has evolved into an opportunity for many organisations to reinvent how work is done.
Hybrid workplaces offer flexibility in time and place, but they also call for a wide range of new solutions like internal and external communications, trust-building, work streaming and reporting. Leaders who want to make hybrid working a success need to focus on listening to their employees, understanding what they really want, and including them in the company's design in the future.
Communicating a vision for the future
Company purpose matters to employees. According to a study by Bain & Company, organisations with a clearly defined vision succeed over those without one.1 But the way in which an organisation creates its mission and vision is changing.
In the past, business leaders were the ones responsible for establishing their vision and communicating it through the organisation's hierarchy. In the workplace of the future, you'll create your vision collaboratively and share at team and individual levels.
Visionary leaders will:
- Take a collaborative approach to shaping the future of the business, making sure everyone involved can see the connection between business success and personal growth
- Keep all members of a team informed and focused on the vision
- Give every team or employee a clear view of how their contribution affects the success of the organisation
- Introduce the vision to the team with specific examples of the benefits for them
- Define the tools and processes needed to meet goals
- Create a clear path towards goals and map progress
- Empower others to lead within the organisation
- Stay engaged and communicate developments and adjustments to the vision on an inclusive basis, regularly and clearly
This inclusive approach – that empowers employees at all levels – is the hallmark of the workplace of the future.
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