We are in historic times, as much like the industrial revolution the new world of work has become an unavoidable reality. For some, this will be a daunting challenge, as the way we worked pre-pandemic is gone for good. The last two years have highlighted that some leaders and managers were ill-equipped to deal with the challenges that the pandemic presented, and new ways of working have now emerged. While some thrived and flourished, others floundered. This highlights the fact that the new way of working requires new skills and mindsets to be developed by a significant cohort of the workforce.
Research by the McKinsey Global Institute identified 56 different foundation skills that will help people succeed in the future. There were four broad skill categories—cognitive, digital, interpersonal, and self-leadership. McKinsey Global has identified 13 separate skill groups belonging to those categories. Some of the skills identified were: critical thinking, communication, mental flexibility, teamwork effectiveness, digital literacy, negotiation and organisational awareness.
One may ponder, what the future of work might look like and is our organisation fit for the new reality that we face.? Kevin Empey, future of work expert and author of the book “Thrive in the Future of Work” best describes the opportunity that is currently presented:
“The potential prize for HR over the next 6 – 12 months is therefore not just a safe and successful transition to a new, post-Covid work model. It is about using the learning and experience of this transition (along with the lived experience of leaders and employees over the last 18 months), to help the organisation develop and embed more agile ways of working, leading and thinking for the future”. Empey also makes the point, that while the future cannot be predicted, people can be skilled and equipped so they can possess the personal agility to navigate whatever new demands or challenges are faced.
So where does this leave organisations as the return to work begins to unfold in the coming months? Work needs to be reimagined according to futurist Cali Yost. According to Yost, reimagining work is a deliberate process. The way we work has fundamentally changed, so this requires strategic thought and granularity. The most common pitfall organisations make is focusing solely on the aspect of place when they approach ways of working. Yost, who is globally recognised in the area of flexible work for over 27 years, has developed a flexible work infrastructure to help organisations with the new way of working. Factors to include are place, space, tech, time, process, and pace. Yost emphasises that a key enabler for organisations is to focus resources on skills training and people development. Yost insists that a pragmatic and flexible approach to work can be achieved by designing a culture of shared leadership with trust and accountability. She encourages employers to have courage, “Be not afraid of asking people what they want”. By asking what people want, organisations can set guard rails to reset the new reality of work. The guard rails for example could include ensuring junior members of the team gain the experience required to client site visits or agreeing on who needs to be in the office and when.
Many employers are struggling with getting people back to the office after a long absence. There may be a need for adjustment of expectations from the employer. Larry Fink CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager expressed in an open letter that he doesn’t ever foresee all employees returning to the office.“Companies not adjusting to this new reality and responding to their workers do so at their own peril. Turnover drives up expenses, drives down productivity, and erodes culture and corporate memory. CEOs need to be asking themselves whether they are creating an environment that helps them compete for talent. At BlackRock we are doing the same: working with our own employees to navigate this new world of work.”
Global CEO’s and investment communities are now prioritising the new way of working. The old way is gone. Fink adds, “Creating that environment is more complex than ever and reaches beyond issues of pay and flexibility. In addition to upending our relationship with where we physically work, the pandemic also shone a light on issues like racial equity, childcare, and mental health – and revealed the gap between generational expectations at work.”
The demands on leaders are higher than ever before, social issues are now at the fore which is a new frontier for leaders. This again highlights the need for further development of leaders and placing support to strengthen the leadership capability within the organisation. Wendy Ryan author of “Learn, Lead, Lift” provides a different perspective for leaders: ‘Leadership behaviours can be viewed as the net result of our impact on people. They reflect how other people experience us as leaders.” Never has leadership been so important to the success and profitability of a company.
Whilst all can acknowledge that communication and team effectiveness are key enablers to success, this is seldom achieved. As defence mechanisms and self-defeating behaviours destabilise teams and organisations, leading to emotionally charged conflict. Naomi Shragai, Author of “The Man Who Mistook his Job for His Life”, a business psychotherapist and journalist highlights that self-leadership and self-understanding are critical to being a success in the workplace. Shragai eloquently informs us in her book; “The workplace is a theatre where everyone is acting out their own unique family drama while simultaneously attempting to co-operate and deliver results.”
Leading an organisation may be a daunting responsibility for some. It does not need to be so. With the right talent development strategy, organisations and leaders can thrive in the new world of work. This can be achieved by designing bespoke training and coaching programs to enable leadership to flourish. To quote Professor Linda Ginzel of Chicago Booth Business School “Leadership is a choice”. Which decision will you make? Are you ready to lead your organisation?
William Corless is an executive coach, mediator, corporate trainer, and facilitator. William is the founder of YellowWood which specialises in Leadership Development and High-Performance Teams. William is also the host of the “Workplace Podcast”, a top 5 management chart download which features many of the authors featured in this article.