It seems as though the workplace is evolving faster and more significantly than even the best futurists could have predicted. You only have to look at the plethora of new employment opportunities and engagement rules resulting from the rise of the sharing economy from companies such as Airtasker, Airbnb, and Uber to understand the longer term impacts for how work gets done. This is likely to be a new source of what keeps CEOs and their executive teams awake at night, or if it isn’t then it should be! Automation and AI is accelerating at a rapid rate. This is hardly surprising given Moore’s law (Named after Gordon Moore, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Intel) which predicts that in a dense integrated circuit the number of transistors doubles approximately every two years!
A recent report by McKinsey ‘Australia’s automation opportunity’ (March 2019) highlights the significant boost to productivity, income, and economic growth that might flow from the automation of some existing jobs. The report estimates that ‘between 25 and 46 percent of current work activities in Australia could be automated by 2030’ but cautions predictions of growth benefits depend on workers displaced by automation finding new jobs along with firms embracing automation rather than fighting it. Research by global jobs website Adzuna (2018) predicts that between 1 in 3 jobs across Australia could be automated by 2030 with regional Australia hardest hit.
The transformation cannot be slowed or halted
It’s clear that industry and corresponding employment market transformations are well underway, and their pace of development cannot be slowed nor halted. It requires CEOs and their businesses to embrace and lead the change to stay ahead or at the very least keep up to survive. We all remember the devastating impact the arrival of the Apple’s iPhone in 2007 had on Nokia’s global mobile phone market share. It is a poignant reminder of how quickly a market leader can be crushed by a competitor seemingly overnight by failing to keep pace with technology and consumerism.
CEOs will need to align the vision and strategy of their organisations to this new reality. Developing executive capability in dealing with ambiguity and leading and managing significant workplace change will be an organisational imperative. Moreover, advancing technology and associated employment market changes will require C-suite executives to truly connect with employees. They will need to harness the collective knowledge and skills of their employees with the resources that already exist to inspire creativity and innovation to successfully drive progress and their organisations forward. We are reminded of the need to recognise and navigate approaching change by Bill Gates, who is credited with saying, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction”.
The future of work for humans is in being human
Deloitte’s 2019 study, ‘The path to prosperity. Why the future of work is human’ points to how new occupations will continue to open up from the growth of AI. Deloitte’s report discusses the replacement or speeding up of manual-intensive tasks by automation technologies, citing driverless cars, 3D printers, and robotics as examples. However our ability to emotionally relate and connect to others is something that cannot be codified. This remains a human skill that cannot be replicated by machines and therefore a key differentiator for where humans can and will add value in the future. It’s also a reason for the renewed interest and urgency in developing soft skills particularly for tomorrow’s leaders!
Leaders must develop their soft skills, and in particular their emotional intelligence, to a high level and apply this to connecting with their employees and understanding their needs and how these change over time. A great place for leaders to start is having the capability to hold effective career conversations. This capability will help their employees keep pace with a dynamic and fast changing workplace and navigate the jobs of the future as they face the inevitable need to reinvent themselves and their careers. This will be a requisite for all leaders and will need to be part their everyday leadership routine.
Change inspires creativity and innovation
The intersection of AI, automation, the gig/sharing economy, and changing demographics as a result of the ageing population makes it a leadership imperative for all C-suite executives to understand and forecast (with a fair degree of accuracy) the likely impacts in their industry and markets. Rapid change brings with it creativity and innovation, this technology revolution is no different. It’s a chance to renew, recalibrate, and tune your leadership focus and markets and to the new reality. It’s not a time to procrastinate and take a wait and see approach. The new world and order is full of opportunities for the agile minded with vision fuelled by measured risks and appropriate leadership courage. Connect with your employees and reap the rewards.
Greg Smith is an expert in career development, talent management and organisational leadership. The co-founder of HR consulting firm, deliberatepractice, he helps aspiring, emerging and experienced leaders to develop their everyday leadership skill set. He is the author of ‘Career Conversations: How to get the best from your talent pool’ (Wiley). Visit www.deliberatepractice.com.au