(Image credit: Dollar Photo Club.)
Accelerating advancements in science and technology have set the foundation for massive shifts in the decades ahead, yet we continue to operate on a platform meant for a different time. This platform has hit a productivity wall, and a new emerging platform has changed the expectations of those we engage with. As they advance, these shifts will challenge our long held beliefs and intuition, while changing long standing business models across industries. In the face of this, organizations must unlearn what they know and embrace new ways of thinking. This is especially important in our approach to the workforce and the evolution of our management paradigm. How we lead the modern workforce will require change, and it starts with four crucial shifts: embrace a new way of working, move towards a collaborative management paradigm, value human characteristics, and plug into the emerging platform.
Embrace New Ways of Working
Our own evolution starts with inward reflection, as we must acknowledge the need to reset beliefs that were formed in more linear times. We are now living in an exponential world, where speed, scale, and scope overwhelm the leader that views it in traditional ways. As we face change both in the dynamics of work and the approach required to deliver successful outcomes, our belief system will be challenged; and there are two key driving forces on the horizon: the expansion of work automation and the human cloud.
Estimates from Mckinsey Global Institute suggest that algorithms could displace 140 million knowledge workers globally, and a Citi study on technology at work concludes that up to 47 percent of the US workforce is at risk of automation. At the same time, industry heavy weights like Google’s Eric Schmidt estimate that three to five billion more people will join the online community by 2020. These new additions represent economic opportunity and an alternative way of working. A human cloud is emerging that contributes entrepreneurship, ideas, innovation, skills, capacity, insight, passion, financing, learning and more. These two trends will converge to shift the dynamics of work.
Work will increasingly be divided into smaller tasks. At a granular level, routine work can be automated, while non-routine work is handled by the human cloud, increasingly, an independent work force versus employees. Non-routine tasks can be monitored to form a closed-loop learning system that allows for the automation of non-routine work over time. In essence, the human cloud trains the system to automate a large portion of existing knowledge work. We see the early stages of this automation, as artificial intelligence applications take on the work of doctors in diagnosing cancer. This new work dynamic forces a shift in management paradigms, as command and control structures become ineffective in a distributed model. Networked models that allow us to manage work across an automation and human cloud ecosystem will continue to evolve, challenging the middle of our organizations. The area most affected is that of middle management, as collaborative management is required to orchestrate work. This evolution from command and control to a collaborative model is indicative of a broader shift in the management paradigm.
Move towards a Collaborative Management Paradigm and Value Human Characteristics
It will be critical to instill a collaborative management style based on influence, relationships, trust, transparency, values, shared purpose, openness and empowerment. Organizations must create an environment that enables and sustains this style. They must recruit and nurture the human characteristics required to support these shifts. As rapid innovation becomes the lifeblood of every organization, and automation supports a bigger portion of the workload, a skillset shift is required. Often referred to as right brain characteristics, we will value intuition, imagination, creativity, emotion, empathy, social intelligence, perception, and judgment. Machines cannot replicate these characteristics (at least not yet), so humans still have an advantage in these areas. In a world of automation, value shifts to that which is human. As controls loosen, there is a need for organizational values and a clear sense of purpose to guide decisions and actions. Companies will need to recalibrate controls as part of this process. It is the middle of our organizations that must be enabled both through new systems of engagement that facilitate collaboration, and through new ways of managing. Many middle managers will struggle with this transition.
Plug into the Emerging platform
These shifts will overwhelm our industrial era platform. The bolt-on and narrow digital approach in practice today is not delivering against the promise of an emerging platform. With industrial era platforms of the past, a lag of decades existed between platform emergence and the realization of productivity gains. But the exponential nature of innovation today allows us to realize productivity gains on an accelerated path. Those leaders and organizations that leverage this potential and move towards this emerging platform with speed will win.