New Technologies Rewrite Business Playbook

R.I.P. to the way it was. An epic shift is underway.  From social media to the Internet of Things, digital fabrication to robotics, virtual reality to synthetic biology, new technologies are rewriting the playbook for managing people and leading organizations. Is your business future proof?

For some this shift is the light at the end of the tunnel following years of anticipation. Hope and opportunity wait.

standing on train tracks For others it’s the feared smack-down as the oncoming locomotive’s light accelerates toward them. Today is the future that was forecast for decades, but ignored in the hope these predictions were just were just hype and hot air. Time has run out. Reality is ready to crush those clinging to the status quo and reward those who see possibilities.

I’ve been tracking this shift for nearly two decades, beginning with my forecast of The Perfect Labor Storm as early as 1999. Few surprises revealed themselves other than a Great Recession and unprecedented acceleration in technology that only disrupted the traditional ways we work and live faster and deeper.  For employers and employees alike, this convergence of globalization, demographics, and technology isn’t just transforming fundamental employer-employee relationships.  It’s blowing them up.

The result is an environment that is becoming uncomfortable for anyone over 35. For younger workers, the Millennials and Generation Z, today is the only world they know. What does this mean?

There is no going back.

We live in a world with changing labor markets, changing workforce, and even changes in the very nature of work. Events are unfolding in plain sight. The default presumption that employers offer jobs that are long-term, full-time, and on-site with longitudinal career paths are history. Employment relationships will be increasingly short-term, transactional, and variable.

Anything can become obsolete at any time.

The pace of technological advances and disruption is unprecedented…and it’s just not in computing.  Every aspect of our lives and business can be impacted without notice. Think communication, transportation, entertainment, medicine, education. Companies continually restructure, reengineer, downsize, merge or acquire. Everything and everyone is vulnerable.  Who ever imagined that venerable institutions including governments could run out of money?

Loyalty – Part 1

Continual employment is dead. Job security is history. Responding to both disruptions and possibilities, organizations eliminate jobs regardless of employees’ length of service. They implement technology to replace jobs. They hire fewer full-time employees and more contingent workers.  Employers will work hard to optimize human resources: having the right people in the right place at the right time, moving away from offering long-term stable employment and toward a more efficient supply-chain management approach.

Loyalty – Part 2

The free agent mindset rules. Without credible long-term promises and job security from employers, employees are learning to live one day at a time. Free agency is no longer a stigma – it’s a career strategy. Baby Boomers seek free-agency as they expect to be active and work long after traditional retirement. Millennials and Generation Z have never known the world any other way. Employees are not dumb, deaf, and blind. Not only do most employees worry about wages and benefits but they live under a veil of uncertainty their jobs will be automated or eliminated. They see how susceptible their organization is to uncontrollable events – from global economics to terrorism.  They worry if their company’s management is resilient and smart enough to compete in the marketplace.  And to put the final nail in the traditional employment coffin, turnover is increasing among supervisors and managers. Thanks to better job opportunities and the rising tide of Baby Boomer retirements, the loss of direct supervisors has a subtle but profound impact on productivity and retention.  These supervisors are the people within the company who know employees best. Without them, anxiety skyrockets and ties to the organization are cut.

These are just a few of the factors creating this epic shift. How will they affect your company?

Managing people will only get harder. 

It’s always been hard to manage people. There have always been people of all types and generations working side by side in the workplace. But today there are as many as six generations.  Generational gaps merely skim the surface of how different the workforce is and will be. Diversity, gender equality,  sexual preference, and skill gaps exponentially increase the number of issues confronting managers every day, not to mention run-of-the mill interpersonal differences. It’s like the potential for disruption has been injected with steroids. It’s no wonder that people management has become a thriving and growing industry!

Beware the “youth bubble.”

Millennials and Generation Z are bringing a whole new set of expectations and behavior.Organizations that rely on young workers will face the challenge of an increasingly high-maintenance workforce. Compensation, benefits, work schedules, work conditions, rewards and recognition are still offered like it’s the Baby Boomer generation that is in control. What worked in the full-time, on-site, job secure past will surely fall short in the new normal of uncertainty and change.

Churn and squeeze.

quit job employee turnoverWith fewer long-term traditional employees, a revolving door will become the norm.  Best practice metrics of retention and employee turnover will become irrelevant…or at least be used in a different context. Every person from the senior executive to the warehouse worker will be squeezed to produce more work faster with fewer resources. To maximize efficiency and productivity, organizations will have to staff-up (and down quickly) while acquiring a higher quality worker. In addition to figuring out what full-time and part-time classifications mean, management will need to deal with managing more telecommuters and free agent workers as well as consultants and other contingent-type employees. Employers will need to be nimble, flexible, fluid, and smart in how they recruit, hire, and manage employees.

To remain competitive, companies must recruit faster, hire smarter, and manage better. The ability to get the right people on board, up to speed, and delivering results quickly will be the key.

So I’ll ask the question again – is your business future-proof?

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Ira S Wolfe