In thinking about the future world of work, many of us are threatened by images of robots taking over, displacing human jobs.
Anxiety is understandable. We know the rate of change will be exponential; that there will be a shift from traditional employment to a contingent workforce; that jobs will be lost. We know that every type of business, across all sectors, will be disrupted.
There’s a different way of looking at it, however. In the integration between man and machine, work will be redesigned so that what can be done better by machines will be done by them, and humans will be freed from mechanical, repetitive work to do what only we can do. Digital transformation, therefore, is ultimately about refocusing on what it means to be human. It is an incredibly exciting time, and abundant with opportunity.
From a leadership and skills perspective, 4IR forefronts future-focussed skills: the so-called soft skills of adaptability, innovation and a particular kind of empathy – a deep and authentic empathy with customers and those you serve, including employees and colleagues. The foundational STEM (Science, Technology, Economics and Mathematics) skills with which we are so familiar, have become the STEAM skills, adding the arts and humanities.
Part of this is a requirement for leaders to look beyond the boundaries of their own organisations and corporations, and into the wider eco-system in which they operate. Those who do not already work systemically, certainly will have to, in the future world of work: the ability to connect different dimensions of a system, and to understand causality, are critical skills. A richer understanding of the complexity in which we operate, naturally, further drives empathy and ultimately should result in better and more transformative solutions for every challenge we take on.
The need to transform ourselves and our businesses forms part of a greater picture: a society in evolution. In order to thrive, we need to build workplaces that reflect our greater humanity. When organisations are made up of knowledge workers – something that is already often true, but is only escalating – the power dynamic shifts: people-centricity, and purpose-led work rather than cold power hierarchies or bottom-line cultures is what attracts the best minds.
How corporates understand, develop and manage talent, is critical and will define the future world of work. People-centricity is as much part of the future world of work as robotic breakthrough.