How should organisations prepare for 2030?

Resilience, The future of organisational structure

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Future adaptable, agile and resilient structures could be the key to success in a world characterised by disruptive technology and the intelligent automation and connectedness offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The need for businesses to compete in a digitally transformed world is likely to have a significant impact on South Africa’s already high rate of unemployment.  This means that all businesses should be grappling with the challenge of how to take up the opportunities of the 4IR to improve productivity, efficiencies and drive down costs, whilst retaining employment. 

Whilst much of the current debate and discussion about the 4IR is focused on what work will look like by 2030 and the need for re-skilling, little attention has been paid to how the structure of organisations themselves will need to change.

“Organisations need to plan how to transition to this future world of work in a way that minimises disruptive restructuring exercises where everyone re-applies for their jobs.

“Redesigning work and jobs for technology whilst simultaneously providing the learning opportunities required, may be the greatest challenge for organisations in the transitional decade to 2030,” said Deidre Samson of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

Samson focused on the concept of “structural resilience” in her recent Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree in Futures Studies at the USB and said the need to remain competitive by driving down costs acts as a driver of structural change. This leads to “organisations announcing layoffs in a cyclical manner as core technology, systems and capabilities change”.

The “tectonic disruption” of intermittent restructuring can be avoided by developing structural resilience, using futures methodologies and tools including forecasting and scenarios, to timeously envision future structural changes and the impact on jobs.

“Organisations can then change in a prescient manner that allows for ongoing re-skilling, lifelong learning and adaptation,” she said.

In an environment of increased breadth and pace of change, she said, organisations would transition from hierarchical to “networked structural arrangements” such as the “exponential organisation” – becoming ecosystems where participants add value, rather than work in a rigid structure defined by employment contracts.

“The exponential organisation has a more permeable boundary with the external world, invites ideas and innovation and embraces unrelenting change as a way of life. At its core, it is made up of small, agile, multi-disciplinary teams excellent at solving large complex problems. 

“Work can be contingent, remote, outsourced or part of the emerging gig economy of freelance, flexible, on-demand workers. Melding the best of the gig economy with the best of traditional employment brings in diverse, fresh thinking, whilst maintaining institutional wisdom and allowing meaningful innovation”, she said.

Samson said the jobs of the future would be reconfigured to take advantage of uniquely human attributes not easily replicated by technology: curiosity, imagination, creativity, social and emotional intelligence, intuition, personal empathy, collaboration, lateral thinking and innovation.

“The opportunity is to reimagine work around solving complex business problems, providing new products and solutions that empathetically meet deeper, rapidly changing customer expectations whilst at the same time optimising costs, increasing flexibility and boosting levels of engagement experienced by those performing work.”

Demand for jobs requiring technological skills is growing exponentially – SAP Africa has estimated that global demand for data analysts grew by 372% and for data visualisation skills by more than 2000% between 2012 and 2017.

“The reality is that it is not only jobs but the competencies required that are being disrupted. The 4IR is pushing work boundaries into exciting, yet daunting new territory.

“Artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) are innovation fields that not only change how consumers expect product and service delivery, but also create new work opportunities whilst eroding traditional ones,” she said.

Jobs are expected to evolve based on core skills and the way value is delivered.

“Skills that can be easily codified, standardised or made routine are the most vulnerable to being automated, while those that require hands-on, situation-specific real-time problem solving are less likely to be.

“The ways that value is delivered will also change the nature of jobs, although not necessarily the core skill required. For example, a university lecturer whose expertise was typically delivered face-to-face, classroom style, may now deliver the same knowledge through online platforms, massive open online courses (MOOCS) or through virtual tutoring using intelligent, adaptive personas that change based on students’ unique learning styles.”

For organisations to prepare for the challenges of 2030, Samson recommends: 

1.      Rethink and redraw organisational charts to take account of the greater role of gig economy workers, remote employees and outsourced specialists, and represent them visually as part of the organisation. Rather than focusing on functional units with teams of employees, focus the organisational structure on each of the company’s distinctive capabilities and embrace all parties contributing value.

2.      Rethink the role of Human Resources as a strategic partner in aligning people-related capabilities to strategy execution. The traditional role of HR, focused internally on traditional employment relationships, should cover all people who contribute value to the achievement of the organisation’s goals. The needs of outsourced contractors, consultants or remote workers for engagement, and integration and alignment with the organisation need to become an essential part of HR’s overall peoples’ mandate.

3.      Pro-actively map the impact of technology on jobs. Break the boundaries between operations, HR and Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) divisions so they can pro-actively plan for the evolution of jobs and understand the impact on the workforce.

4.      Rethink the role of management. Technology may be able to replace many routine aspects of a manager’s job and improve the availability of intelligence and information for decision-making. This will free up managers to spend more time on strategic insight and people engagement through coaching and mentoring. The span of control of individual managers could increase by removing routine work and automating transactional tasks.

5.      Consider a new ‘L structure’ that is potentially flatter and better aligned, where managers have peers with less experience or less complex portfolios report to them for coaching, mentoring and performance enhancement, rather than to a direct manager.  This would increase spans of control for senior managers, enable collaboration and resource sharing.

6.      Engage policy makers on formative learning, talent mobility and a new social contract. Factors that enhance competitiveness such as educational innovation and the global mobility of highly-skilled people, are traditionally outside the control of companies. They can however be influenced by engagement at different levels of government. As employment opportunities change and shrink, governments and society need to be ready to deal with the needs of people displaced from jobs or unable to develop the skills required for technology-augmented jobs. As a party to the “social contract”, companies should initiate these conversations about the contribution of people in a “post-work” world, with policy makers.

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