by Prof. Dr. Lou Van Beirendonck, Antwerp Management School & Quintessence Consulting
It is now commonly known that the future of work presents numerous challenging opportunities, along with as many risks to address.
When it comes to people, the most important variables to tackle are (1) the scarcity of talent on the labor market, (2) the challenge of ensuring that humans work together with machines and thus make proper use of digitization and artificial intelligence and (3) the changing attitudes of millennials – who will represent the majority of the workforce in 2030 – towards the workplace, which will not fit the way organizations are setup today.
With regard to the human resources (HR) function within companies, the biggest challenge can be summarized as follows: How can a company be an employer of choice and create the conditions for engaged employees?
This challenge is about the connection between people and organizations. It captures many different components, such as the purpose of the organization, the culture, leadership, labor organization, HR practices, etc. The challenge is to make multiple connections between people and the organization. This in turns means finding the answer to questions such as: ”How can we create a corporate culture that guarantees highly efficient performance by giving space and combining the talents of all individual employees of our organization?” Or “Which leadership style is future proof, organizing work and talent in the most efficient way?”
The essence of change
In the past, we tended to structure organizations in a hierarchical way, with communication lines from top to bottom. Later, we understood that bottom-up feedback is important as well, but within an organization with power, bottom-up communication isn’t always appropriate or appreciated.
The biggest shift towards the organization of the future is that from vertical thinking and communication (“blue triangle”) to a horizontal dialogue, among colleagues – a high-quality dialogue in which managers or leaders are colleagues as well – making use of the talents that are available and chasing a common set of goals (“purple circle”).
Most of the actual changes we perceive in organizations are linked with the move from a top-down approach into a bilateral, collegial and connected dialogue. Workspaces are changing, people are leaving their individual offices and moving into a modern type of organization with open spaces, flex desks, etc. Moving from a “blue triangle” to a “purple circle” means:
- A shift from central to shared leadership;
- Changing the focus from the whole organization as the most important structure to one where the team is seen as most important;
- Moving away from giving instructions to self-regulation within a framework;
- Moving from control over trust into dialogue and making agreements;
- Moving from expecting competencies over appreciating talents into expecting competencies and valuing talents.
In the future, all managers and leaders as well as other employees will have to learn to make multiple connections, solving dilemmas or paradoxes by creating win-win solutions.
Competencies for the future
The desired competencies for the future can be grouped into three main units:
- Learning ability, including integrating information, the ability to judge and to evaluate;
- The capacity to connect, including working in a team, presentation skills, networking skills and empathy.;
- And finally, the capacity to structure information, including organizing and simplifying it.
If we want to prepare for the future, these competencies need all our attention. Taking into consideration that three of these competencies – judgement, flexibility and empathy – are difficult ones to develop, it’s important to educate our youth with these competencies in mind, support them in speaking out, adapting and being aware of other people.
The organizations we create are an important context factor for staff in the future. The metaphor of a fish growing better when it has more space is true for people as well. If we don’t give fish space, or if the quality of the water is low, the fish won’t grow.
Leaders, managers, politicians, our mission is clear now!
About the author
Lou Van Beirendonck is Founder-Director of Quintessence Consulting, founded 31 years ago and located in Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent. He is Academic Director of the Executive Masterclass in Human Resource Management (HRM) and Lecturer in Executive and full time Master programs at the Antwerp Management School. As a pioneer in assessment centers and a specialist in competence and talent management, he has published 14 books on HRM to date.