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A brave New World

The Pandemic provides a watershed moment in the history of organisations. Exponentially accelerating the digital revolution, the change curve has been steep, and the valley of despair looms wide as we grapple with comprehending this seismic shock event and the ensuing uncertainty.

The swift shift to virtual has resulted in organisations finding themselves equipped technologically; barring initial connectivity and capacity challenges, but grossly underprepared when it comes to their people. The culture transformation needed to embed and sustain this new world of work is lagging, and we have fast had to live what we have yet to define, thus exposing all that is unable to keep pace.

It has become clear that most digital transformation journeys disproportionately focused on the infrastructure required to enable the envisioned digital workforce and have failed to weight the people transformation proportionately. Organisations would have fared better, had they focused on developing competence in navigating a digital world, building emotional resilience, and capacity for change. Critical skills now needed to embrace this new world of work, underpinned by different value drivers.

In the wake of the Pandemic, Organisations have a unique opportunity to course-correct by embracing the new world of work, re-defining their culture, and focused competence development efforts.

Embracing The New world of work:

As economies restart, organisations have no other option other than adopting new working practices. These practices range from alternatives to handshaking through to flexible employment practices.

The demand for flexible work practices, initially driven by a shift in social values and enabled through digitisation, is now being propelled by organisations needing to lean themselves out, along with the extensions of social distancing practices. This shift will drive significant changes in the employer-employee relationship. The days when a majority of workers could expect to spend a career moving up the ladder at one company are over; people now need to anticipate working for many employers over the span of their career. This trend subsequently spotlights the shift required in learning to enable the continuous development of a flexible workforce equally compounded by the still-present threat of irrelevance due to progressive automation. Learning and development will thus take centre stage and need to implement strategies that are both learner and organisation centred, embrace digital learning and foster a heavy reliance on self-driven learning. For the flexible workforce, continuous professional development, life long learning, and rapid re-skilling will be the norm.

Re-defining our Culture:

Marring our digital transformation journeys has been our inability to clearly define the type of culture needed to encapsulate this new world of work. One clear message emerging, globally, from the response to the Pandemic is health before wealth. Employees returning to work will expect this to continue. Employees, both essential and flexible, will push harder for organisations to earnestly embrace a broader definition of value, extending this beyond traditional economic descriptions. Pre-pandemic, employee experience programmes were beginning to take hold. These interventions aimed to harness the discretionary energy needed to power attempts at rapid digital transformation, post-pandemic will see a surge in these initiatives along with an increased focus on wellbeing.

Now more than ever, organisations need to demonstrate their commitment to the well being of their people. It is a matter of urgency that organisations review and align their value signalling closer to those prevailing within the current social climate.

Focused competence development:

At this re-entry point, we need to pause and comprehend the impact caused by the Pandemic. This particular shock event has been seismic; the effects of which will continue to reverberate for the foreseeable future. It has led to a globally shared experience of significant change, and we must appreciate the psychological impact of this. We will continue to cycle back and forth through the stages of change, often finding ourselves at different points simultaneously. This could typically be associated with the feeling of being on an emotional rollercoaster, looping between increased optimism, exploration, and despair as we realise the reality of each impact.

Although we may never experience a shock event of this scale within our lifetimes, or at least don’t anticipate to, we need to prepare our organisations to manage future shock events effectively. A shock event, simply defined as an unexpected or unpredictable event that impacts the economy, either positively or negatively, has been shown to occur every two years on average. Organisations can build the competencies required to manage these more effectively.

Our research shows that developing what we have classified as shock event management competencies alongside future skills will improve overall performance during challenging times. These include those typically associated with coping with change such as emotional resilience, interpersonal relationships and extend to include critical future skills such as complex problem solving, critical thinking and digital affinity.

Almost overnight, the world shifted, and I doubt that I am alone in wondering when it will return to normal. However, based on the patterns and predictions, the stark reality is that we are going to have to define our new normal and rethink the way we have always done things. Our ability to face the fact that things will never be the same and to embrace a rare moment in which we get to define our new normal, in at least some ways provides us with a level of positivity, a glimmer of control and a whisper of hope.

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