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Fourth Talent – Helping people Flourish in a Digital World – Part 1

“…you cannot build a company that’s fit for the future without building one that’s fit for human beings.”
– Gary Hamel

Understanding Industry 4.0

The world has seen massive shifts from the first industrial revolution which began in Britain in the late 18th century to the fourth industrial revolution which we are living through now.

The first industrial revolution, facilitated by the discovery that fossil fuels could be used to power industry and later to revolutionize transportation, transformed a world characterized by agrarian, cottage-based industry into one dominated by factories and machine production which continued to en masse through the second revolution.

Computing power made possible the rise in automation characterizing the third and continued to spur on the need to take automation and working more intelligently, albeit artificially, to the next level in this the Fourth Industrial revolution.

Our Fourth Industrial world theoretically underpinned by Connectivism, a theory typically associated with learning in the digital age yet extends to all aspects of our current connected wold. Connectivism seeks to describe how learning has changed in response to technological advancements that have created opportunities for learning and collaboration that extend far beyond the traditional classroom, and into the web-based world beyond. Connectivism integrates the principles underpinning a multitude of theories including self-organization, network, chaos, and complexity theories, it assumes learning to be chaotic, non-linear and occurring both internally and externally to the learner (Siemens, 2004).  A pretty apt definition for the Hyper-connected Fourth Industrialising world we now find ourselves in.

In the Henley Global research report, Thomas Friedman is quoted as saying “When I said the world is flat, Facebook didn’t exist. Or for most people it didn’t exist. Twitter was a sound. The Cloud was in the sky. 4G was a parking place. LinkedIn was a prison. Applications were something you sent to college. And for most people, Skype was a typo. That all happened in the last seven years. And what it has done is taken the world from connected to hyper-connected. And that’s been a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.” (Hawkins P. (., 2018)

However, its not only the type of change brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution but also the speed of change that has us reeling in its wake. Although we are still in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial revolution the current pace of technological developments and the digitisation of almost everything, means that life as we’ve known it has already changed dramatically.

The Fourth Industrial revolution ushers in a hyper-connected, information rich, Cyber- Physical world. This new world is driven by the convergence of the Internet of Things, Big data, Cloud Computing, Machine Learning, and Artificial intelligence. It’s further fueled by our need for Hyper-Connection, and Hyper- Personalisation and thus, has given rise to a New Breed of Organisation, a New Breed of Worker, and a New Breed of Learner.

A New Breed of Organisation

According to Deloitte “the rate of change has accelerated”. Fifty years of operating under Moore’s Law, the axiom that computing power doubles every two years, have not only propelled technology innovation forward but also significantly increased the pace of change in business as a whole, requiring organizations to be more agile.” Deloitte – Global Human Capital Trends 2016.

Organisations wanting to embrace and keep pace with our constantly changing, information and disruption rich, tech savvy world, must shift from what Salim Ismail refers to as a scarcity paradigm to what he calls an abundance-based reality. He supports this view of our connected, hyper-paced, dynamic world in his description of what he calls the Exponential Organisation. He defines an Exponential Organization (ExO) as one whose impact is at least 10x larger compared to its peers because of the use of new organizational techniques that leverage exponential technologies. Think about organsations such as:

  • AirBnB, they have become the world’s biggest temporary accommodation provider and do not own a single property,
  • Alibaba, biggest retailer without owning any inventory,
  • Facebook, most popular media channel but doesn’t create any of its own content,
  • Uber, massive personal transport provider that does not own a single vehicle.

For Ismail the traditional organisation in which the culture is still one based on ownership, command and control, and a dominant mind set of scarcity, cannot keep pace in a world characterized by Connectivism.

Organisations and the people that inhabit them need to open themselves to and connect with an abundant, information-based, hyper-connected, world through sharing and collaboration in order to grow exponentially. “When you think linearly, when your operations are linear, and when your measures of performance and success are linear, you cannot help but end up with a linear organization.  Linear organizations will rarely disrupt their own products or services. They haven’t the tools, the attitude or the perspective to do what they are built to do, to keep getting bigger in order to take advantage of economies of scale. What makes traditional companies highly efficient at expansion and growth, as long as market conditions remain unchanged, is also what makes them extremely vulnerable to disruption…We call it the Exponential Organization precisely because it represents the structure best suited to address the accelerated, non-linear, web-driven pace of modern life. It is our belief that ExO’s will overwhelm traditional linear organizations in most industries because they take better advantage of the information-based externalities inaccessible to older structures, a feat that will empower them to grow faster, than their linear counterparts, and then accelerate from there” (Salim Ismail, 2014).

Even though we are observing the exponential growth of those organisations that have “shifted,” we are still for the most part trying to quantify, predict and manage this growth using linear mindsets. To truly embrace this shift towards Industry 4.0, we need to start thinking exponentially around the way in which our organisations are structured, how they function, the kind of talent the need to attract, develop and retain, and the type of insights that drive them.

What these exponential organisations, such as those mentioned earlier, have in common is that they got over their need to own assets and instead looked at how to leverage and share assets through the creation of networks. In other words, they ‘flipped the VUCA’.

The term VUCA, which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous, is bandied around a lot these days, and it is an apt descriptor when referring to our current reality. However, what these organisations were able to do was ‘Flip the VUCA’ and what I mean by this is that they reframed their thinking about how to approach this new industrialization that the rest of us are still floundering through.  They have moved into this Fourth Industrial Revolution with Velocity, they approach it with Unorthodoxy, they seek Collaboration, and of course they function with Agility.

Flipping the VUCA can’t be achieved with our current way of thinking. As we tend to think linearly, from a scarcity mind-set, with high value placed on beating the competition. Our current level of thinking is still so inspired by military strategy, including the term VUCA, which “is an acronym used by the American Military to describe extreme conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq…” (Impact International, 2018).  What we need is a shift in paradigm.

A shift towards connectivism and exponentiality that will enable our organisations to match the scale and growth we see in technology and to embrace the increasingly rapid pace of change.

In our opinion, for organisations to reinvent themselves into Fourth Industrial revolution fit organisations they need to focus on becoming Self-driven, Agile, Data driven, Learning Organisations, or what we refer to as the SADL Organisation.  In order to do so there are four critical shifts that need to take place:

  • Shifting towards a Self- Driven culture: For organisations to embrace this model of self -reinvention and benefit the transformation or development of their talent, they need to encourage, enable and empower their people, develop their ‘self-directedness.’ You see, the potential to be self-directed exists within us, however the capability to be self-directed must be developed and enabled.  Self – Direction is a skill and a learned behaviour. However, its development is often stifled within organisations, especially traditional, linear, hierarchical ones. Therefore, organisations must focus on allowing their people to develop this capability and enable it through true empowerment practices and enabling technologies.
  • Adopting an Agile Philosophy and Mindset: Agility is now a core competence. Let me clarify, agility and adaptability have always been a core competence, it’s just that the world is changing faster than we ever imagined it could. Thereby greater emphasis is being placed on agility. Agility in this context is about how fast we are able to adjust our paradigms and behaviours in response to changes in our environment. To me this means our organisation and its people’s ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn…at a rate of knots.
  •  Embracing Data Driven Insight: Organisations need to become data fluent. Which means they understand the value of using data to gain deeper insight into organisational complexities ahead of making transformative decisions. The benefits of increasing an organisations data fluency include increased efficiency, better decision making, enhanced cross functional communication and the deepening of a learning, insight-based culture. (Schuermann, 2014)
  • Cultivating a Learning culture: Learning is the gamechanger when it comes to building the future fit organisation. Having a strong learning culture enables organisations to continuously and rapidly develop their people and supports cycle of learning, un-learning, and re-learning that is so critical to thriving in industry 4.0. A true learning organisation at least in Garvin’s view, takes the time to create, acquire and share knowledge and use it to transform their behaviour (Garvin, 1993).

A New Breed of Worker

For me, this first became apparent in my transition to motherhood. Belonging to this new cohort of working mothers I increasingly began to notice many skilled women were leaving formal employment either to focus completely on raising their children or took on less demanding and less challenging roles in order to meet the demands of parenthood. The demands of being a full time employee are just too high – the sacrifices hey need to make just too many. What I noted is that if these working mothers were given freedom and flexibility they were able to take on those in which they could fully utilise their talent. They want to contribute, they want to grow but they no longer want to do so within the confines of a predetermined organisational structure or within a regular preset time frame.

Top of mind for the new breed of worker is flexibility, opportunity, collaboration, meaningful contribution and unconstrained work space, no longer work place. With the advent of social media, the need for social networking in the workplace has decreased. The vast amount of communication and collaboration tools enables remote and flexible interactions. There has therefore been a move towards placing greater emphasis on being able to make a meaningful contribution and focus on the work I do rather than the place I work or the workforce I belong to.

This new breed of worker stems from the changes in the socio-economic climate in which jobs for life are a thing of the past and a current reality in which people feel time bankrupt and long for better work life balance and the flexibility to explore and pursue a multitude of interests.

Increasingly people are seeking balance. They want to make a meaningful contribution and they want to work on those things that inspire them. They have shifted their focus onto the quality of work that they can produce and making a meaningful contribution.  They express a desire for increased autonomy, wanting to decide for themselves what they work on, where they work and when they work. From the plethora of engagement studies that have been conducted we now know that autonomous and engaged workers are far more productive than those who have these parameters set for them. “Accenture recently estimated that contingent workers make up between 20% and 33% of the workforce in the U.S. alone.” – Accenture

Technology has enabled this new breed of worker. People have increased mobility, work can get done anywhere at any time. They are focused on finding “Gig’s” (jobs) that utilize their unique set of skills and continue to develop their experience while being able to maintain control over their work life balance. In the spirit of the abundance mindset, most organisations think about having only a few people committed full-time and then upscaling temporarily to meet additional needs arising through strategic and operational projects. In other words, organisations should embrace a shift to fewer full-time staff, but have access to an abundance of on demand, high quality talent. “When it comes to meeting heightened talent needs, top HR organizations must increasingly learn to integrate and leverage the part-time and contingent workforce. More than seven out of ten executives and HR leaders (71 percent) ranked the trend as important or very important.” – Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016.

This new breed of worker provides organisations with on demand talent and skills in areas where there is often either a high cost associated with these skills or a complete shortage of these. The New breed of worker provides a solution to the looming talent crises, by offering a flexible workforce able to bridge the talent gap at a competitive price.  According to Mike Ettling, President, HR Line of Business, SAP.  “Winning the Talent War requires a fundamental shift in HR strategies. Companies must seek new ways to find the right talent, develop skills, and share expertise.” This flexible workforce is becoming increasingly attractive to organisations as they transform themselves to harness the power of talent on demand.  “83% of executives indicate they’re increasingly using contingent workers ‒ at any time, on an ongoing basis.” (Oxford economics and SAP Success factors, 2014) 

A New Breed of Learner

The days of choosing a single career that’s neatly pathed over the next 40 years or so are gone. There is still a debate raging over how many career changes we will experience as well as debate around career vs job change or churn as it is commonly referred to, but either way we can’t deny the fact that industry as we know it, jobs as we know them are rapidly changing.

In an article by WEF, they quote the following statistic from the US. Bureau of Labour Statistics “Now the average time in a single job is 4.2 years,” The prediction is that by 2030, 210 million people around the world will have changed occupation. (World Economic Forum , 2017)

The question then becomes, how do we keep pace and ensure that we stay relevant?

The answer to this lies in learning to learn, un-learn and re-learn.

Welcome to the age of Rapid- Reskilling!

To keep pace and stay relevant organisations need to focus on developing and enabling lifelong, self-directed learners that are able to take charge of their own skill development. In order to do this, it is imperative to stay abreast of the changes in industry and the impact these will have on jobs. It is important for organisations to understand to what extent they are predicted to be disrupted, what is the extent of automation that they can expect, and solution accordingly. Paying close attention to defining what competencies will be required in the short term to continue operations whilst at the same time understanding and beginning to develop those competencies that will allow them to make the necessary step change in future.

In response to our Hyper-connected world and the demands of Industry 4.0 we are already seeing the rise of this new breed of  learner, we (speaking from the vantage point of the X generation) are ourselves already transforming into this learner, we are becoming increasingly autonomous, supreme multitaskers (often to the point of adrenal fatigue), we are “always on” we expect feedback and service to be immediate, we want our learning to be on demand and just in time. Everything we need to know needs to be one click away!

In the 2015 Towards Maturity Annual Benchmarking report we see that 76% of learners learn online in order to do their jobs faster and better 75% for personal development. However, this seems to be a great balancing act as 63% lack the time for self-study! This lack of time is our biggest stumbling block to learning especially when it comes to operational environments.

In this future world of work defined by sudden and continuous disruption, multiple careers, and fast paced advancements, unlimited, unrestricted access to learning will become the game changer. However, before we can truly embrace and benefit from unrestricted learning at an organisational or individual level we need to develop our ‘self-directedness’ and we need to be empowered to do so.

The potential to be self-directed learners exists within us, however the capability must be developed and enabled.  Organisations must focus on allowing us to develop this capability and enable it through true empowerment practices. This is easier said than done and we need to understand the amount of change needed for it to be successful at organisational scale.

We need to realise that people need time to learn, we need to cultivate an organisational culture that empowers and reveres self-directed deep learning by providing access to high quality content and the exposure of learners to experiences where they can test knowledge, build skills and enhance performance. And, we need to enable learning through intelligent platforms. Learning and Development for Industry 4.0 will be explored in more detail in this series. So, for now suffice is to say that to build a learning fit organisation, people need to know what competencies they need to learn and develop.  They need some mechanism by which they can assess their learning gaps and determine their learning needs independently, and they need to be able to measure their personal progress.

We need to honour this New Breed of Learner!

As the current trends in organisational changes in response to the revolution show (WEF research report) it’s once again a process of adapt or die, but this time at break neck speed! For this rising Industry 4.0 adept organisation to be realised and make the necessary shifts they need to focus on transforming three core aspects, namely their structure, function, and insight.

Firstly, they need to structure themselves in such a way as to embrace the ebb and flow of disruption. They do this by opening themselves up to new ways of work and the new breed of worker.

Secondly, to reinvent themselves they need to understand the impact that our constantly changing landscape has on talent from a competency development perspective and figure out ways to rapidly re-skill their people to keep pace. They do this by honouring the new breed of learner.

And finally, they need to root their learning and decision making in insightful analytics and a combination of theoretical fields such as behavioral economics, digital ethnology, and consumer psychology. Enriching this combination by including principles and frameworks from design thinking, agile, network, and chaos theory, wouldn’t hurt either. They do this by building the new breed of organisation – the SADL Organisation.

In conclusion, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to have a significant yet dichotomous impact especially within in the Talent landscape by creating jobs whilst obliterating others, widening skill gaps and raising unemployment just as the need for talent is intensifying, creating greater opportunities for learning and development but at the same time increasing the risk of sudden skill irrelevancy. (WEF)

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