Future of work: What are we about and where are we going?

How can leaders prepare themselves and their teams for the unknown to come?

Future of work: What are we about and where are we going?

What a weird start to the year! Albeit, in the context of the last few years being the strangest years of my life – well, to date! It has been a mix of ebbs and flows, such as a long summer that we really enjoyed, lots of seemingly short weeks, ongoing COVID disruptions and a sense of people being perpetually on edge as a result of what we have all gone through since March 2020.

While the economic challenges ahead could feel confronting, its actually nice to be around Boardroom tables or in Executive Team meetings where the focus isn’t about the immediacy of Covid demands but is more focused on, at least, the mid-term planning of what their respective businesses are aiming for. Businesses are responding to, and planning to address organisational dilemmas that have arisen over the last two years, including:

  • Busyness vs. productivity/effectiveness – highlighting where there is a lack of focus
  • Dealing to what is urgent vs. struggling to get to the important
  • Cost out vs. investing in, and what will drive future success
  • Pressure on people vs. fostering the right type of culture

As a result, I see a lot of businesses now looking for the right levers to pull that set them up well for the future. This might be reviewing remuneration (very topical right now in a competitive labour-talent market), investing in employee development, enhancing processes, adjusting structures, swapping out capability, or a myriad of other options. 

The concern I am tabling in a number of these meetings is ‘what are they anchoring this to?’.  Too often these, (sometimes) effective and meaningful solutions are addressing a symptom but, in my mind, not starting from the root cause. In addition, everyone seems so busy, but is that a ‘prioritised busy’ or just being caught up in the momentum of prolific activity (as a continuation of the last two years)?

As such, the key points of challenge I keep coming back to focus on are Strategy and Tradeoffs:

  1. Design from the customer back – based on your evolving needs, what are you focusing on as a business to differentiate yourselves, to meet the targeted experience that your customers expect/ demand?
  2. Remove complexity - define the strategic tradeoffs you are making to deliver to your strategy, as this will help minimise complexity for your team. Take ownership for what you are choosing not to do, and communicate why you are not doing it. If you are not communicating this, how will others know? How will they know to work within the decisions made? In a vacuum of information people make their own assumptions.
  3. Tell the story - Communicate your strategy and associated tradeoffs clearly to the business, while also enabling them to then challenge where things don’t align. This encourages buy-in and engagement.
  4. Resourcing - Use the clarity of your strategy and tradeoffs, to then allocate where resources will be focused. Irrespective of how big or profitable you might be, time, money and people are limited, so align everyone to where it matters most.
  5. Capability - Identify the critical capabilities required to implement the strategy (especially where it has evolved considerably or its areas of focus are new) and then make sure you develop them … this may be buying-in capability or better using what you have, especially now you have been clearer regarding tradeoffs.

Given everything we have collectively been through over the last 2 years, and the amount of change we have seen, there are very few businesses where the environments they operate within hasn’t shifted, where stakeholder requirements have not evolved and where competitors aren’t changing (i.e. what they do or actually who they are).

In a shifting environment and in a world of ‘urgent’ and ‘busy’, as a leader, you need to help your team see the way forward and give them the mandate to challenge what is done day to day.  This will ensure you can all be collectively aligned around where you are going and what is required to get there. 

To maintain differentiation as a leader you need to lead the focus on reaffirming clarity around your strategy and then be relentless around tradeoffs. 

by Ken Brophy, a Director of K3 Consulting, APAC Lead Consultant at AlignOrg Solutions and a global leader in organisational design and change.

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