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The role of organisations in transforming skills for long-term recovery

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<>The role of organisations in transforming skills for long-term recovery

Authors: Professor Elena Beleska-Spasova, Henley Business School and Jo Radford-Cutler, EY

Henley Business School and EY have come together to host a programme of work to examine how increasing skills in the UK economy can help weather the storm, for the economy at large, organisations within it, and individuals themselves.

In our introduction to this series, Josie Cluer and Dr Naeema Pasha wrote about our aim to explore how individuals, organisations and the wider economy can use a focus on skills to lead the recovery. In this post we will outline aspects of the organisation’s role in transforming skills for long-term recovery, both of their organisations and the economy. While leaders have rightly focused on business continuity through cost cutting, productivity and safety-based work models, for many organisations that would simply not be enough as consumer behaviours change, supply chains shift and unorthodox players threaten core competitive advantages.

The World Economic Forum is calling this period ‘The Great Reset’, but unlike a reset action on our computers, the reboot of economies, industries and organisations will take time and we will need to rebuild our ‘machines’ while they are resetting. COVID-19 pushed the reset button in a context where significant disruptions were already underway. The most recent EY Megatrends report sets out the primary forces of this disruption: human augmentation technology, going beyond globalisation, the rise of Generation Z (Gen Z), and exponential climate impacts.

The megatrends which are caused by the interaction between these root causes of disruption are:

  • decarbonisation
  • the techonomic cold war
  • the behavioural economy
  • synthetic media
  • the future of thinking
  • work and life unbounded
  • microbiomes
  • synthetic biology.

It is almost impossible for most sectors and organisations to define the most effective strategy in response to these megatrends with any degree of certainty. What is possible is for organisations to develop skills that would enable them to sense and size opportunities and adapt to future changes emerging as a result of these megatrends. The organisations that consider the skills they need for recovery through the lens of the megatrends shaping our societies, will not only be taking action to secure their own long-term future but taking a role that will help wider society too. This requires us to look at those trends and consider how they will shape us not only now and tomorrow, but far into the future too.

Human augmentation, the techonomic cold war, synthetic media…

The rise of the autonomous vehicle, artificial intelligence software, edge and quantum computing, the increase in cyber disinformation, deep fakes, and information warfare between state and non-state actors: what on earth does this mean for an organisation’s capability and skills?

Do you have the cyber skills and strategy to defend not just against cyber attacks but protect against disinformation through synthetic media? Have you equipped your people to understand the evolving nature of cyber crime? Does your organisation strategy account for the impact and implications of an increase in technology protectionism by national governments as we are seeing in many countries? Is your marketing and comms department equipped to respond to synthetic media disinformation? Are you building ethical decision-making skills to ensure the development of AI creates improvements in inclusion rather than ‘bakes in’ old discrimination?

The rise of Gen Z, a generation population 0.6bn larger than the boomer generation, represents 24% of the global population.

This is the first truly digital generation, globally connected and aware in a way unprecedented in history. For every new generation coming into the workforce we spend a lot of time looking at how it will drive change. The very scale of Gen Z, and the expectations we already know they have around values, climate, inclusion and equality; will shape the next decade and beyond.

Do you know how you will attract Gen Z to your workforce? How will you handle the fact that half of this generation live outside of the ‘old world’ powers? How will your leaders, systems and approaches to recruitment, motivation, reward and retention adjust for the expectations of this workforce?

Have you considered Gen Z as a catalyst for the re-skilling and up-skilling of your multi-generational workforce? What can they teach each other? Where and how can your organisation’s multi-generational teams unlock value and drive the rebooting progress?

The future of thinking, and the break in the structures that have separated work and life go far beyond the flexibility we have all learned to embrace in recent months.

We know that technology addictions are a real challenge to mental health, and that increased reliance on social media can be leading to increased polarisation and isolation. Increase in soft and deep fake synthetic technology is blurring our ability to think critically and that attention spans are shrinking.

What is this doing to the productivity of your organisation? The industrial era concept of the 5 day week is rapidly disappearing, portfolio careers are on the rise, lifelong learning is becoming critical to sustained long-term careers. Do you have an organisation talent plan that truly reflects support to whole of life careers, early and much later retirements and breaks for education? Do you have well-being strategies that look at the long-term implications for connection, motivation and mental health of sustained working from home? How are you supporting your people to focus, boost attention spans and build critical thinking skills?

The coming together of data capability and behavioural data capture gives our organisations insight to our workforce's and customers we have never previously seen.

Persuasion and influence as a result of this data is on the rise and can be used for the benefit of us all, but it can be used as much to exploit and alienate as it can to empower and engage.

Do your leaders look at data decisions through an ethics lens? How long range is your analysis of implications of decisions? And do they take into consideration the individual as well as the organisation? Do you have the capacity to scenario model at sufficient levels of complexity? Does your workforce and your customer trust you with data?

And finally, trust…

As we look at the forces shaping our world, what is the state of trust in your organisation? Are your leaders trusted to make the right decisions? Are they transparent? Can your customers see what you are doing and why? If the lid is lifted on your strategy, the way you treat individuals, the way your organisation interacts with State actors, regulators and so on: will it stand up to scrutiny? The organisations that are successful in building and retaining trust will be the leaders we look to shape start.

Many readers may look at this list and say they are issues that are too large, or too complex or there is too much uncertainty or indeed too far in the future to be part of our plans. Crises are like a steroid for change, injecting urgency and energy in removing barriers and changing mindsets that used to take years to move. Let’s use The Great Reset to build skills that would build organisations and economies fit for the future.

We will dive in to each of these thematic areas through further blogs and podcasts on the skills-led recovery.

Published 22 July 2020

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