I’ve previously written about how succession planning is going to change in the Information Age. That, instead of grooming mini-me managers and leaders, we’re going to have to focus on reskilling people as their roles get encroached on by artificial intelligence.
Plus, we’re going to have to start hiring people who, firstly, can work with machines, and, secondly, are flexible enough to adjust their roles and careers as the machines get more proficient – in the near future, in any case, it seems that humans working side-by-side with robots, both physical and software, is going to be the productivity sweet spot.
But there is a more significant role that these adaptable, machine-friendly recruits are going to have to play. For many companies, they are also expected to drive the digital transformation that is going to help the company ride out the fourth Industrial Revolution. Companies, it seems, are hoping to growth hack their digitalisation from the bottom up.
And this approach has a lot of merit. For instance, a 2018 PwC report on emerging trends points out that, it’s one thing to appoint a chief technology or chief digital officer and to hire more people with science and engineering backgrounds. But, for real change, the report says, an organisation needs to make a generational shift. And that this means driving change by hiring a lot of people at entry level who understand technology and its impact.
Put simply, hire the people who understand your future market because they are your future market now. That makes total sense. These are people who are extremely comfortable with technology because, for them, it’s always been around. This means they are not constrained by the way things have always been done, and they can see new and innovative ways to apply digital technology in your company. This ranges from new products and services to extend your market share, to better ways to get things done on a day-to-day basis.
But this creates something of a catch-22. Just as twenty years ago you wouldn’t have been able to recruit the top entry-level accountants if you insisted they worked with comptometers, today you won’t attract and keep top talent if you insist they work in old-fashioned ways. No matter how many trendy perks you whitewash your job ad with, all the foosball tables, popcorn machines and barista coffees won’t retain a new hire who is being forced to work in an antiquated way and made to do boring, repetitive work that could be done in a better way. Not if they are good, in any case.
And the thing that businesses need to realise is that the adoption of technology should be a manifestation of a deeper and more existential shift companies need to make to ensure their success in the future. Take, for instance, a subject close to my heart, the budgeting and forecasting process. Traditionally this is done ineffectively and inefficiently using spreadsheets. This takes time and is open to errors as spreadsheets get emailed from pillar to post. It is also typically a top-down process, with the finance function dictating budget parameters to non-financial managers.
Inappropriate software is used because “that’s the way it’s always been done”, and “it’s worked fine up until now”. Spreadsheet errors, lack of tracking and version control, the time taken, and the sheer, mind-numbing tedium of it all is assumed to be unavoidable. Strike #1 for that millennial new hire who can see from a mile off that there is a better way to do things. They digitalise and automate things in their day-to-day life, so why should they grapple with spreadsheets or any other out-dated systems and processes in the workplace?
But more alarming is the top-down, hierarchical, command-and-control culture that goes hand-in-hand with this old way of working. This style of leadership might have suited the industrial revolution and its assembly line culture, but it is no longer relevant, or helpful today. Strike #2 for the millennial, who by default assumes responsibility.
For companies to be nimble and responsive, they need to prioritise transparency, collaboration, trust and the free movement of the information people need to get their jobs done. They need to enable better decision making and more ownership through the ranks.
You are not going to be able to hire the top candidates to take you into the future if you don’t make some profound shifts now. Start questioning those “this is the way we’ve always done it” processes and pave the way to attract and keep the top talent that will assist you as you navigate your path to the future.
The alternative - strike #3 and you’re out, and your top talent is very quickly going to move on, perhaps to a competitor, leaving you a treacherous path to navigate without a seasoned guide.