digital disruption

Managing people in the new normal

Managing people in the new normal

Stefan Lauber, CEO of iFundi

Revolutions erupt suddenly. The 4th Industrial Revolution just hit us. As the world responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses were forced to pivot into the cloud. What years of deliberation could not achieve, materialised in a few weeks, much faster than anyone could have imagined.

Many of the predicted consequences of the 4th industrial revolution have become true:

  • Companies without digital delivery channels are facing ruin
  • Unemployment has sky-rocketed even in healthy economies
  • Lower skilled workers have been affected particularly hard
  • Workplace and employment relations have irreversibly changed
  • Social inequalities are more pronounced than ever
  • Uncertainty about the future remains

How will this impact on the way people are managed in companies? We do not really know what the future holds. But four issues currently stand out:

  1. The New Workplace
  2. Developing Critical Skills
  3. Leading People
  4. A New Social Contract
  • The New Workplace

Until now, few employers believed that their staff could be trusted to work from home. Covid-19 proved that it is possible.

Free from the need to commute, employees are saving time and money, lowering the burden on the environment. With less distractions from their colleagues, staff can focus better on their work. Online meetings are at least as productive. Employees enjoy more flexibility while working from home, which should allow them to better balance personal affairs and work.

Yet, for some, the workday never ends. Unfortunately, not everyone rose to the challenge of working from home equally well. The promise of working remotely has often been undermined by poor connectivity. We miss social interaction with our colleagues, the conversations over coffee that spark new ideas and give us a sense of belonging.

The future may be a combination of working between office and home. Companies will have to develop new human resource policies that take advantage of the benefits of working from home while mitigating its disadvantages.

When people work remotely, less office space is required. The purpose of an office used to be to accommodate staff. The office of tomorrow will look different. It will seek to compensate for the drawbacks of working from home. The emphasis may be on how to facilitate better communication, collaboration, community and strengthening company culture. 

As the economic crisis will continue, companies need to be nimbler and reduce fixed costs. Non-core function may well be further outsourced. Companies are expected to continue reduce headcount and engage contractors when needed. The gig economy is here. With large scale retrenchments, employees will have to reinvent themselves to become entrepreneurs.

  • Developing Critical Skills

It has been predicted that every second person will have to be retrained to keep up with the 4th Industrial Revolution. As the pandemic has been rapidly changing our lives, we require new skills faster.

Of course, new technical skills, especially IT, are essential when going digital. Covid-19 is forcing managers to adapt their style. Individuals need more resilience, adapt to change quicker, be even more innovative, and solve bigger problems.

Critically, employees will need to manage themselves, with less support from their peers and less chances to learn from others.

The deck is stacked against newcomers. Our educational systems already struggle to produce the kind of people businesses need.  Making things worse, training budgets of companies are strained.

As the pressure mounts, companies will be looking for people who can hit the ground running. However, there will simply not be enough people with tomorrows skills. Companies will have to grow their own talent.

Google has introduced training that leads to career certificates. The private sector is getting involved in the production of talent. Work Integrated Learning such as learnerships, internship and apprenticeship programme are on the leading edge.

What matters in future are not degrees, but practical skills. But how will we recognise what people know? Portfolios of Evidence and Qualification Frameworks will gain in currency and so will product certification by vendors. They are already the norm in the IT industry.

Online learning used to be resisted. Covid-19 forced schools to go online without preparation. Until recently, eLearning was mostly one-way, a tool to present content. Thanks to the rapid adoption of video conferencing, it has become much more participatory.

  • Leading people

Monitoring Time and Attendance was a central component of how companies controlled their people.  How will companies manage their people when they do not need to show up at work.

Managers will have to learn how to manage their teams virtually and use technology to collaborate more effectively.

Performance management will become even more important. Rather than working from general job descriptions, employees and contractors will be held accountable for clearly defined outcomes.

A manager will still have to plan, effectively delegate and monitor delivery. But they will also need to lead, motivate their staff and provide emotional support in times of crisis. Transactional leadership is dead.

By the way, we are now no longer dealing with resources but real people. Compassion is going to be part of our discourse. The focus of human resource managers was a company’s employees. Going forward, the whole ecosystem of people – staff, contractors and suppliers will be considered by the people manager. As companies become leaner, partnership become more important, team members will belong to multiple organisations.

Occupational health and wellness in many industries were an afterthought. We have since learned that health issues can not only bring companies, but the whole world to its knees. The threat of future pandemics is not going away. With never abating pressures, emotional health and wellness are going to receive more attention.  

  • A New Social Contract

During the lockdown, the Gross Domestic Product of many countries shrank by more than 10%. Millions of people have joined the ranks of the unemployed. It will take many years to recover.

But more than ever, we have realised that we are interdependent. One person’s lack of care threatens all our health. Individualism, the believe in the survival of the fittest, is an outdated concept.

Governments were trying to find the middle ground of how to protect lives and livelihoods. During the lockdown, there was a clear shift in focus from profits to people – something that would have been untenable before.

We have experienced a fundamental shift to a more caring paradigm.  Companies will continue to protect their staff. Job creation will be everyone’s concern. There will be no consumers if people are destitute. We will not be able to trade or survive while environmental catastrophes engulf us.

The new normal demands a new social contract. One in which people and the planet will prosper. In as much as the 4th Industrial Revolution called for technological change, we need also social innovation.

2020 was the year of disruption. Let the pain we endured become the catalyst for progress. Let us not slide back to where we came from but instead create a new normal that is better than the past. If not, the danger is that nature will catch up with us again, as a single virus has just done.

This article was published in Fast Company magazine, November 2020 edition

Industry 4.0 with Prof. Daniel Mashao & Stafford Masie

Industry 4.0 with Prof. Daniel Mashao & Stafford Masie

by Alex Kinmont

Technology is rapidly changing the fabric of our time. We need to adapt the way we live, personally and professionally, before we are left behind. The question is, how?

On Friday we had Professor Daniel Mashao, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at UJ and Stafford Masie, the first CEO of Google of Southern Africa discuss the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the effects it will have on business and society.

Prof. Mashao defined 4IR in three parts – new technologies, new business models and new value systems.

New Technologies

Smartphones and slim laptops are only the surface of new tech and what it can do. Robotics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI) are the next leaps in technological advancement.

Masie describes AI as the “superpower” of 4IR. He sees the future ‘everywhereness’ of AI as rendering it intangible and invisible. Like electricity, it will become so streamlined within our lives that we won’t even recognise its presence. We will only experience it.

“It’s not the Internet of Things,” says Masie, where people and objects are connected via devices with wifi. “It’s the Internet in Things”, transversally, just like electricity.

New Business Models

These new technologies are redesigning the future and how we see the world. As a result, professional success is reliant on how well we adapt to, and utilise, these changes. Businesses must take on new structures in order to best utilise advances in tech.

Old ways of doing cannot sustain new ways of being.

Business need to evolve into algorithmic marketplaces. Professor Mashao points out successful digital businesses Uber and Airbnb. As the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb owns no property. As the world’s largest taxi company, Uber owns no cars.

We are all a part of Uber. We input our information, rate our drivers and travel in traffic. We use Uber, and in using Uber, we allow it to grow and continue. Uber owns no assets; instead, they use technological advances in geolocation and personal credit and compliment that with people and their own resources.

Latent Human Potential

Masie champions the value of humans and their creative capabilities. He explains that Uber is a platform, and not a traditional business, which combines advancements in tech with human potential. This is what makes them giants in the digital landscape.

Where machines can replace our mundane jobs, they can never imagine like we can.

Businesses who wish to thrive in the new digital landscape must take on an algorithmic marketplace model. Masie explains that businesses must recognise “latent human potential and let it cascade in”. Machines must not replace humans; they must provide a platform from which humans can fully exercise their creative abilities.

Uber, and other apps like Netflix, Alibaba and social media, have realised the key to keeping up with new technologies and the changing way of life and business. They recognise unique human potential and how it would be a waste to let machines replace the people in a business. Rather, machines must free up the time of employees to do more creative and complex work.

This is how we can prevent machines from taking our jobs.

Self-driving cars don’t have to take the jobs of drivers. Through AI, a driver can own a fleet of automated vehicles. Robots don’t have to take the jobs of stock takers. With automation, a warehouse worker can programme an army of box packing machines.

New Value Systems

It is important to note here that Uber and Airbnb are only possible with the new value system of digital trust. Online ratings on these apps allow hosts and drivers, guests and travellers, to build an archive of reviews and earn a grade in order to prove their honesty and reliability. Where machines cannot earn trust, an innately human function, they can be adapted to provide a platform from which its users can input data and create trust.

The future of jobs doesn’t have to be mass unemployment. Your business does not have to crumble under the waves of change.

Technology and its advancements will change life as we know it. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming and we need to adapt if we wish to keep up. Our businesses need to welcome the shortcuts of technology and move redundant employees upwards to better use their cognitive and creative abilities. We must let our latent human potential cascade in. Like with the Uber trust model, we must recognise the possibilities of humans and tech working together.

Masie concludes that if we lose our jobs it will not be because of technology. It will be because we weren’t imaginative enough.

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