The Future of Work – Engaging our human being, not the human doing

Future fitness, disruption, complexity, chaos, innovation, virtual: these are all words that have become prominent in the world and language of business in attempts to stay relevant in terms of product, competition, culture, niche, talent and ingenuity. Whereas once disruption was considered negative with a focus on minimising disruptors, businesses now intentionally change their business models to initiate proactive investment in a future-fit business.

However, future fitness is an anticipated, rather than a current reality. Therefore, the changes we are enforcing and navigating need the following core focus: not just products and systems, but also the changing wants and needs of the multilevel workforce. Employability over employment, virtual engagement over desk space, employee engagement over workplace frills – these are just a few of the imminent requirements of the changing workforce in response to our changing world.  Organisations, if they are to remain relevant, will need to rethink their strategy to consider these anticipated realities in order to ensure choice change rather than forced change.  This is an essential leverage point in the war for talent in the twenty-first century.

While there are both optimistic and pessimistic perspectives on how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will impact the workforce, it is clear that how we engage our people is key. As such, adaptive intelligence becomes a vital focus when integrating our multiple intelligences. Adaptive Intelligence may be defined as the ‘capability to use the information to manage situations, communicate and connect, and educate oneself on the surrounding context or climate’.

In a response to the above-mentioned anticipated changes, John Butler-Adam, Associate editor of the South African Journal of Sciences posted the following last year:

“People must have the skills required to implement, manage and work with the new technology, and with one another. And, not least, to be problem solvers, to be adaptable, and to be able to express themselves in both the written and spoken word – and to make the kinds of ethical and moral decisions that are not ever likely to become successful elements of AI. This challenge is one to which educators and businesses will have to rise.”

In this harsh economic climate with a strong focus on profitability, unique value propositions and aggressive sales strategies, businesses need to remain mindful that profitability results from productivity; productivity results from performance; and performance results from engaged individuals and teams. While Employee Engagement is in its conceptual trend stage, the reality is that organisations, now more than ever before, need inspired and passionate people who positively contribute to culture and profitability. It is essential to foster an environment where employees have a voice, where they are trusted and are trusting and where they feel appreciated for who they are and what they do.

National and international survey results revealed that:

If organisations with a high degree of engaged employees are outperforming their competitors by 200%, engagement strategies, authentic leadership engagement and general investment in our people must be at the core of our strategy for the future of work. While having table tennis tables and baristas in our work environments may add value to the workplace experience, it remains negligible without leadership engagement as a core focus. No workplace frills will replace the investment from the inside out, remembering that leadership is not what we do, it is who we are.

Then, with the above focus on employee engagement in place, the other factors like navigating change, investing in resilience, being flexible and concentrating on employability also become key in our attempts to be future-fit organisations.

The VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) highlights the insight and foresight required for thriving in our rapidly changing world. And what this changing world requires is the ability to live and lead with intentionality. This is achieved by knowing why we do what we do, knowing who we are and want to be, and understanding where we want to invest our time and careers. However, if that time investment is on doing at the expense of being, we will enter the next phase of our industrial revolution burnt out, lacking purpose and losing in a world that requires engagement, adaptability and innovation.

The age of focusing on human doing at the expense of the human being is gone. Integrative leadership is required to win the war for talent in order to obtain the ultimate victory in organisational sustainability. No amount of strategising, systems implementation, digital transformation, policy enforcement or training initiatives will replace the call for leaders and their organisations to rise to this imperative: Humankind – be both.

Sue Bakker is the Academic Head at the TowerStone Leadership centre.



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