Leadership for the ’20s unwrapped

Leadership for the ’20s unwrapped

As 2019 draws to a close, Rialto thought it an ideal time to reflect on the end of a decade and look ahead to the next 10 years and what factors may play a role in shaping organisations and the world of business.

The workplace that exists at the end of this decade is already vastly different from the one that prevailed at the start. In 2009, the idea that humans might be sharing a workplace with robots was still viewed in the realms of science fiction while the Daily Telegraph newspaper announced it as the year the world went “app mad”. Twitter and Android became mainstream and GPS was being integrated into mobile phones. Oh, and Windows 7 arrived as the replacement to Microsoft’s Vista operating system.

In the decade that has followed, we have witnessed rapid maturing of a raft of technologies while social media continued its drive to become a fixture in our daily working and personal lives. Now, careering towards 2020 and the ensuing decade, all the talk is of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) or Industry 4.0 and how technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and quantum computing will bring even more radical change.

According to the World Economic Forum, the latest revolution will be characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing “the physical, digital and biological worlds” and impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and “even challenging ideas about what it means to be human”.

This, of course, has major implications for the workplace, and the challenge for leaders will be to manage what will be a growing hybrid human-AI workforce.

Among the biggest of these is the reskilling and upskilling programmes that many organisations will need to put in place if they are to meet future challenges. AI, for instance, is simultaneously destroying and creating jobs. According to research from PwC, almost one third (30 per cent) of jobs in the UK are at risk of disappearing while McKinsey reckons 30 per cent of tasks in three-fifths of all jobs are at risk of being automated.

The challenge for leaders will be to manage what will be a growing hybrid human-AI workforce

It will be easy for leaders to be sidetracked or preoccupied by technology. While how it is implemented is crucial, the real differentiator will be how the human contingent of the workforce is managed. Leaders must focus on identifying the skillsets that will be needed by their people as well as be mindful of their duty of care to employees. Alongside training or re-training, they must allay any fears they have about jobs being lost to AI and automation and ensure employees are part of the discussion about their future role.

Employee engagement is crucial in any digital transformation exercise. So it will be essential to have the right culture in place and one that supports lifelong learning as the pace of technological change means the re-skilling challenge will be ongoing for many in the workforce for several years to come. And while digital skills are crucial, surveys and studies frequently point to a resurgence in importance of softer skills. This is especially true in areas like customer service where a human voice and interaction could mean the difference between retaining or losing customers in the age of automation.

Leaders must also ensure their own skillsets remain relevant. Rialto Consultancy has witnessed through its Rialto Accelerated Leadership Index (RALI), which benchmarks the in-demand leadership capabilities in real-time, a marked shift from hard to soft skills and the importance of characteristics such as agility, curiosity and collaboration.

The move away from command-and-control leadership is complete and skills such as social influence and the ability to consult and align different stakeholders behind a vision are what’s important now.

Leadership itself will continue to be in the spotlight as business progresses through the next decade. UK plc needs to ready itself for change in the Brexit transition period and beyond during which effective leadership will be key for employees, customers and other stakeholders. Leaders must be prepared to play their part in major global issues like climate action, the environment and sustainability. They must ensure future generations engage with their message and products and services and help to restore some of the trust that has been lost in business and major organisations.

The next decade will doubtless bring both opportunities and threats for leaders and their organisations and it will be impossible to anticipate all of them. But all the more reason to be proactive in preparing for those that can be predicted.


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