Anyone who has been watching the BBC 1 series Years and Years will know that it’s very hard to predict the future.
The series spans 15 years but the social and political shifts that take place even between episodes is a reminder of how we can assume nothing in the unpredictable, complex and high-tech age in which we are living.
The seismic changes taking place in the world are well summed up by one of the leading characters, when he says: “I don’t know what to worry about first? And what’s it going to be like in 30-, 15-, 10- or even five years’ time?”. It’s a question that probably keeps many members of the C-suite awake, too. Presently, Brexit and the threat of no-deal, a bad deal or even a second referendum means business leaders are toying with the impact these various scenarios will have on short- and long-term growth. But even if Brexit didn’t exist – hard to imagine as it is – there are a raft of other known and unknown challenges (and opportunities) ahead and here is our take on them.
Identifying where growth will come from may become clearer for some companies when consensus has been reached over Brexit. It is the perennial challenge for CEOs. Professional services firm PwC noted in its 2018 annual CEO survey revealed “record-breaking optimism” but this year, chief executives told a different story. According to the survey findings, trade conflicts, political upset, and a projected slowdown in global economic growth have increased uncertainty and decreased confidence in revenue prospects. “CEOs also reported a noteworthy dip in confidence in their own organisations’ revenue prospects over the short (12-month) and medium (three-year) term,” said PwC.
Organisations that are investing in ecosystems and strategic partnerships today though are likely to increase opportunities for growth in the connected world. It is no longer about exploring new geographies but being alert to new sectors and even industries that are being spawned by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Collaborations and relationship-building done today will hopefully pay off in the medium- and long-term.
Leaders must ensure that the recruitment and retention of talent remains a top priority because it will be people not technology that will be the differentiator in the digital age in areas such as customer experience and innovation, and which will be key to gaining and maintaining competitive edge.
There is little doubt that talent management will take on a whole new set of challenges in the years ahead. Predicting the skillsets required in five years’ time is difficult and clearly data-related skills will still be in demand. But analytics tools are already moving into their next phase and becoming increasingly embedded with other enterprise applications such as HR and sales.
Augmented analytics capabilities built into such systems, for instance, will start to automate some of the work done by data scientists, which will shift greater power to employees in functional roles. While there is an almost insatiable need for data science and analytical skills today as a separate discipline, in future organisations will need people in functional roles to become true masters of data.
Of course, talent management won’t just be about managing human talent but AI and robotic workers too. The transition to a hybrid “human-AI” workforce will be the biggest strategic challenge facing UK business leaders over the next five years, warns research by Capital People Solutions. The findings predict humans will work in a fully digitised and technologically optimised environment, and increasingly work alongside robots and AI over the next 10 years.
This will demand significant cultural as well as operational change. And the organisations that excel in this area and get the best from both elements of the workforce will be the ones which have taken a holistic and ground-up approach to digitisation in general. Rather than just map old processes and ways of working on to new technologies, they’ve considered the implications from all sides. The human/AI workforce is a huge leap for everyone.
It is difficult to gauge the level of digital disruption that will be taking place in five years’ time. Will it have come to an end? Or will a raft of new technologies emerge that spawn more radical new business models? Leaders must continue their focus on re-evaluating and reinventing their products, service offerings and processes if they are to remain relevant and be in constant communication with their customers through the myriad of channels available.
But they must also ensure that disruptive business models work for employees and supply chains as well as business owners and customers. Take the ride-hailing market, it grew so fast that it left some traditional functions like HR trailing behind, which is now playing catch-up. In this next wave of disruption, leader must ensure that it is only their competitors that are the casualties.
Indeed, leaders must ensure that good governance is applied in all areas of the business not just those where it is audited and monitored. The focus on being an ethical, sustainable and authentic company will only heighten. In the 24/7, always on world where everyone is under scrutiny and countless mechanisms are in place to rate and review organisations, their products and their people, there really is nowhere to hide.
They can expect more rankings, polls and benchmarks but they must behave well not because they want to be seen to but because it is the right thing to do.
So what is keeping the C-suite awake at night? Apparently quite a lot and there perhaps has never been a more complex, unpredictable and challenging time to be a leader. For leadership development courses, contact us.
Rialto held a series of high level, round table forums on Whitewater Leadership during 2010. The panel were a carefully selected group of leading CEO’s, COO’s, Directors, Senior Executives and HR Leaders, drawn from organisations from both the public and private sectors.