January 31, 2024
When we look at the context for change, we many times just look internally at what we think needs to change for whatever reason and then set about making that happen. Rarely do we think about what is going on for the people within the organisation and just how ready they and the organisation itself are for the actual change and the disruptors that underly it. Are there the right people, systems, processes, etc in place to support the change or are there a number of elements that will hinder it? Not to mention the fact there will be a number of external elements that could and will also either help or hinder the change one way or another.
There are three big disruptors that leaders are facing right now: technology, UN sustainability goals and the social re-alignments and adjustments.
This is perhaps the biggest disruptor of our time because it is happening at such a speed of knots we sometimes struggle to keep up. AI is no longer far away in the future – it is here, now and is already starting to have a great impact on a variety of professions and hence professional lives. It is true that a great deal of jobs will no longer exist, but it is also true that a great many jobs will be created as a result of AI. 60 percent of the current jobs in the NHS, did not exist when it started in the 1950s. However, the big challenge is that we don’t have the luxury of a generation to get use to the transformation. Instead of 70 years of evolutionary change, we will have 7 years and that is a lot for anyone to deal with, much less lead and manage.
Therefore it is critically important that as leaders we focus our attention to our people, their mental and physical health and well being will make all the difference to our productivity rates during this catapult of change. We will need to be creative, think more about horizontal development and take a bigger picture perspective that goes beyond just the numbers game in an organisation.
UN Sustainability Goals
The idea of an organisation stating a priority around sustainability has been around for a couple of decades, but the outlining of the 17 specific areas by the UN has called out elements that organisations, I would argue, previously ignored – not necessarily because they did not care, but more because they envisaged bigger priorities at the time. But now that is no longer possible. As a result, organisations are having to review how they operate and function beyond the element of having recycling bins. They have to review their supply chains, their energy usage and where that comes from and how, working practices to ensure there is no poverty and there is gender equality, etc. But to make this all happen, there needs to be more than just new policies generated. It will require the consensus and cooperation of the people across the whole organisation at all levels to ACT and that is a different kettle of fish. It requires pro-activity, planning, and in many cases, re-creating strategies and processes.
Societal realignment and adjustments
Now one could argue that there are continuous societal adjustments happening and they would not be wrong. The difference this time is that there is a great majority of people who are questioning exactly what they want in their lives and how, which includes their professional lives and hence work. The pandemic was a real catalyst for this and despite there being a drive for some to try to put the genie back in the box, I am afraid this is just not going to happen and we need to ask ourselves the question of what we want to be as an organisation and how do we want to be thought of by our staff, colleagues, leaders, peers, clients, customers, etc.
In HR and sometimes leadership development, we talk about the psychological contract between an employee and an organisation and this is not the first time there has been a shift in this area. Before in the 1980’s, there was an understanding that when you took a job with a company, that was typically for life – i.e. the rest of your career. Now you would most likely not do the same job for 40 years, but you would be with the same company.
The economic downturn of that time changed all that and many people found themselves without a job or a profession. Although companies still award individuals for long service, it is now seen as a rarity rather than a norm. One could argue that there was a general shift for companies to focus more on the shareholders rather than the employees and thus the employees started to prioritise their own personal and professional goals over loyalty to a specific company. However even during that timeframe, there was an accepted norm, regardless of whatever company you worked for, that you would work for 5 days a week and for knowledge workers, typically from 9-5.
We are culturally at a crossroads that we have not experienced for a century. In 1926, Henry Ford introduced the 5 day work week at a time when it was more typical to work 6-7 days. This was due initially to the production line he created in his factories and then reinforced during the great depression. With the social shifts and the AI revolution, there has been a great deal of discussion and experimentation on hybrid working, the 4 day work week and a universal wage.
It may be that one or all of these ideas will become our norm in 7 years time, but before we can make those decisions as leaders within an organisation and profession, we need to answer the questions we posed earlier: what do we want to be as a company and how do we want to be thought of because that will determine how a company proceeds, what culture will exist, systems/processes, etc.
We need to completely focus on our people because they are the ones that will determine whether a company is one of the 25 percent from the S&P index that according to McKinsey will survive after 2027.
Jennifer Bryan is a published author, speaker and Director of Change and Leadership, who has worked with nearly 40 different organisations across multiple industries. She is also a Non Executive Board Member of the ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals) UK Chapter. She believes in helping people – in whatever capacity she can – by making sure people are thought of first, last and throughout change projects and programmes. She has created a unique leading change framework, the ABChange Model, and uses her commercial insight to help lead people in change. Jennifer is author of Leading People in Change – A practical guide.
Main image: The Fall of Icarus by Jacob Peeter Gowy, Museo del Prado, Madrid