The revolution of knowledge and change is happening today
The rapid development of a string of new technologies in the last decade signaled the start of the fourth industrial revolution. In 2020 the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) made an assessment that with the onset of the fourth industrial revolution by 2030 one third of the jobs in the world (which makes 1 billion jobs) will be completely or partially transformed under the impact of new technologies. This means that the current workforce should get ready to produce value through technological processes that would move the boundaries between physical, digital and biological. This trend will affect all industries and all corners of the world. The World Economic Forum deepened this analysis and turned this historic turnaround in the nature of work into an initiative called the Reskilling Revolution. Among other indicators, this analysis assumes that by 2025 on average 44% of the work tasks at every job will be done differently, mostly under the impact of digitalization.
In 2021 in its regular Global Human Capital Trends report, the Deloitte consulting company published a research showing that as many as 72% of executive directors of businesses from around the world confirmed that the future of their company will mostly depend on the ability of their employees to “adapt, upskill and take on new work roles”.
Many companies in the private sector are quickly making drastic changes in their strategic orientation in order to benefit from the opportunities opened up by new technologies. The companies’ ability to deal with the changes and adapt to the new demands are considered the new dimension of success – organizational resilience.
Resilience Is Management of Opposing Needs
Organizational resilience (elasticity) is defined as the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.
There is no one single successful recipe for resilience. The activities will largely depend on the business model, the level of digitalization, the business’s core competence and mostly, the competence of the staff.
The idea behind achieving resilience can be split into two opposing strategies: defense “to prevent a problem” and progress “to make something better”. In a different dimension, resilience requires managing the opposites, ensuring consistency on one hand and flexibility to apply novelties, on the other.
Historically, the defense strategies and ensuring consistency were dominant and applied in all successful businesses. These strategies can be seen in the systems of preventive control: standardization, risk management, safety systems.
Today the best strategy to ensure resilience is a combination of defense and progression in order to provide consistency and flexibility at the same time. The resilience of your company is constantly managing and meeting the opposing needs of your business, which requires you to think in paradoxes, as defined in an academic study by the Cranfield School of Management. While thinking about the future of their companies, in managers’ heads there is a constant fight between the opposite needs to ensure stability and innovativeness, to retain current and conquer new markets, improve current and create new products, etc. All of this at the same time. And quickly. And without great expenses.
 Denyer, D. (2017). Organizational Resilience: A summary of academic evidence, business insights and new thinking. BSI and Cranfield School of Management.
Where is the potential for change in your organization?
If your company has a typical development, probably it wouldn’t be difficult for you to identify the resources that ensure stability and consistency. It would be a greater challenge to provide flexible and innovative practices that would mean your business is in step with future times. What you need most now for resilience is the potential for change.
Changes in your organization do not occur in isolation nor in the manager’s offices. They occur through changes in each person, in each job. Ideally, all people in your organization contribute to its resilience by successfully managing the opposing needs of their jobs. To be able to do this, your employees need a whole set of competences – they should be masters in what you do now and should constantly know what you can do next to survive and progress. Whatever your business model, it cannot be sustainable without adequate people. The essence of the business is in the heads and hands of the employees, they create the greatest value and your organization’s resilience depends on them.
The most valuable employees in your organization are those who learn and make changes
The knowledge and skills of your employees lose their importance and relevance each day. The changing conditions on the market require you to constantly change your practices, products and services, the way you work. Digitalization is the best example of this. If your company is more than 10 years old, reflect back on the list of jobs in the beginning and compare it with the one today. Some of your employees are working on processes that did not exist then, while in five years’ time they will work on processes that today we are not clear will be necessary for us to keep our competitive advantage. Whether we sink or swim in the uncertain and arbitrary future will depend on the attitude toward learning and the ability of the people in your organization to accept and implement change.
Only Learning Organizations Are Resilient
Change is inevitably linked to learning. If tomorrow I need to do something differently than today, I have to learn how to do it differently.
Learning is a solution for many challenges in your business. First, new knowledge is necessary for developing processes. Second, the opportunity for personal development and learning is one of the strongest motivators for attracting and retaining employees.
If you haven’t done this already, you should start today and introduce practices of massive, individual or group learning. Make your company a learning organization. Start with several steps:
- First of all, start with yourself. As with everything else, the behaviour of managers dictates the behaviour of everyone else. Create an image of yourself that you are not a person who knows everything, but wants to learn. Learn every day, read, talk about new technologies and ways of working.
- You and the other managers do not have to know everything. Each employee knows something better than everyone else, including their superiors. Celebrate your employees’ knowledge and skills. Reward learning and innovation.
- Raise your staff’s awareness about the need for change and learning, awake their passion for learning something new. Talk about how the company or a part of it would ideally look like in 10 years, should all latest knowledge and technologies be applied.
- Map individual and team competences. Make skills matrixes where you will add all the latest skills that you might need in the next 5-10 years. Make an assessment of what you have at your disposal today and identify the priority skills to be learned.
- Learning should become a company value. End each challenge with a lesson learned that you will write down in a prominent place. That is how learning will produce capital in company knowledge.
- Provide access to learning, primarily for new technologies. Actively organize external trainings or in-house mentorship programmes, encourage each employee to constantly learn something new.
- Ask every (literally every) employee what they would like to learn. Give everyone a chance to influence their own choice of training and the form of their job in the future. You will be surprised how much potential and new ideas for improvement will come out precisely from the corners of the company that you did not expect much from.
- Make a safe environment to make experiments and mistakes. “Make quick mistakes” should be your main message. By trying different things, one learns best and arrives quickest to a new, better solution. Celebrate mistakes. Condemn routine.
- Set up temporary teams to do research and introduce changes. Engage a diverse group of people – from lowest to the highest level, from various departments, better employees and those who you considered not very good. Diversity helps teams learn much faster than individuals.
And finally – if you are on the way of making learning for change the main pillar of your business’s sustainability – let professionals help you. Managing change and learning are specialties of human resource professionals. First equip yourself with this knowledge. If you already have an HR department, give it influence and resources to establish processes and culture of learning and change. If you are a smaller company, ask for help. Knowledge can be bought (hire an experienced professional), borrowed (hire a consultant) or built (upskill current employees).
Encourage change and learning and enjoy the image of your future business.
About the Author
Ivana is a people management consultant, career development professional and leader of corporate human resources management departments with a long-standing experience. Through her roles as HR director she has demonstrated her competences for strategic management of human capital, organizational development and change management. Her expertise is in areas such as organizational structuring, HR infrastructure, employment engagement and talent management through career development. Ivana deeply believes in the development of individuals and systems: each employee and each organization has potential that can be stimulated to achieve goals.