Although the digital revolution has been around for over 70 years, in very real terms it’s only just getting going now. Artificial intelligence, automation, algorithms, and big data are subtly altering every facet of our commercial and personal lives. However, there is a dark side to this revolutionary digital shift: a widening gap in ideology between traditional business leaders and the future workforce.
Leaders’ Fear of the Erosion of ‘Work’ Meaning
Automation is an all-pervading phenomenon that is reshaping the face of every industry and raising perhaps uncomfortable questions about the work done by people and the future relationship between man and machine. Business leaders have a bleaker and more dystopian outlook on the impact of the new technology than any other group. There is a growing fear that automation will negatively affect their work, cut them off from human contact, and erode their individuality. In fact, only 35% of recently surveyed Asia-Pacific executives believe that they will be making a more meaningful contribution to their work by 2020, compared with a global average of 75%. When it comes to the positive impact of digital technologies on their job commitment and engagement, and opportunities for advancement, their confidence is at rock bottom. They glumly feel that intra-colleague empathy and support will fade away and individuals will become more and more isolated.
According to this dismal prediction, people will have less motivation to study, go to school, and pursue a career; their range of emotions will be impaired and they will shun collaboration. Although this attitude is depressing, it does raise some key questions: Where will the age of accelerated automation lead us? How will humanity’s role be defined in the future?
The Stars of Tomorrow are Embracing the Digital Boom
The stark reality is that the attitudes of the new wave of MBA students are worlds away from those of the executives. They are excited about digital mediums being a constructive adjunct to their work, bringing colleagues closer together, and boosting enthusiasm for the work by 2020. In fact, MBAs in Asia-Pacific are twice as sure (70%) that digital will help them to more productively collaborate with others. In short, they see digital as the engine that will drive the future of our society, jobs, and work.
Isolation is not an issue for them; they know they can’t win the digital game alone as digital is inherently collaborative and is all about creating a level playing field through the democratization of information. The ability to nurture a cooperative approach is a work skill that will shortly be in great demand, and today’s leaders must be ready to change the way they approach it.
One area where current executives and the workforce of tomorrow do seem to agree is work satisfaction. While both sides feel that this aspect will be improved by 2020, they think about it in very different ways, hinting at a workforce/employer disconnect in the future. For today’s leaders, work satisfaction is all about business growth, while future workers are reliant on the expansion of the digital domain.
Shun the Company of the Past
Present business leaders are missing a vital point in their thinking on digital — they must realize that it has as much to do with boosting the role of humans as it does with redefining the face of a company. A lot of these leaders will be mulling over two salient questions come 2020: 1.) Did they foresee the imminent change in workforce expectations and attitudes? 2.) What did they do to transform their workplace in preparation? A generation from now, we will look back and see how organizations transformed themselves, their people, and all of our lives. Currently, many bosses are convinced they can achieve collaboration in the new era by simply installing collaborative software, which is way off the mark. Collaboration is not about platforms or technology; it is about engaging people to join you in a mutual journey that can transform a business from the bottom up and break down internal silos.
To succeed in today’s world, companies need to have a tribe that is fearlessly devoted to the company’s digital mission. Companies that are genuine in their person-centric approach, putting customers and employees first, are not just surviving; they are thriving. Such a model entails a massive overhaul of the prevailing management culture, which remains hierarchical and authoritarian in many Asia-Pacific firms. When transforming a company, one must be ready to make sweeping changes to the organizational structure. Business leaders should emphasize empathy and humanity to relate to their would-be successors who embrace such a philosophy.