The workforce of the future is unfolding amid an onslaught of digital change that is upending revenue flows, business models and, essentially, how we work. We are slap bang in the middle of a seismic shift for organizations and the people who work for them. Thriving in this era of promise and uncertainty means increasing the speed at which we innovate, experiment and collaborate inside, outside and across companies and industries.
The people — and it is people — needed to do this, and how they're put to work, are changing. Different voices and views are needed to test our long-held assumptions. This is why senior executives recognize that a diverse set of experiences, perspectives and backgrounds is not only desirable but critical for the development and successful execution of new ideas.
Generating Ideas; Avoiding Blindspots
And good ideas are the lifeblood of the digital economy. Businesses are under pressure to raise the pace of innovation and capture opportunities that are now emerging, thick and fast: Digital and intelligent products and services are no longer stand-alone entities but interactive components within an extended ecosystem. This is fundamentally changing intra-and inter-organizational work structures and how people work together.
Cross-company collaboration, and even blended teams spanning multiple organizations, are now found in many of the world's largest and digitally invented companies. A signifier is the healthcare venture recently announced by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan, which aims to reduce millions of dollars from the administration, pricing and delivery of healthcare for U.S. citizens and improve the flow of innovations across the industry. New business models and partnerships like this could upend the status quo in an industry very quickly.
But at their root, these innovative approaches require people to come together and work and build a future. This is why diversity matters: Diversity ensures emerging market opportunities are better understood because contributors with a range of backgrounds and experiences are better equipped to understand the unmet needs of an underleveraged market. Without a kaleidoscope of views and voices within a product or service development process, businesses risk creating a corporate blindspot that could prove fatal. They could ignore an emerging client base, and miss out on the revenue opportunity or cede it to a competitor; they could miss an emerging technology that could unlock a business process or transform a customer experience, simply because everyone thinks the same way and misses out.
A Culture of Success
In addition to innovation, diversity also fuels the culture that's needed for the future of work. The places where we work increasingly act as cultural barometers for the people, customers and partners who work with or transact with them. Diversity is a key component of a work culture that shapes the workforce's values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, experiences and habits that guide its collective behavior. For this reason, work cultures are too important to let "just happen." With intentional leadership that prioritizes diversity, the work culture itself can perpetuate, promote and energize the business's brand.
One simple, straightforward way of encouraging diversity is to include employees from various backgrounds, levels, roles and experiences in the ideation process. This could happen at an enterprise level or even globally. Those diverse voices are most certainly in the organization; you just might not be able to hear them. Leaders need to ask staff to help with ideating because creative concepts are nurtured and fine-tuned by bouncing ideas off one another and learning from the feedback loops.
What's becoming increasingly clear is that in the future of work, diversity and inclusion cannot be a nice-to-have. In a fast-changing world of work, businesses will need all hands on deck to capture the nuances of the marketplace, and respond in a way that makes it relevant and meaningful to not just "a few" or "the norm" but to the multiplicity, the infinite variety, the "all."