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The Pressure on the Workforce Ratchets Up

Workforce
Leadership
Digital
Algorithms
Work Ahead

The Pressure on the Workforce Ratchets Up

I am convinced that the way we put our people to work and the talent companies’ need demands a radical overhaul. Just over...

5 Minutes Read

I am convinced that the way we put our people to work and the talent companies’ need demands a radical overhaul. Just over a year ago, Cognizant’s Work Ahead research discovered a generation of leaders finding the digital shift difficult and under pressure. We found an executive class literally uncertain what to do, and how to do it. One year on, the story has switched, and the pressure has moved down into the workforce. Leaders know what needs to be done but they worry that their people are unable to cope with the blistering pace of change. Cognizant sees a growing tension within firms, between the leadership and workforce as the realities of modern work unfold. Here is my take on what those pressures are...

Firstly, change is measured in weeks, not months. Quicker, faster, more! The time it takes for a new product or technology to reach a significant milestone in user acceptance is quite frankly, astonishing. Television took 22 years to hit 50 million users; YouTube, Facebook and Twitter took only four, three and two years respectively. Meanwhile, the widely addictive "Angry Birds" app took just 35 days!  How? Apple’s ubiquitous platform (like any other platform) precipitate incredibly fast change and enable entrepreneurs, inventors, and coders to produce ever-more innovative and disruptive creations. B2C and B2B customers expect consistent and high-value digital experiences. They don’t care if building these experiences is hard or requires a complex, multifunction approach from inside and outside the business. They want immediate value and will go elsewhere if you can’t provide it.  Feel the pressure? Do your people?

Second, there is an insatiable demand for creativity shows no sign of slowing down. Cross company collaboration, even blended teams, spanning multiple firms around found the workplace. Rising customer expectations and choice, the stunning advances in technology, a thriving start-up scene that can proffer up simple lines of code to more complex apps to supercharge an experience—the sky is the limit when it comes to delighting the customer. The flows of data in and across our business are changing everything from the business model (ecosystems) to how you operate (digital processes) to the underpinning technology (virtualized). Success requires mastery of data and the mechanisms that enable your people to collaborate inside and beyond the four walls of the business.  Inventiveness, imagination, originality are the watchwords not just for a B2C business model, but for any business that is serious about value creation. Anyone can have a good idea, but internal hierarchies can raise – or stifle – some of the best.

Third (and this is hard for some people) algorithms are directing how, and where, work gets done. Would you want to be managed by a machine? They don’t make good bosses. Those algorithms are snaking from the personal (Alexa, Netflix, Spotify) and shaping how work moves between teams. This goes beyond clever software that schedules your working day to an algorithm that builds a sophisticated profile of each and every worker and figures out the “best they can be.” For example, retailers can now build profiles on shop-floor staff by sales yield, determining when they perform well and who they should be paired with for maximizing shopper spend. Data feeds from the weather, traffic, etc. work to augment the algorithm, forecasting customer footfall in advance and generate a schedule with the optimal mix of workers to maximize sales for every 15-minute slot of the day. Press a button and the schedule is on the employee’s smartphone today, tomorrow, whenever.

The fourth pressure on the workforce is how rootless and nomadic work is becoming. The gig workforce is growing and brings with it challenges for management. It’s no surprise that “gig” where businesses move at warp speed and skills are a quickly moving target. One overriding issue for companies is the dizzying cycles of business change and reinvention that the shift into platforms, algorithms and innovative new business models and the configurations of players in support demand. The skills and capabilities needed are a perpetually moving target and its challenging organizations to build the competencies they need at breakneck speed. Our previous research shows that many teams are under-resourced and will subcontract where needed. Clearly, the time, effort and expense of retraining a workforce isn’t worth it for specific skills that could be outdated in months. So how do you maintain a corporate culture with itinerant workers coming and going through the doors?

And finally, work is no longer the great leveller—resentments are growing and on both sides. Job for life, right? Wrong. We all push the same way no matter our age or class? No. Work is becoming much more fluid and contextual for the people that are now entering the workforce—and it’s confusing those that started their careers even in the early 2000s, let alone way back in the midst of time say, (what?!) last century. The one-company, linear career path is dead; entrepreneurship is the new cool, and it seems that networks matter now more than ever. New fluid power structures that are contextual and social at their core challenge some and yet delight others. Older workers see a younger, hipper “martini” workforce (anytime, anyplace, any device) challenging the notions of how and where work gets done—while the younger workforce can’t’ understand their peer’s reluctance to share, well, everything. 

Do you see this at your work? Are there other pressures we haven’t captured? We think we have an answer and it’s about how you shape your culture…watch this space.


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