The Future of Work

Posted in : HR Updates on 7 December 2017
Anne Daley
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered:

“The future depends on what you do in the present” – Mahatma Gandhi  

Our world is changing fast and businesses clearly must adapt, but how?  

Clarendon Executive’s Anne Daley says when it comes to working, ‘change’ is the new norm and considers what savvy organisations should be doing now to future-proof their success.

Over the past decade the world of business has been subject to change in ways that nobody could have predicted.

And as we have seen, from past times of tumultuous change (industrial revolution, world wars, global recession), those who can get comfortable with uncertainty and develop not only the ability to adapt and respond positively to the challenges presented, but also anticipate, acquire and develop new skills and competencies are those who thrive.

Challenges ahead

Many businesses will already have 2020 visions and plans in place.  They know - or think they know - where they need to be in their market and indeed may have a roadmap of how to get there.  However markets change within months, economies develop rapidly and new competitors emerge all the time. Organisations must be agile and responsive to these changing events. 

In 2014 the Chartered Institute of Management published a report on the findings of a commission set up to investigate how management and leadership need to change to ensure success and sustainable growth post-2020.  The Commission identified some of the key challenges facing business today including the entry of Gen Y and Millennials to the workforce, an ageing population, increasing globalisation, the need for long-term thinking and strategizing, and a need to upskill managers and leaders.

It’s worth looking more closely at some of these challenges….

How will the future look?

The younger generation will drive new ways of working.  Research shows that Millennials are more concerned with business ethics and social contribution than previous generations.  They seek a positive work-life balance, interesting, varied work and regular feedback and coaching.  They prefer independence and autonomy in their working life to being micro-managed.  They also value freedom over security, willing to change jobs frequently unless their career needs are met, putting further pressure on organisations.

Technology is and will continue to transform the way we work, creating a cross-cultural and diverse workforce. Managers will have to handle teams that may be geographically dispersed, working remotely and independently, connecting across time zones.

Businesses will need to develop better cultural awareness and sensitivity.  By 2020 women will represent 56% of the workforce in the UK and by 2025 nearly 1 billion women will enter the global workforce.  Organisational design, culture and values will need to fully reflect and meet the needs of their employees.

What will tomorrow’s ‘leader’ look like?

There is still a prevailing belief that leaders are born not made, with only a ‘chosen few’ being endowed with the innate qualities and charisma needed to inspire and lead ‘from the front’. Evidence suggests that this is not the case, nor is this traditional, somewhat remote leader figure, the right kind of leader for the future. 

Today and tomorrow we need to develop leaders who understand how to operate in a fast-moving, inter-connected global context, building and developing effective teams in multiple locations and nurturing capability, innovation, diversity and inclusion in their businesses. They need to understand how to lead, inspire and motivate in increasingly flatter, leaner and non-hierarchical organisations. 

The Commission identified ten leadership characteristics necessary for success in the 21st century:

  • A clear sense of purpose
  • Strong values and personal integrity
  • Commitment to developing others through coaching and mentoring
  • Champion of diversity
  • Ability to engage and communicate at all levels
  • Self-awareness and taking time to reflect
  • Collaborative, networked and non-hierarchical
  • Agile and innovative, technologically curious and savvy
  • Personal resilience and grit
  • Excellent track record of delivery 

Organisations who succeed post-2020 will already have begun to prioritise identifying, hiring and developing leaders of the future who can demonstrate these characteristics.  They will have active talent pipelines and clear succession plans in place. They will appreciate and fully understand that it’s not only about what someone achieves, but rather how they achieve it – their values, motivations, personality and behaviours and how these inform their actions.

Long-term view

Where businesses have focused on a need to cut costs and drive for short-term profit in response to the global recession, the future needs to be more about sustainable growth and creating a long-term future.  This will require a commitment to invest in innovation, to support and foster creativity as well as nurturing and developing talent within the organisation.

To respond to these challenges, managers and leaders must be adequately trained and developed.  The Commission, in a survey of senior managers, found that there is currently a lack of opportunity for formal training that is needed to manage and lead successfully. This is often driven by cost and the perception that management and leadership training is a luxury rather than a necessity, a further reflection of our tendency for short-termism.

Shape your future

To future-proof your organisation, start with developing a competency framework that incorporates the skills and characteristics needed for managers and leaders of the future, a framework that can be used throughout the employee life cycle – from hiring through to developing and promoting your best talent. 

If you haven’t already, begin identifying leaders of the future within your business, assessing the strengths and weaknesses in the organisation’s talent pipeline and targeting learning and development activities where they are needed most.

Coaching and mentoring programs are also useful tools to give leaders the confidence to lead in this uncertain world and embedding good coaching and mentoring practices internally will benefit all employees.

In the words of inventor and visionary R. Buckminster Fuller, ‘We are called to be the architects of the future, not its victims’ – are you future-ready?


This article is correct at 07/12/2017

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Anne Daley
Clarendon Executive

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