When you (or your board members) think about thriving in a digital world, you probably think first about technology. It’s evolving so fast that your business constantly has to adapt. However, the greatest challenge is not the tech itself: It’s developing a knowledgeable, strategically adept, cognitively flexible, and proficient workforce. You want people who can command artificial intelligence, analyze data, invent and apply solutions on the fly, and slide effortlessly into new roles as needed. All the while, they should keep their skills sharp with mobile apps and online self-taught courses. Ideas should flow from all corners of the company, whether from full-time managers or a pool of gig workers who jump in when work heats up.
The demand for a more talented workforce goes beyond adapting to the new digital world. CEOs of fast-moving organizations – enterprises with bold strategies, innovative cultures, inclusive workforce, and great expectations – need highly skilled people. As a recent PwC report to the T20 (pdf) summit meeting in May 2019 noted, workforce transformation is also closely linked to the productivity gains needed in both business and the public sector.
Because no two organizations have the same circumstances, there is no single recipe to follow. However, together, the 10 principles below can help you prepare your company’s workforce for the future.
1. Focus on a few concrete business outcomes
Before you can articulate how your people need to change, you must know the results you expect them to deliver. Are you using digital technologies to improve your basic business model? Have you declared a new AI-enabled strategy and need your workforce to execute it? Are you seeking market growth through innovation? Do you want more profitability and productivity? Alternatively, are you trying to become more entrepreneurial and attentive to customers?
2. Foster emotional commitment
To participate wholeheartedly in a transformation of this sort, employees need more than a strategic direction and incentives. They need to be excited about the future and are inspired to opt in. You have to speak to their emotions — in particular, to their deep wish to see a connection between their own activities and the larger purpose of the enterprise.
3. Design a compelling experience
Before you impose your workforce transformation plan on people, consider what it will feel like to be caught up in it. A good employee experience (EX) will make your company well liked, but that’s not the only benefit. It will give people the cognitive support they need to conduct their jobs with confidence and excellence.
EX design involves many factors. These include the user interface of desktop and phone apps; the physical workspace (including the flexibility and movability of walls, and the availability of spaces for working collaboratively and concentrating alone); workload and flexibility (with a reasonable work-life balance); and the design and range of learning and development opportunities. Another factor is the way people treat one another, reinforced by the enterprise’s culture and operational approaches. The most compelling learning experiences are intensively social, involving small groups that meet to develop capabilities together, whose members may stay in touch informally for years.
4. Start with the highest-impact roles
Although a workforce transformation will ultimately reach the entire organization, some people’s roles and skill sets are critical in achieving the highest-priority business outcomes right away. That’s the population to focus on first.
People with some immediately important skills may already be working in your organization; you need to find and reassign them. Other skills may be new and unfamiliar; you need to recruit for them or upskill your existing staff. Look for people whose temperament and training would lead them to succeed in the new organization, even if their experience isn’t directly relevant in a traditional sense.
5. Change behavior first
What people do changes what they know. Therefore, any workforce transformation effort must explicitly design and instill new behaviors. The skills and knowledge will follow.
It takes thought and time to create behavior change; change doesn’t sink in when learning is confined to a training course. For example, to acquire skills in predictive maintenance — a form of artificial intelligence that can anticipate and prevent possible breakdowns — factory workers need to learn by doing. The factory worker might thus get involved in installing sensors, developing a computer model that makes sense of the data, and honing some interpretive skills: explaining his or her conclusions about the data, and considering others’ ideas.
6. Promote citizen-led innovation
When it comes to behavior change, top-down mandates often fail. That’s especially likely with today’s employees, who want and expect to be active participants in any change that affects them. These individuals are the closest to your customers and to the day-to-day execution of the business; they know what needs fixing and how to change it. People on your staff will come up with insights and opportunities that you might never have thought of.
7. Plan and commit to a comprehensive journey
Workforce transformation does not just happen in a few pockets, but on the scale throughout your enterprise. A full initiative might take three years or more, rolling out in stages, building the organization’s capabilities along the way. The initiative should be planned, prepared for, and resourced accordingly. Though the time and expense may seem daunting, the payoff will be worth it, especially if you manage expectations appropriately.
8. Engage with cultural influencers
Workforce transformation always involves cultural change. A survey by Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting group, of more than 2,200 executives and managers about change management programs showed that companies were more than twice as likely to deliver sustainable change when they brought any existing transformation into alignment with their culture.
The culture of a company, as defined by Jon R. Katzenbach, James Thomas, and Gretchen Anderson in their book The Critical Few: Energize Your Company’s Culture by Choosing What Really Matters, is “the self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing that determine how things are done within an organization.” Culture manifests itself in the way people act and talk. You can’t succeed if you ignore your organization’s culture, and yet you can’t pin it down or shape it through the formal efforts of ordinary organizational programs. You have to work with your culture as it is, not as you think it should be.
9. Include everyone but the unwilling
Any comprehensive workforce transformation must be designed to accommodate the full diversity of people, from a variety of backgrounds, in most large organizations today. To be an inclusive organization does not mean just avoiding bias related to demographic and identity factors (such as gender, age, race, ethnic and socioeconomic background, religion, and sexual orientation). It means embracing a wide range of experiences, perspectives, and goals that people bring to work. It may also mean establishing a heterogeneous structure, mixing full-time, part-time, and contract/gig workers; remote workers all around the world; and outsourced staff employed by other companies — all as part of your organization’s culture. Companies that live the values of inclusion are more likely to recruit and retain highly skilled people, and to benefit from their full complement of skills.
10. Track results and course-correct
As a leader of the workforce transformation, you need to ensure that all the effort will pay off. There are two basic ways to do this: Track the workforce transformation and intervene as needed to course-correct.
Tracking results can be difficult in workforce transformation, because value is sometimes hard to quantify and the benefits can be intangible. In their forthcoming report Fit to compete: Accelerating workforce transformation in digital financial services, PwC’s global financial-services workforce of the future team tackles this issue in a hypothetical scorecard for a bank’s upskilling initiative. It goes beyond financial metrics to include measures of skill building (such as survey results and instruction quality measures); knowledge gained (such as online learning community activity and numbers of downloads of apps); productivity (for example, savings in contractor spending), and business outcomes (such as launch data and scaling measures). There could also be metrics on brand health or social media commentary if those are affected by employees.