May 8, 2018

How To Prepare Your Employees For The Unknown Future Of Work

Written by
David Mizne

Depending on which article you pick up about the future of work, you may find yourself either stress hyperventilating or settling back in your chair with a false sense of security.

But neither approach will help you and your employees prepare for the rollercoaster shift in work that is underway due to significant changes in technology. But there is hope. While we may not be able to anticipate all of the changes in store, we can prepare, using our humanity to our advantage.

Argument # 1: Advances in technology make the future bleak for humans

The predictions are dire. Oxford University said that 47% of U.S. jobs could be replaced by robots in 20 years. The CEO of Deutsche Bank said robots could do half of the jobs of the 97,000 people employed at the bank. AI and machine learning technologies will take away low skilled jobs such as food prep and equipment operators. They can also replace many employees in customer interaction and those with repetitive functions, like many office workers.

And in 2017, MIT Technology Review reported that nobody understands how the most advanced algorithms in artificial intelligence do what they do.

We are doomed. Unless we’re not.

Argument # 2: Technology will deliver us, providing a brighter, more productive future

Throughout history, as new technologies have developed, some jobs have been made nearly extinct (remember the Blockbuster Video clerk?), but other jobs have expanded, providing tremendous opportunities to more than compensate for any jobs lost.

In a podcast, Susan Lund, partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, said that since 1980, the number of jobs lost due to PCs and the Internet totaled 3.5 million. However, the number of jobs created because of those technologies, including growth in computer hardware manufacturers, semiconductors, software developers, app developers totaled 19 million jobs for a net gain of 15.8 million jobs.

Technologies like AI and machine learning will take away some of the mundane aspects of jobs, such as sifting through resumes, allowing us to focus on higher level skills. Virtual and augmented reality will be tools that help us expand our horizons in learning.

Which argument is true? Can both be? The wave of technological change is coming here, and organizations must be prepared for the unknown.

How to prepare employees for the future of work

According to Dell, 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. But we know this—as technology frees up more pedantic tasks, we need to help our employees hone their uniquely human skills.

Develop leadership skills

Whether an employee is technically a “leader” or not, leadership skills will have increasing value. Today’s and tomorrow’s leaders need not to be managers, but inspirers. They need to understand how to connect with their employees and to establish a workplace culture where employees can become their best selves. Many millennials say they feel ill-equipped to manage a team, but developing this skill will be necessary, particularly as baby boomers retire, opening up new job opportunities at higher levels.

Give your employees opportunities to lead, even if not in an official capacity. Encourage them to head a project, or even create an ad hoc group to problem solve your company’s most pressing issues. The more they practice leadership skills, the more confidently they’ll step into leadership roles.

Teach how to use feedback to drive performance and innovation

The pace of work is only going to get faster. Ensuring employees excel—which also means reinforcing what is done well—requires frequent employee feedback. Discover their challenges and triumphs, and provide your employees with the information and guidance they need to surge forward.

Coach your employees on how to actively listen to others and provide them with educational resources that help them to guide others toward greatness. And the most effective way to teach leadership is to model it; reinforce how getting and using feedback enhances development.

Foster creativity

The new world of work will require new ways of thinking. In fact, many experts report that a surefire way to future-proof your career is by choosing a creative role. As a leader, you can help employees to remain relevant throughout their careers by encouraging creativity and innovation.

Productivity is important (needles gotta move!) but remember that time for contemplation is valuable as well. Celebrate all ideas—even ones that might not be practical—as those may still open the door to better ones. Incorporate brainstorming sessions into planning and strategy routines and be open to employee suggestions for new processes, products, designs, or messaging.

Learn to use technology

We can’t completely get away from technology. The point is to embrace tech; not to avoid it. Organizations have more data now than they know what to do with. Being able to understand data and to contextualize what the information says and implies is key.

Every company, regardless of its product or service, is a technology company; we all rely on technologies for insights, communication and operation. Create a culture where each employee understands that technology is not the enemy. By creating healthy relationships with tech we can use these tools to enhance performance.

Create continuous learning opportunities

Employees will need to constantly evolve as technologies advance. That means employees must always be looking for opportunities to learn.

For baby boomer employees, this could mean investing in technical and nontechnical skills that allow for additional lateral movements as they consider powering down their careers. For employers who are earlier in their careers, this means providing frequent opportunities to update skills to remain current. For those who may lose their jobs due to technology, this would mean gaining skills that could lead to an alternate career.

While new skills are important, there is a foundational approach we need to have as we face the future: a growth mindset.

A person with a growth mindset believes their intelligence can be developed, versus someone with a fixed mindset who believes intelligence is fixed. Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University who developed the idea of the growth mindset, describes it this way:

“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).”

Those with a growth mindset focus on learning. When an organization embraces a growth mindset, employees feel more empowered and committed, Dweck says.

As we contemplate what the future of work holds for our employees and for ourselves, the truth is, we don’t know what will happen. But with a growth mindset, we can dedicate ourselves to learning, growing, and making space for creative expansion. If the robots are indeed coming for us, let’s focus on developing those human qualities that technology can never replace.

Looking for an HR software that will help you prepare your employees for the uncertain future of work? Try our product selection tool for HR software, or click on the link below to get started.

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David Mizne is Marketing Communications Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. David’s articles have also appeared on The Next Web & TalentCulture. Follow him @davidmizne.