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Leadership in the digital age: It isn’t about control, but comfort with uncertainty

10 February 2017

The C-suite executives and HR leaders that will succeed in the era of digital change and global economic and political uncertainty will be those that are the most curious and adaptable rather than those that are rigid and hierarchical.  That is one of the key insights to emerge in the first episode of Invisible Admin: Conversations about the future of work - a series of podcasts from Sage and Inquisition.

A good leader in the past was regarded as a person who was certain about what needed to be done. But with technology, economic and political change unfolding at such a rapid pace, today’s leaders operate in a world that is less certain, says Graeme Codrington, an expert on the future world of work and founder of TomorrowToday. Strategies developed today may need to change tomorrow in response to new competition, new technology or different economic circumstances.

Anja Van Beek, Vice President of People (HR) at Sage International (Africa, Middle East, Asia & Australia), says that as globalisation and new technology challenge managers’ traditional mindsets, they also need to relook the profile of the people they employ. They need to build teams that are comfortable with change and ambiguity – and that in turn demands that they think about training, recruitment and management in new ways.

The on-the-go workforce

The pace of change in today’s working environment and Millenials joining the workforce both demand a new approach to training and development. While it is important to deliver lifelong learning, organisations should make content available in a way that suits today’s on-the-go workforce—for example, digestible chunks of online video or audio content that can be listened to in the car on the way to work or at the gym.

“Rather than forcing employees to learn in classroom type training sessions, we should accommodate them by giving them access to materials on their mobile devices,” says Van Beek. “They should be able to learn at work or in their own time, at their own pace and in formats that meet their needs.”

It is also important to encourage innovation and experimentation on-the-job to create a responsive and innovative workforce. Leaders and employees should read widely and share what they learn with their teams. Van Beek suggests that this should be integrated into the company in the form or ‘book review’ sessions – or even a company ‘book club’.

Experimentation key to responsiveness

Many leaders know that they are facing uncertainty but aren’t quite sure how to start adapting to it. Codrington says that the easiest, simplest way to start this journey is to encourage teams to experiment. Experiments can be small or large, but the key is to start questioning long held assumptions about the way we work and why we things in a specific way. For example, one could test out allowing people to work from home for two days a week and monitor productivity levels or do away with email updates and meetings for a week and see what happens. Over time, this approach will help companies become more responsive to changes in the environment.

The end of one-size-fits-all workplaces

Codrington says that another shift leaders must prepare for is the move to a more personalised work experience rather than the one-size-fits-all HR practices of the past. For example, people expect to learn on their own terms. Where training and development once needed to be standardised for the sake of efficiency and control, digital tools give organisations the flexibility to customise training programmes and track them efficiently.

In practice, says Van Beek, that may mean gathering data about employees and using analytics to see what they expect from the workplace and how they feel about the employer brand. Anonymous employee surveys can be a useful tool in this regard; it’s also important to communicate with employees using different mediums, whether that’s video or Twitter.

Ultimately, says Codrington, the behaviours that the millennial generation is bringing into the workforce will become pervasive. They are the customers and employees of the future and they expect to find a collaborative, connected and personalised work experience. Leaders that tap into their ability to multi-task, cope with uncertainty and leverage technology will be positioned for success.

Sage, the market leader for integrated accounting, payroll and payment systems, is releasing five Invisible Admin: Conversations about the future of work podcasts ahead of its annual Sage Summit that will take place in Johannesburg on 7-9 March 2017 at the Sandton Convention Centre. To listen and find out more, visit http://www.sage.com/za/business-resources/podcasts.

ENDS

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