Learning to learn – the future of work

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Automation, artificial intelligence, and globalisation are just a few of the developments changing the nature of work as we know it.

Firstly, there is a shift in positions as certain skills will reduce in demand whilst others will flourish.

Secondly, the way work is organised is changing. Command and control structures are making way for flatter and more fluid structures where project teams are rapidly formed or dissolved to respond to the task at hand. Greater connectivity tools and globalisation mean fixed work patterns and locations are disappearing – no longer are people consigned to 9 to 5 in the office. This, in turn, has a knock-on impact on employment contracts, work-life balance and number of coffee shops gracing our high streets.

The third shift is the most feared. The risk that jobs will not only be changed, but also be reduced in overall number. Historically, technology creates more jobs than it destroys but we don’t know if it will be different this time. That’s the whole point. No one knows.

So if change is the new constant, what does a leader of the future look like?

Let’s look at the future generations to answer this question. In his book The Global Achievement Gap, Dr. Tony Wagner argues children need to develop seven core competencies to survive in the years to come:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analysing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

If 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet, people need to have the ability to reinvent themselves. They need to be curious, humble and have a passion for learning. Think of it like a bundle of skills and capabilities rather than a defined role or profession.

Now if this applies to future generations, what about our current leaders? We need to start thinking of leadership as a mindset, a behaviour, much more than something attached to hierarchy or rank. We are moving away from linking leadership success to team size, span of control, a clearly defined area of expertise and execution power. Effective leaders will need to be more “T-Shaped” – an expert in their field as well as able to address several other topics and stay on top of the latest trends and developments. It is about hero teams, rather than hero individuals – people who can engage and bring together diverse teams and are able to empower these teams to make their own decisions. It is about leaders who focus on their contribution to the business, community and the economy, rather than on the title they hold. And it’s about the agility to stay relevant despite constant change.

It is no surprise that organisations agree leadership development is very important and something that they should invest in, especially given the business results that are there to be reaped. According to research conducted by DDI, The Global Leadership Forecast 2018, the companies in the top third of financial performers are twice as likely to have high-quality leaders than those in the bottom third. However, results don’t seem easy to achieve. DDI states that despite a common acknowledgment of its importance, little has improved in overall organisational leadership quality over the past years. The percentage in the excellent/very good categories has hovered at around 40 percent since 2011.

Perhaps the way we approach leadership development needs to change too.

In her Harvard Business Review article: Why Leadership Development isn’t developing leaders, Deborah Rowland states that the vast majority of leadership programmes are still set curricula delivered through classroom-taught, rationally based, individual-focused methods. Participants are taken out of their workplaces to be inspired by expert faculty, work on case studies, receive personal feedback, and take away the latest leadership thinking.

We need to be applying the skills we are trying to develop such as curiosity, agility, collaboration and initiative to leadership development itself.

This is why the Capgemini University together with the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) defined the six key dimensions of learning in the digital age:

  • Engaging through an exceptional and relevant learning experience
  • Empowering, personalised, and self-directed
  • Ubiquitous, just-in-time, on-demand and in context
  • Balanced blend of experiential, social, informal, and formal approaches
  • Hyper-connected through analytics everywhere
  • Continuous, based on inquiry, exploring and doing

After we defined what learning in the digital age means, we developed the five Digital Age Learning guiding principles for design and deployment of learning content. The principles form a basic template for learning design, creating a unified ideology for learning:

  • Connect the learner across the ecosystem of resources and conversations by deploying a wide range of tools enabling learning with each other and creating powerful connections.
  • Curate content, create experience – learners shape their own learning experience as much as they are shaped by it. Use analytics and user insight to drive decisions on how to personalise learning.
  • Design for everyday workplace learners – design for just-in-time bite sized access to continuous learning to support the learner’s do-learn-do mindset.
  • Deliver for business and learners with agility and speed – adopt a curation first approach to learning content.
  • One size fits one – adopt new digital methods and tools for deploying learning to deliver high value for the business and greater ability for the learner.

Of course, these changes do not happen overnight and the learning community also needs to be upskilled to make the transition. In short, we need to practice what we preach…. And what an exciting journey to be on!

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