Nurture agility and adaptability

Create a competitive advantage through a more engaging people experience

Secure your future people experience: Five imperatives for action - Chapter 3

Increasing life expectancy and the profound disruption of skill sets and career paths by technological change mean that individuals will undertake more transitions at greater frequencies over their lifetime.  Some of these transitions may be voluntary and others may be thrust upon people.

Every individual will need to develop the capability to adapt quickly and confidently. Organisations can help employees make successful transitions by emphasising the importance of diversity of experiences and lifelong learning. Employees themselves are pushing for continuous learning and development opportunities. For companies hiring younger employees, the ability to learn and progress is now a key employment criterion and a factor in their own brand building.

This calls for corporations to deliver learning tailored to individual needs. Organisations cannot merely rely on education institutions in a landscape of changing jobs and skills requirements.

This is the third in a series of five chapters on how your organisation can create competitive advantage through a more engaging people experience.

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To understand how prepared companies are to nurture their workforce for the future, we sought to identify the key organisational capabilities they will need to succeed. Building on PwC research and working in collaboration with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, we identified 45 key organisational capabilities. We then conducted a global survey of more than 1,200 business and HR leaders from 79 countries to gauge how important those capabilities are to organisations around the world. We also sought to learn whether organisations are taking action today to get ready – and which capabilities are most at risk owing to a lack of action. The full results are published in Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce, today.

Set the expectation that change is a constant

Workers will need to train and retrain throughout their lives just as organisations will need to transform and transform again.  In Singapore, for example, the Government is giving grants to workers to help them retrain throughout their working lives, not simply so they gain new skills but also to adjust general expectations: retraining will become the norm.

Organisations also need to do more to help their workers understand that change will be continual, demanding and sometimes fast-paced. By helping workers gain this understanding, companies are doing their very best to arm them for the change mind-set and recognition of the new skills they will need in the future. But according to our research, although they understand the importance of managing change, organisations are not taking enough action to help their employees adapt.

Provide ‘just-enough, just-in-time and just-for-me’ learning

Classroom teaching and incremental development of skill sets are at odds with the new world of work. People are now accustomed to getting information in real time, in short sprints, through online platforms. Within organisations, this transformation is also shifting from ‘just-in-case’ learning, characteristic of university programmes, to an approach described as ‘just-enough, just-in-time and just-for-me’. The emphasis is on personalised, concise content that is accessible as and when needed, across devices.

New ways of learning require a change in the education relationship between employer and employee from parent–child to adult–adult. In this context, employees have ownership of their learning and are empowered to define their skill gap and choose when, how and what they want to learn. For organisations, it means transitioning from being a provider of learning to being an enabler of learning. Companies must create the space for people to decelerate, reflect and learn from peers. The rise in self-directed learning creates a new need for ‘credentialising’ systems that recognise when people gain new skills. Such a system could take the form of digital badges, for example, which individuals can point to when applying for new opportunities within or outside the company.  Corporations need to provide the tools and space for employees to share and be recognised for any learning, both internally and externally.

Organisations can tap into new technological tools to make learning a part of the culture. Technology is not only offering new ways of learning predefined content, for example through self-directed micro-learning, but also facilitating peer-to-peer learning. In addition, augmented and virtual reality learning is increasingly geared towards knowledge workers. These technologies will offer companies new opportunities for engaging the workforce over the next few years.

Accurate anticipation of future jobs and skills requirements by corporations is also crucial in creating a learning organisation. People need opportunities to gauge which jobs may be at risk and to identify the new tasks and jobs that are being created. Knowing how jobs may transform creates a basis for personal planning and acts as a motivator for learning.

“As people work longer and skills demands evolve, organisations have a key role to play in helping their employees to adapt quickly and confidently to frequent transition. This includes offering the diversity of experience and commitment to lifelong learning that employees now prize and which forms a key element of a successful employer brand.”

Carol Stubbings Joint Global People and Organisation Leader, PwC UK

Foster internal mobility

Diverse experiences and skill sets will be critical for individuals if they are to successfully transform over their working life. Corporations can help people gain skills by providing opportunities for them to try a new role in a different part of the organisation or in a different country. Job rotations and secondments broaden an individual’s skill set, making them more resilient to future change. They also create agility within the organisation, making it easier for people to move out of roles that are no longer required and into new value-adding positions.

Likewise, organisations benefit from bringing diverse perspectives together to address specific challenges. Greater internal mobility enables organisations to combine multiple disciplines and skill sets to innovate new products, services and ways of working. One approach is to bring people together to solve a specific problem and then disband this loose team. Some consultancies work on this premise. For example, Continuum hires a diverse array of designers, engineers, psychologists, artists, MBAs and ethnographers as needed, based on client projects. The company is deliberate about securing clients from a variety of fields and geographies, so that its consultants are exposed to a diverse set of design and business challenges and can cross-pollinate ideas from different industries, life experiences and cultural perspectives.

Offer career customisation

The traditional model of education, employment and retirement has underpinned organisations’ processes and practices for generations. This three-stage model has a clear linear direction for career advancement. As a result, career success is evaluated via the rate of upward mobility and accumulation of tangible assets, such as salary.  Organisations are increasingly observing more variety within generational cohorts, however, as people move from the three-stage life to multiple stages that they transition through, often out of sync with their peers. Increasingly, people of every age want to build a career that blends corporate jobs, freelance gigs and time spent out of the workforce for recuperation, education and exploration.

Such ‘multi-directionality’ doesn’t just affect career paths; it has implications for the evaluation of career success. Employees now have multiple options. For example, instead of racing up the corporate ladder, people are often willing to make a lateral move into a position with a similar pay grade to gain greater personal satisfaction or to pursue an entirely new career path. Employees first look to see if there is an interesting lateral opportunity at their current company before looking elsewhere. What this suggests is that employees want to remain with their current employer, but only if they have the opportunity to customise their careers. Organisations should not make assumptions about people’s motivations based on gender or life stage; they will need to enable employees to set their own goals and expectations in terms of the speed and direction of career progression. Corporations must also consider endorsing practices such as ongoing networking, training and mentoring to reintegrate employees who may decide to leave or to dial down responsibility at various points in their career course.

Only 37% of business leaders agreed or strongly agreed that their organisations offer career customisation, compared to 52% of HR leaders. This means that widely communicating such initiatives and role modelling by senior leadership is of paramount importance.

Job forecasting at AT&T

Telecommunications giant AT&T has invested US$250m in supporting learning opportunities for its employees. It uses technology to help forecast job profiles by mapping job categories and competencies and to help show areas of likely growth as well as jobs at risk. Employees are able to use this information to select new learning pathways. The company offers up to US$8,000 in annual tuition aid per employee for degrees and nanodegrees, with a lifetime cap of US$25,000 for undergraduate degrees and US$30,000 for graduate degrees. As a result of this investment, 140,000 employees have been engaged in acquiring skills for newly created roles.

Rotations at Fastweb

Fastweb, an Italian telecommunications company, recently launched a rotational development programme that aims to increase internal mobility as part of its talent attraction and retention strategy. Each rotation path consists of three stakeholders: the employee, their current manager and the manager who will acquire the employee during the programme. The programme can last six months to a year, during which employees are assessed and monitored. Upon employees’ return to their initial manager, they are expected to have acquired a range of new competencies and capabilities.

Lateral career moves at Heineken

Brewer Heineken, which employs more than 80,000 people worldwide, has a Career Track tool that enables people to move laterally within the organisation in order to reach personal goals. The app allows people to search for an organisational area with functional capabilities that fit their growth aspirations. People then receive information about the experience and capabilities required to arrive at the position, permitting them to tailor their development plan accordingly. Individuals can also self-assess their current capabilities on the app. This information is designed to enable constructive conversations between employees and their manager, supporting them to formulate a personal development plan together. In order to define the capabilities required for each role, Heineken created a dictionary of critical capabilities within each function. The dictionary was developed through workshops with leaders and managers, who collected information and decided on a relevant set of criteria to be used as the basis for helping people move into specific roles.

Contact us

Carol Stubbings

Partner, Joint Global Leader, People & Organisation, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 77 3987 4275

Bhushan Sethi

Partner, Joint Global Leader, People & Organisation, PwC United States

Tel: +1 (917) 863 9369

Justine Brown

Director, Workforce of the Future research programme, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 77 1016 9938

Nicky Wakefield

Partner, People & Change, PwC Singapore

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