A few years ago, our water heater busted and flooded our fully-finished basement. In a matter of hours, everything was removed, including all of the carpet and padding, furniture, electronics, and sections of drywall. We placed large industrial fans in the basement for the next three days to make sure that the entire room dried. The next step was to work with the insurance company to agree on the cost of replacing everything that was damaged with items of equal quality and value.
It was at this stage of the process that it became clear to us how much technology had advanced since we last bought carpet and electronics – what we used to have wasn’t even sold anymore. It was also at this point that we had to decide whether or not we wanted to make further improvements.
We were given the chance to put our basement back to exact state that it was in before, but we ended up with higher grade carpet and a much more advanced television set for our basement. We also considered additional improvements such as adding a shower or extra bedroom since we were given the opportunity to reimagine our basement before having the work done.
Many organizations today find themselves in a similar position and are up to their ankles in water, standing in the middle of their flooded basements. The current economic crisis, fueled by COVID-19, has left many companies with damage that will need to be fixed as they recover. Just like the basement situation, organizational leaders have the opportunity to reimagine their workforce and organizational values before fixing the damage. It’s time for them to ask themselves some hard questions:
How has our work changed?
What are the future skills that our employees need?
Are we focused on hiring and developing the right people with the right values and competencies for future success?
Do we need to restructure our teams or reskill our workforce?
Prior to the pandemic, organizational psychologists had identified characteristics that would best prepare individuals for the future of work. The recent shock to the traditional office environment and service sector has accelerated some trends, such as remote working. Some might say that the future of work is here and it’s time to adjust to it. We feel this is an opportunity for businesses to prepare themselves for the next phase of workplace challenges. As such, we encourage organizations to re-examine their job descriptions for knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that have changed over time and consider future trends and expectations that will further change job specifications. From there, subsequent human resource processes, such as training/development, hiring, and performance evaluation, should reflect the updates to ensure alignment between the new vision and the criteria used to build the workforce and organizational culture.
To aid in this effort, we have identified five forward-looking competencies that organizations should consider building into their HR strategies as their basements are drying out and they are planning their recovery. Some of these characteristics may not sound “new,” but with an accelerated shift toward data and technology along with a spotlight on social justice and equity, these competencies are likely to increase in importance from a few months ago.
In the aftermath of COVID-19, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM, 2020) conducted a survey to gain an understanding of how companies were being affected by the pandemic. That survey reported that 75% of organizations have employees working from home. And, at least 75% of those workers expressed a desire to continue working remotely, at least occasionally. Additionally, over half of the individuals surveyed (54%) reported wanting to work primarily from home. These statistics suggest that remote working is here to stay for many organizations and workers. Working remotely requires employees to change their work style and processes – especially when it comes to collaboration and communication. To be effective, remote workers must put more effort into communicating and building relationships facilitated by technology. In general, it takes more interactions to establish a relationship with colleagues and teammates. Meetings and presentations can be particularly difficult for remote workers when most other attendees are in-person. Without strong communication skills and some assertiveness, it can be difficult to be heard and voice an opinion.
Another important characteristic that we believe is critical for future work success is learning agility. Learning agility encompasses behaviors that relate to seeking out new experiences, gathering knowledge, and learning new skills. Employees who are learning agile approach problems as challenges and are motivated to solve them. Given advancements in technology and changes to work environments, workers strong in learning agility will thrive and be driven to learn new technology and apply it to their work. This skill is also particularly helpful for individuals in remote environments who rely on technology to facilitate their work and relationships.
If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is how globally connected we all are. Organizations are expanding to multiple countries and combining work teams. Many professionals work on virtual teams where teammates live in different locations and/or countries. Moreover, social justice movements have brought greater attention to the bias that often exists in the workplace. Given these factors, a focus on diversity and inclusion and identifying individuals who are more inclusive in their thinking and behaviors would benefit the organizational culture and climate. Inclusive leaders create a psychologically safe space for employees, which can translate to greater collaboration, creativity, and productivity.
As previously mentioned, advancements in technology are likely to change the nature of some jobs dramatically. It is expected that jobs that can be automated, will be. Jobs that are less likely to be automated are those that require creativity and abstract thinking. Even though artificial intelligence and machine learning are making strides in mimicking the human mind, it will take some time to build human judgment and creativity into a computer system. Additionally, new technologies bring on new challenges and employees who are able to think creatively and find novel solutions to novel problems are more likely to be successful.
Lastly, a strong trend that is unlikely to fade is a focus on data. Now, and even more in the future, organizations have access to large amounts of data about their employees, customers, and products. A focus on data-driven solutions and decision-making is only going to grow. Organizations would benefit from ensuring that they have employees who can critically evaluate data and interpret results. Computers can crunch numbers but it takes individuals with critical thinking skills to know what to ask for and how to make sense of the results that are generated.
Given the sudden nature of the pandemic, many companies have been in survival mode and are doing what they can to make it through the crisis - thinking about the future can be daunting. As preparations are being made for the recovery and organizations look to repair and rebuild the damage left by the economic downturn, it is important to look forward and take time to imagine what the organization could be. In many cases, rebuilding the same structure as before may not be what is needed for the future. To do this, we recommend:
Review key job descriptions to determine if they adequately cover the KSAs needed to perform the job effectively in the future environment.
Review the organizational competency model for opportunities to improve accuracy and communicate important organizational values.
Align hiring and performance management systems with updated job descriptions and competency models for alignment and consistency.
Identify areas for development among current workforce; make training and coaching opportunities available to develop these future skills.
Formulate a plan to ensure the reimagined vision is instilled in organizational leadership, built into HR strategies and messaging, and demonstrated through actions and behaviors.
It’s time to reimagine. It’s time to dream a little. It’s a unique opportunity to decide if what you had before is what you want now. The crisis will end, so make sure your organization is ready for the new reality.