Future Proof Your Workforce by Tapping Into Its Adaptability

By BrainStation June 27, 2019

According to a recent study by the Harvard Business School, managers and employees “perceived the future in significantly different ways,” with employees being much more optimistic about the future than managers may realize. 

In fact, “workers seem to recognize more clearly than leaders do that their organizations are contending with multiple forces of disruption, each of which will affect how companies work differently.”

While this should clearly serve as a warning to managers and executives, it is also good news of a sort. In the words of the study, “your workforce is more adaptable than you think.” And with a full 74 percent of organizations implementing digital transformation initiatives (and research showing that it’s cheaper to reskill current employees than to hire new ones), an engaged, adaptable workforce is essential.

So how do you tap into this willingness to change? Let’s take a closer look at some ideas behind future-proofing your workforce. 

Put a Focus on Reskilling 

You wouldn’t sell a product without having a supply chain in place. So why not apply the same thinking about your workforce? That’s one of the suggestions put forth by the report, which states that “while companies are keen to prepare for the future of work, they remain mired in their historical approach to hiring, training, and talent management.”

Employers typically rely on a combination of networking and job postings to secure new talent, but that’s a problem when the talent you’re looking for might not exist in the labor pool. Creating a pipeline for new talent by training and promoting from within is one solution. 

For example, as part of its Workforce 2020 solution, AT&T collected information about the skills of its 250,000 employees. AT&T compared that information to the skills the company determined it would need to stay competitive in the future. 

Next, AT&T developed a learning program with the goal of training existing employees to meet the future demands of the company. As a result, AT&T is hiring “far fewer” outside contractors because existing staff are able to do the work. 

The company also says it expects employees involved in the training program to be four times more likely to make a positive career move, and two times more likely to be hired into a “mission-critical” role at AT&T.

To put this kind of reskilling program into place, organizations need to start at the top, identifying and closing skills and knowledge gaps among managers. Estée Lauder, for example, sent management teams to BrainStation for digital skills training, which resulted in a robust, digital-first marketing approach that paid immediate dividends. 

Engage Employees in the Process 

When employers were asked what was holding employees back from learning new skills, “managers chose answers that blamed employees, rather than themselves,” according to the report. In fact, fear of change was the number one reason managers said is holding employees back from learning new skills. 

And while respondents to this survey claimed to be eager to learn and embrace the future (which was backed up in our Digital Skills Survey), studies have nevertheless shown that a majority of people do fear change when digital transformation initiatives are introduced, with 39 percent anxious when new tech is introduced.  

To get around these fears (or at least the perception of fear), organizations can get employees engaged in the process by explaining the why and the how, not just the what. 

ING Netherlands used this strategy when they overhauled their workforce to “turn itself into an agile institution almost overnight.” Instead of hiring new staff and laying off existing employees, the bank communicated with staff about upcoming changes.

As a result, employees who didn’t think they would fit into the new culture were happy to leave (ING provided support to find other jobs), and employees who stayed were eager to learn new skills and transition the company into its next phase. 

While the transition wasn’t easy, CEO Vincent van den Boogert said,  “when you talk about the why, what, and how at the same time, people are going to challenge the why to prevent the how. But in this case, everyone had already been inspired by the why and what.”

By engaging employees in the good, the bad, and uncomfortable parts of the process, ING created a win-win situation out of a typically negative experience for employees and employers alike.

Interested in learning more about the digital landscape? Check out BrainStation’s 2019 Digital Skills Survey.