The transformation of the workforce from an executive coach’s eyes

As an executive coach I am a qualified professional that works with individuals (usually executives, but often high-potential employees) to help them gain self-awareness, clarify goals, achieve their development objectives, unlock their potential, and act as a sounding board. The later as a consequence,  often expose my awareness to a vast amount of subjects,  one in particular drew my attention,  the challenge senior leaders face with the “DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORKFORCE” this topic push me to delve into the  workforce  transformation our  society is currently  experiencing.

One of the reasons this topic is sensitive  to me is that  it touches  the begin of my working life, in the 90’s I’ve started coding at very young age, my first computer program using Basic, Dbase and Clipper was at the age of 17. After few years I’ve been able to provide automation to payroll, accounting, school reports, credit control, chamber of commerce,  retail automation and you name it. I had 60% of the city business as my clients while finishing secondary school.  Coding came as a natural ability spending sleepless nights reading books and engaged on logic challenges, trails and tests with processing speed and data storage capacity limitations

We are in a state of revolutionary transformation as companies begin to apply artificial intelligence on a massive scale. Within intelligent automation enabled by AI old jobs will die, and new jobs are born at an accelerating pace. Digitalization affects both business processes and work culture,  in order to thrive in the technology revolution, corporations need to ensure that their employees are ready to face the new challenges and opportunities. Yet, according to the KPMG 2018 Global CEO Outlook report, CEO’s are not investing in the experts that enable change in their culture, or experts in learning and development1.
When skill gaps are ignored, or when leadership perpetuates antiquated training programs, the only way to fill those skill gaps is through firing and rehiring large segments of the workforce. This is neither economically, nor socially sustainable, and retraining programs are needed to help companies take advantage of the new technologies. I wrote this article to provide insights into the benefits of proactive retraining and reskilling, and to help better understand the economics of learning. Whether you are a CEO, executive, HR expert or L&D specialist, this insight will give you ideas of how to enable both socially and economically sustainable learning programs in your business. I hope this insight  will raise some questions: how would your business benefit from better learning? How could you make better investments in development? Could you retrain your employees rather than replacing them with workers possessing different skills? If it does, I am happy to talk with you to find out what your business can gain from a proper learning strategy.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution 
We are living in the era of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). In contrast to past industrial revolutions, this one is driven by  the  adoption  of  new  technologies  at  an  exponential  rate.  Analytics,  artificial  intelligence  (AI),  cognitive  technologies,  and the internet of things (IoT) enable a new fusion between the digital and the physical worlds, creating a more holistic, interconnected digital enterprise. Data is collected from physical systems, processed, and then analyzed to drive intelligent actions. These feedback loops generate opportunities for new products and services, create new jobs and allow us to make changes to how we operate our businesses. The change is global, and not only technological, but also social and economic. (Deloitte, 2018)2.
Many companies face the challenge of implementing AI-based solutions in their business. Artificial intelligence solutions are so powerful that they will transform every industry. AI increases productivity and quality of services so much so that companies will be forced to adopt AI in order to remain competitive. Intelligent Automation applications set new standards of quality, efficiency, speed, and functionality. The companies that successfully employ intelligent automation may surpass competitors that do not employ intelligent automation. If companies take full advantage of intelligent automation, the overall impact on business could rival that of the enterprise resource planning wave of the 19903 Enterprise resource planning (ERP).

Currently, AI is being implemented to automate administrative, routine tasks.  We can already see vast implications of AI in the banking industry, where thousands of people are being laid-off. In any field, hundreds of thousands will face the same fate in the very near future. AI is impacting other industries like insurance, public administrative organizations, complex manufacturing, and professional services, and as a result of this transformational impact, we can also expect change on a societal level. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 14 percent of the global workforce will need to switch occupational categories by 2030 as the world of work is disrupted (McKinsey, 2018)4. 50 percent of current work activities are technically automatable by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. In its 20th CEO survey, PwC found that 77 percent of the CEOs interviewed see the availability of key skills as the biggest threat to their business7. Even  with  the  emergence  of  robots  and  AI,  our  human  workforce  remains  integral  to  the  success  of  our  business.  It  is  important to consider the impact that digitization, automation and AI will have, not only on day to day tasks, but on work culture as a whole.


The Employee Revolution
The pressure for transformation in our society is caused by two factors: longevity and the accelerated rate of change in our environment. These prevailing megatrends are illustrated in the figure below by McGowan & Shipley. Gone are the days when formal education was the only education anyone needed to succeed. Now and in the future, most learning will take place within organizations and the ecosystems surrounding them. McGowan claims that all of the successful enterprises today are in the learning business8, including e.g  Apple, Amazon and Facebook. Lifelong learning is no longer an option, it is a necessity. The transformation illustrated in Figure 1 will hit many industries. The first industries that will be impacted are those that have predictable environments, like operating machinery or preparing fast food. Machines can work more efficiently than humans by collecting and processing data5. Software automation and even more sophisticated forms of AI-based implementations, like Intelligent Automation, will inevitably alter many administrative jobs in the public sector, banking and finance, advanced manufacturing and expertise-based services

In a recent interview Mr. Reijo Karhinen, CEO of OP Financial Group, expressed his vision of the future. Based on a lifetime of experience in the Finnish banking sector, he predicted that 1/4 of the jobs in banking will disappear in the next few years.9 McKinsey Global Institute estimates that between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by automation and need to find new jobs by 2030 around the world5


Meet Your New Co-Workers
Employees that retain their jobs will face a new world of working side-by-side with robots and AI. In addition to autonomous vehicles, self service point of sale systems, and fully automated manufacturing robots, we see AI sneaking into jobs that typically require human intelligence. Here are a few examples:


Artificial Intelligence

AI applications today are made to help humans think better10. AI solutions are able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages11

 
Intelligent Automation

Intelligent automation is a combination of AI and automation. Intelligent automation systems sense and synthesize vast amounts of information and can automate entire processes or workflows, learning and adapting as they go3.


Process Automation Robots

Robotic  Process  Automation  (RPA),  the  first  stage  of  Intelligent  Automation,  is  a  way  to  automate  repetitive and often rules-based processes. RPA robots undertake transaction processing just like their human counterparts and can work on multiple processes, across multiple functions (e.g finance cash postings in the morning, work on HR processes in the afternoon)12.  


Personal Assistants 

AI-powered personal assistants blend into other technologies, making it possible to easily search for information and automate routine tasks, such as calendar booking. Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant are already well known personal assistants.


Customer Service Bots

In customer service, chatbots are used to answer questions in a friendly and familiar chat interface. A chatbot can be trained to understand and answer predefined set of frequently asked questions. As a fallback if a bot can’t serve the customer’s request, the bot can forward the question to a real person.

 Digital Learning Assistants

Chatbots can be very efficient in mimicking human interaction. This was proven by a Georgia Tech professor, who used chatbot to answer students’ questions throughout the semester13. A chatbot, also known as a digital learning assistant, can be used in corporate environments to help employees learn at their own pace, at any hour of the day, and also has the power to make the learning experience highly personalized.


Not all jobs can be automated. Jobs involved in managing people, applying expertise or creativity, and social interactions will remain in human hands5. The demand for talent and the right skills is high. Quite often “CEOs wish to find unicorns; the fully-formed employees with the precise skills that the organization needs not only today, but for whatever the future may bring”7. But as technology continues to change the environments in which we work, the definition of the ‘perfect employee’ will continue to change as well


The Most Wanted Skills

Soft skills are becoming more valuable for both the employee and the employer, as CEOs see the value in marrying technology with exclusively human capabilities7. The modern employees have good social and emotional skills, making them good communicators5

The  most  in-demand  skill  set  includes  adaptabilityproblem-solving,  logical  reasoning,  creativity  and leadership7.

The most desirable employees should be the learners – those with curiosity and the ability to innovate. 

Adaptability – Problem-solving – Creativity – innovation Leadership


“Cultivate  the  workforce’s  creativity  and  digital  dexterity.  Humans’  contributions  should focus on developing new ideas and revising workflows to exploit the latest technological advances.14Gartner, Future of Work Scenarios 2035: ‘I’d Rather Have a Bot Do It’ Van L. Baker, Tom Austin, 4 April 2018

The Two-Sided Challenge

In the chart above, McGowan illustrates how in the future more skilled employees are needed to complete complex tasks side-by-side with Artificial Intelligence solutions. On the other end, the work tasks that are routine and predictable can be replaced with automation and those jobs that can’t be automated are split into smaller tasks (atomisation) and given to those who are willing to complete a task at the lowest cost15


Digital enterprises are facing a two-sided challenge: they are forced by competitors into automating their processes and yet they have to keep their reputation as a responsible and respected employer in order to attract and retain talent7. The conclusion in the IMF Working Paper was that “automation is good for growth and bad for equality”16. How can companies find the balance between remaining competitive through automation and being socially responsible? It seems that while society is using technology more than ever, companies must become more humane than ever. 
History has shown us that with new technologies come new jobs5. As new technologies emerge, new jobs are born. Dr. Ashkan Fardost reminds us that this industrial revolution, also known as industrial 4.0, is nothing alien; we’ve had machine takeovers in industries many times in the past. Emerging technologies have always led to an increase in the value chain that resulted in new demands in terms of skill and intellect in people.17 Companies will have to find the right combination of digital assets and human skills in order to realize the advantages of AI18. There’s a need for a whole new generation of technology specialists. But who’s going to train them?


Intelligent Automation experts are currently in very high demand, and the gap in the job market is expected to grow over the next ten years. Salaries for Data Scientists, Machine Learning experts and Intelligent Automation experts are already growing quickly. There is a fixed cost associated with hiring and firing, and this creates an economic reason for reskilling part of the workforce. 
The skills that companies require of their workforce are already changing. As the rate of change increases, companies will continue to struggle with identifying skill gaps and how job functions must subsequently evolve.6
Well-organized knowledge capture and management is crucial in the digital enterprise. How aware are you of the talent that exists within your company and what skill-sets will your company require over the next five to ten years? How can you map and predict the future of your company’s current talent pool and processes? Should you train your existing employees to master the skills, or hire a new generation?

A Sustainable Learning Strategy

The dream of finding unicorns, the fully-formed employees ready to take on any given work task, will always be  there.  But  even  the  unicorn’s  skills  will  become  outdated.  It  is  impossible  to  know  what  kind  of  new  job  roles we will have in a few years. Or as Gartner puts it: “Nearly 80% of business and IT executives expect skills and knowledge in 10 years to have little resemblance to those their organizations have today.”21 In order to stay competitive, corporations must act. This is where enterprise performance management and employee development merge together. According to the World Economic Forum’s report: “Once we know the knowledge and skills requirements of a  job,  we  can  assume  that  employees  transitioning  out  of  that  job  will  be  able  to  bring  those  capacities  into  any new roles”22. Even though job roles change, the skills should transformed to serve new positions. Existing employees always possess knowledge about the company and the work context, that has been built over time. This knowledge offers a solid foundation for successful retraining and development programs

.
The Best Employees Are Made, Not Found

The solution in finding (and keeping) the right skills is to develop them from existing internal talent. In a recent paper about IT roles and talent profiles, Gartner recommends CEO’s to “Devise a strategic plan to take bold steps to source and develop talent.”21  The World Economic Forum emphasizes that it is crucial that businesses support their current workforces by training23.


Construct a Learning Strategy

Building a corporate academy and a successful learning strategy starts with understanding the business goals, and the skills needed to achieve them. A strong learning and training strategy will make sure that employees’ skills are kept up to date, while jobs continue to evolve with technology.

 
What new skills are needed?

What new job roles need to be created?

What old job roles are no longer necessary? 

When new skills are achieved, how could they be applied to future job roles?


The next step is to map the existing skills and knowledge in the company. Once the skills are recorded, the skill gaps can be found and personal learning goals set. Knowing your employees’ skills throughout the process will help you decide which new skills can be trained, and which skills need to be acquired by hiring. McKinsey Global Institute reports that a traditional approach to training and retraining often stresses theory too much, when in fact practical skills should be the focus6. In building the learning strategy, it is important to keep in mind how the learning should actually happen. Should learning be social, digital, practical, formal or informal? Should you offer theory or practical challenges? According to the 70:20:10 learning model it should be all of this, but in the right proportion24. Learning should be up to 90% informal, learning by doing or learning from co-workers.


If a corporate academy built correctly, learning is integrated in the flow of day to day work. Using a sophisticated digital learning solution makes learning new skills more relevant to actual work tasks, and the learning materials are available when they are needed the most, to support the work assignments. Once constructed, the new learning strategy should be piloted to test these new practices and enable the use of predictive models. Predictive analytics will make it possible to create high quality learning material, as they help in predicting what will happen and recognize the bottlenecks in the processes and areas to improve the content.


Invest in Learning Content

A great learning strategy and a solid technological learning solution are useless without carefully produced learning material. Different types of topics and objectives require different kinds of materials. The right kind of content is optimized for the purpose, personalized for the individual needs, and serves the company objectives. The learning solution in use should bend to meet the requirements of the content and strategy.
When designing learning content, we should ask ourselves these four questions:


What needs to be learned?

Who needs to learn it?

How should the learning materials be constructed and delivered?

How do we measure the impact of learning on our business?


When the learning objectives are clear, it becomes very easy to not only monitor and review learning activities and behaviours, but also to link learning activities to business outcomes. Once learning materials are produced, they need to be constantly reviewed. Adjusting the materials with the help of learning analytics makes it possible to increase the production value of the learning program, leading to higher retention and shorter time to competence.


Choose the Right Tools

The learning development market offers a variety of different learning  solutions.  Out-of-the-box-solutions  promise  fast  success, and highly customizable learning experience platforms (LXP) promise precise results.  A corporate academy can be built on both. However, according to Deloitte, the latter offers more tools in personalizing, curating, searching and analyzing the content28.
A  modern  corporate  academy  harnesses  the  powers  of  Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Automation, and molds these technologies into a system that seamlessly supports the development of the workforce. With a learning experience platform also comes integration capabilities, enabling access to multiple technologies via a single touchpoint28

Conclusions 
Get started with an economical learning strategy. Businesses need to be aware of the possibilities that learning can bring to them. Optimal investments  in  L&D  can  create  massive  savings, especially when  the  alternative is hiring and firing. 
Know what your employees are capable of. What skills and knowledge do you have in your organization? When you have a better idea of what skills your employees collectively possess, it is much easier to identify areas for improvement and provide training accordingly.
A good training program is an investment in the future – better customer experience and scalability. Digital training is scalable and when done well, the same materials can be used to train thousands of people.
Analytics help you in making better decisions with predictable outcomes. By tracking all of the learning data available to you, and leveraging predictive analytics, you can begin to understand how the learning impacts business and predict the future training needs. 
Not only have AI and intelligent automation become part of the daily work  tasks  for  many,  but  they  are  also  used  to  support  corporate  learning. It is crucial to find the right tools to measure the learning impact and offer the learning in a timely and personalized fashion. Investing in a learning platform that supports intelligent technologies will help you in creating the most efficient learning program for your employees.

Renato Moreira – Executive Coach

References:
1 – Growing pains – 2018 Global CEO Outlook. KPMG.  http://bit.ly/kpmg-growing-pains

2 – Renjen, Punit. The Industry 4.0 manufacturing revolution. Deloitte Insights.  http://bit.ly/deloitte-insights-1

3 – Schatsky, David; Mahidhar, Vikram. Intelligent automation: A new era of innovation. Deloitte Insights. http://bit.ly/deloitte-insights-2

4 – Kauppalehti. “Nordeassa tuhat tehtävää siirtyy roboteille yksin tänä vuonna …”  http://bit.ly/kauppalehti-nordea

5 – Manyika,James; Lund, Susan; Chui, Michael; Bughin, Jacques; Woetzel, Jonathan; Batra, Parul; Ko, Ryan; Sanghvi, Saurabh. Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages. McKinsley Global Institute.  http://bit.ly/mck-future-of-jobs  

6 – Illanes, Pablo; Lund, Susan; Mourshed, Mona; Rutherford, Scott; Tyreman, Magnus. Retraining and reskilling workers in the age of automation. McKinsey Global Institute. https://mck.co/2BBJNgm

7 –  CEO Survey Global Talent. PwC.  http://bit.ly/pwc-ceo-survey

8  Heather McGowan. OEB Berlin: Learning Uncertainty. YouTube. http://bit.ly/heather-mcgowan-1

9  Helsingin Sanomat. OP-ryhmästä häviää tuhansia työtehtäviä jo lähivuosina, varoittaa eläkkeelle jäävä pääjohtaja Reijo Karhinen HS:n haastattelussa. http://bit.ly/hs-op  

10  Guszcza, Jim. Smarter together: Why artificial intelligence needs human, Deloitte. http://bit.ly/deloitte-insights-3

11  Oxford Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

12  Deloitte: The robots are here – Meet your digital workforce. http://bit.ly/deloitte-rpa

13  McFarland, Matt. What happened when a professor built a chatbot to be his teaching assistant. The Washington Post.  http://bit.ly/wapo-teaching-assistant

14  Gartner: Future of Work Scenarios 2035: ‘I’d Rather Have a Bot Do It’. https://gtnr.it/2OSt622

15  McGowan, Heather; Shipley, Chris. Debate Prep: When Trump Says “Jobs” Think Algorithms, Not Immigrants. Medium. http://bit.ly/-medium-heather-mcgowan  

16  Berg, Andrew; Buffie, Edward F; Zanna, Luis-Felipe. Should We Fear the Robot Revolution? (The Correct Answer is Yes). International Monetary Fund. http://bit.ly/imf-robot-revolution  

17  Fardost, Ashkan. The most valuable lesson on digitalization according to Dr. Ashkan Fardost. Valamis. http://bit.ly/valamis-ashkan-fardost  

18  Bughin, Jacques; Hazan, Eric; Ramaswamy, Sree; Chui, Michael; Allas, Tera; Dahlström, Peter; Henke, Nicolaus; Trench, Monica. How artificial intelligence can deliver real value to companies. McKinsey Global Institute. https://mck.co/2BveKTB

19  Rittenberg, Libby; Tregarthen, Tim. Principles of Microeconomics. MIT Open Coursware. http://bit.ly/mit-microeconomics-1

20  IBM. Predictive Analytics. http://bit.ly/ibm-predictive-analytics

21  Gartner: CIOs Must Evolve IT Roles and Talent Profiles to Adopt and Scale Bimodal. https://gtnr.it/2Pog5hU  

22  World Economic Forum. Towards a Reskilling Revolution – A Future of Jobs for All. http://bit.ly/world-economic-forum-1  

23  World Economic Forum. The Future of Jobs. http://bit.ly/world-economic-forum-2

24  Center for Creative Leadership. The 70-20-10 Rule for Leadership Development. http://bit.ly/ccl-70-20-10

25  Gartner: Market Guide for Corporate Learning Suites. https://gtnr.it/2N8a7jx

26  Valamis Listed as a Representative Vendor in Gartner’s 2018 Market Guide for Corporate Learning. Valamis.  http://bit.ly/valamis-gartner-market-guide  

27  Valamis Shortlisted in Deloitte’s Learning Experience Platform Market Overview. Valamis. http://bit.ly/valamis-deloitte-shortlist  

28  Clarey, Janet. Learning Experience Platforms: Solution Provider Capabilities. Deloitte Development LLC. 

29  Machine Learning Engineer Salaries in the United States. Ineed.com https://indeedhi.re/2Qnvek0

Coaching for business transformation

In the era of “always-on” transformation. Across virtually all industries, unprecedented disruption and market turbulence—due to globalization, technological innovation, changing regulations, and other factors—are challenging established business models and practices, and requiring organizations to launch more frequent transformations in response.

To keep up, companies need to undertake many different types of transformation.  Any one of these, or several, can be under way at a company at any given time.

Business transformations are typically built around new structural elements, including policies, processes, facilities, and technology. Some companies also focus on behaviors — defining new practices, training new skills, or asking employees for new deliverables.

Research shows that 85 percent of companies that have undertaken transformations over the past decade have pursued more than one type, with the most common being organizational, operational, and rapid financial improvements.

Defining transformation as a profound change in a company’s strategy, business model, organization, culture, people, or processes—either enterprise-wide or within a specific business unit, function, or market. A transformation is not an incremental shift in some aspect of the business but a fundamental change aimed at achieving a sustainable, quantum improvement in performance and, ultimately, shareholder value. Unlike continuous improvement—which focuses on small-scale changes that start with employees and percolate up through the organization—always-on transformation requires a series of much larger, interdependent initiatives that are driven by top management.

In this new era, the ability to implement transformation has become a competitive differentiator. Yet most companies are not reaping rewards from transformation efforts. According to analyses only 24 percent of companies that complete transformations outperform competitors in their industries in both the short and long term. 

What most organizations typically overlook is the internal shift — what people think and feel — which has to occur in order to bring the strategy to life. This is where resistance tends to arise — cognitively in the form of fixed beliefs, deeply held assumptions and blind spots; and emotionally, in the form of the fear and insecurity that change engenders. All of this rolls up into our mindset, which reflects how we see the world, what we believe and how that makes us feel. The result is that transforming a business also depends on transforming individuals — beginning with the most senior leaders and influences.

Why do most companies fail to meet their transformation goals? There are several reasons:

The first is that companies typically adopt a short-term, top-down approach to implementation. Transformations are energy intensive and are often executed under tremendous pressure from boards and other stakeholders—frequently as a reaction to flagging performance—which leads management teams to seek fast fixes and immediate results. Consequently, many companies simply seek to compel employees to change their behaviors. They motivate through carrots and sticks—mostly sticks—rather than tapping into the intrinsic motivators that can spur employees to improve performance in a sustainable manner. Among many potential explanations, one that gets very little attention may be the most fundamental: the invisible fears and insecurities that keep us locked into behaviors even when we know rationally that they don’t serve us well. Add to that the anxiety that nearly all human beings experience in the face of change. Nonetheless, most organizations pay far more attention to strategy and execution than they do to what their people are feeling and thinking when they’re asked to embrace a transformation. Resistance, especially when it is passive, invisible, and unconscious, can derail even the best strategy.

Second, successful transformations increasingly require changes to business and operating models, which in turn require new ways of thinking and working. Yet more often than not, companies fail to build the capabilities required to enable people to work in new and different ways. Without adequate attention to enabling new behaviors and ways of working, companies do not achieve and sustain the results they desire.

A third reason underlying the failure to reach transformation goals is that many companies approach transformation in a one-off manner—treating each initiative as an independent event. Under this flawed thinking, they essentially put up scaffolding around one aspect of the organization, focus intently on changing some part of it, and then take down the scaffolding, thinking that they can revert to steady-state operations.This kind of short-term, one-off approach is akin to the way some schools prepare students for standardized tests. In an attempt to improve test scores, teachers try to cram knowledge into students’ heads—basically “teaching to the test” for a few frenzied weeks leading up to the tests. That approach can work—scores often do go up to meet the short-term objective of doing well on the tests—but it doesn’t meet the fundamental goals of education: making sure students learn the underlying skills that will help them succeed over the long term.

Companies should not just surviving but thriving in the era of always-on transformation.

Most transformations focus on financial or operational goals (for example, increasing revenue or improving operating efficiency). While such goals are extremely important—and motivating to the board, investors, and senior management—they tend to be an underwhelming motivator for the majority of employees. In order to get employees to buy into a transformation, its goals must be tied to the deeper and more inspiring purpose of the company (which transcends any given transformation). 

As a coach I  help companies embrace a more purpose-driven culture. 

I found that when organizations can clearly define and communicate their purpose to employees—that is, the “why”—these employees feel that they are part of something bigger. And when employees believe in the company’s purpose, they are intrinsically motivated to go above and beyond. Once a company has formulated and articulated its clear overarching purpose, all subsequent transformations should link directly to it. Moreover, all employees should be able to see how their contributions help the company succeed in those transformations—and better fulfill the company’s broader purpose. All three elements are crucial: a well-defined and shared purpose for the company, a specific link to the transformation at hand, and a clear connection between employees’ actions and contributions to the company’s objectives.

In an environment of always-on transformation, companies need to treat transformation as if it were a triathlon, not a sprint. Transformations are typically intense efforts that require employees to go beyond their normal baseline workload. An all-out sprint may work for the first few months, but eventually fatigue will set in and employees will be less able to contribute—particularly when another transformation is likely right around the corner. A better way is to think like triathletes, who have to swim, bike, and run. Triathletes learn to pace themselves so that they can excel in all three disciplines. Rather than asking employees to maintain a high level of engagement nonstop, companies need to intersperse commitments to high-demand transformation projects with time for true recovery. With the right pacing, employees will be able to engage enthusiastically on each new assignment asked of them, without losing energy. (Notably, there is one group that simply cannot take a break: the senior leadership team.)

Companies are increasingly embarking on transformations that rewire the way they operate—including new business models, digitization, and fundamental changes to the roles of business units and functions. As a result, companies invariably need to build new capabilities, such as processes, knowledge, skills, tools, and behaviors. Knowing how to identify and develop these capabilities in any given transformation is pivotal to success.

In a business landscape characterized by constant and broad-ranging disruption, the ability to rapidly change course in response to market shifts and to enable employees to adapt the way they work becomes critical. Truly agile organizations don’t just accommodate change and mandate speed—they ingrain these elements into the company’s culture and ways of working. Agile companies are not burdened by excessive layers of management or bureaucracy. Employees have a wide degree of autonomy and are trusted to resolve many of the issues they face without direct oversight. They are able to take on new roles and responsibilities and to swiftly adapt to new ways of working. They are quick to acquire knowledge of new topics, with the understanding that another change is almost certainly coming soon. In addition, agile companies encourage experimentation, and they don’t fear uncertainty. Managers at these companies celebrate and reward risk taking, and they don’t punish failure (only the failure to experiment).

Companies that wish to lay the groundwork for future transformations need to foster a learning mind-set across the entire organization. Such an organizational mind-set entails spurring people to seek out new knowledge, experiment with it, share it, and ultimately use it to improve the company’s performance. For that reason, employees at organizations with a learning mind-set are encouraged to follow their curiosity and challenge conventional thinking. They develop creative ways to improve processes and find better ways to do things. This kind of learning culture requires a free exchange of ideas, an acknowledgment that many new ideas will fail, and an understanding that such failures are an inevitable part of progress.

Transformations can be ideal environments in which to promote learning because they demand creative problem solving and new ideas.

As mentioned earlier, one of the key challenges in transformation is that companies tend to see each initiative as a temporary, one-off event. As a result, companies consider change management as part of the temporary scaffolding of a given transformation effort. Instead, companies need to build change-management skills, make tools available across the broader organization, and consider change management to be a core competency among the extended leadership team.

All of the above imperatives have enormous implications for a company’s people practices and HR policies.

HR must play a larger role in this always-on transformation era.

Ultimately, HR needs to participate actively in senior leadership discussions, help develop the company’s strategy and transformation agenda, and support the alignment of specific functions with the company’s priorities. To embrace this role, HR needs to evolve beyond its traditional supporting function to become a true strategic transformation partner.  And, equally important, the company’s senior leadership needs to support HR’s expanded role. Specifically, HR must understand the requirements of the transformation and how they impact the company’s employee-related processes and HR disciplines. It must work with company leaders to understand how employees and the organization will enable the company’s strategy. It must anticipate the implications of every change initiative on employees and the organization. It must know whether the company has the capability and the capacity to meet its strategic goals. All the while, HR must keep pace with the organization and operate with agility as transformations unfold.

One to one performance coaching is increasingly being recognised as the way for organisations and individuals to improve performance. By improving the performance of the most influential people within the organisation, the theory goes that business results should improve.

Executive coaching is often delivered by coaches operating from outside the organisation whose services are requested for an agreed duration or number of coaching sessions. Adding to the process: transformational leadership,  that is both directive and inclusive clearly raises the bar for executives. It requires an investment in time, energy, and management focus when demands on leaders are, typically, already very high. The bandwidth required to lead in this way is often one of the biggest constraints in a transformation. However, in my experience, making the needed investment of time, energy, and management focus pays off through more efficient and effective execution and more sustainable results.