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The Future of Work is Here—What Do Leaders Need to Know?

Companies large and small have been trying to predict what the future of work will look like—how technological innovation, demographic shifts, an increasingly mobile workforce, and the gig economy will shape the work of tomorrow. That future is here.

To be successful in this new world of work, leaders must understand how organizations are shifting–becoming flatter, more complex, more integrated, and more porous. These shifts require individuals and teams to work in fundamentally new ways, which in turn requires the cultivation of new mindsets and skills.

The following seven competencies are increasingly critical for leaders to develop in order to succeed in this new world

  1. Embrace all facets of diversity

    Building and working in fluid teams means interacting more often with more diverse groups of people, representing diverse cultures, geographies, and ways of working and thinking. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to make sure everyone on your team is not only able to navigate these differences, but is really embracing these collective differences to arrive at new insights. Collaboration and influence are crucial skills for doing this and need to be modeled by team leaders at every level of the organization.

  2. Facilitate real-time side-by-side learning

    Formal training will always be important, but it’s also critical for both leaders and team members to think of themselves as lifelong informal learners. You and your team need to seek out or create opportunities to learn while you work. To make this happen, leaders need to be comfortable and willing to both teach and learn from others. They’ll also need to value learning not just in the abstract, but as a critical activity for successful teams.

  3. Encourage productive failure

    Traditionally, organizations try to minimize risk and failure. In the new work world, leaders need to accept risk and embrace productive failure to generate insights and learning. It’s a change of focus: from controlling and managing risk itself, to minimizing cost and damage from taking risks.

  4. Facilitate agile ways of working

    In a world where technology and innovation continue to increase the pace of change, your team may find that a process perfected six months ago no longer works. They’ll need to adapt their tactics on the fly. The leaders who understand this will build teams who can embrace change, identify and communicate new goals, and find and collaborate with the people who have the resources needed to accomplish these new priorities. And to build these teams, future leaders will need to be just as agile.

  5. Foster a sense of shared culture—for everyone

    In the future of work, your workforce will increasingly include a combination of full-time, part-time and gig workers. Some team members will want freedom of choice, some will want stability, and some will want a balance of the two. Whatever the case, leaders will need to foster and build a common sense of identity among team members and be sure that team members who come and go aren’t treated like disposable cogs in a machine. If you build the right kind of community—respectful, productive, and meaningful—talented people will be eager to join your teams again and again.

  6. Disciplined, distributed decision-making

    The shift from a “top-down” to “side-by-side” construct requires greater autonomy at the team and individual levels. Having decision-makers closer to the actual work is the goal, but to ensure rigor and make sure you’re not losing control, you’ll need to establish and communicate clear decision-making processes: How will decisions be made? Who owns decisions? How are decisions and rationale communicated out? This kind of disciplined decision-making reduces rigidity in flatter organizations, and also encourages more bottom-up flow of information.

  7. Know your priorities, know your resources

    Future work requires a greater appreciation for more porous teams and networks, where people can be easily switched and shifted around based on needs. You’ll need to have a finger on the pulse of company priorities and know your resources, so you can respond quickly.

    This means thinking beyond your function, transcending siloes, and understanding the larger ecosystem. It also requires being able to function within and influence that ecosystem to get the resources you need. And don’t forget: your resources may not be restricted to your organization itself, as they used to be. In the future of work, the world is—or should be—your oyster.

While it’s already clear that agility, flexibility and rigorous communication within and between teams are essential competencies for leaders and their teams, new and unforeseen competencies will inevitably arise as the future of work continues to reveal itself. In addition to the informal learning that teams will engage in together, leaders need to challenge L&D and third parties they work with to become more and more creative, using all modes of training in new ways that are scalable, cost effective, and designed for the workplace of the future, including gig workers. Ideally, they’re doing so already.

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