How Leaders are Meeting 2020 Workforce Demands

Technology innovations promise workers of the future a kind of nirvana where they can do what they want when they want, connecting easily with peers and employers to achieve objectives.

It may sound too good to be true, but a panel of experts at SAP’s SAPPHIRE NOW event shared both research and experience proving that anything is possible in the new world of work.

Moderated by Karie Willyerd, senior vice president at SuccessFactors, an SAP company, the wide-ranging discussion kicked off with an overview of preliminary findings from the Workforce 2020 study being conducted by Oxford Economics. Although the research won’t be completed until later this summer, Debra D’Agostino, vice president at Oxford Economics, shared its baseline assumptions on why tomorrow’s workforce will look very different than it does today.

“Globalization and the growth of emerging economies are driving increasing demand for globally aware, culturally-sensitive leaders,” said D’Agostino. “We foresee more diverse teams and the need to think about the business on a global scale. A new generation of workers — the millennials — are coming into the workforce while older employees are working longer into their lives for a multi-generational workplace. Technologies like social, mobile, analytics, and cloud are transforming every traditional business model and process in every industry. This is changing how functions work in the company, especially human resources.”

The upcoming research, which includes feedback from both executives and rank and file employees from companies at 27 countries worldwide, will reveal whether or not organizations have the necessary understanding and strategies to grow leaders and recruit and engage top talent. Among the interesting questions the findings will answer are:

  • Do companies really understand millennial expectations?
  • Is there a gap between what actually motivates employees and what companies offer?
  • Are companies prepared to meet new leadership demands?
  • What does it take to create a learning culture?
Contingent workers are victors in competitive talent war

One common denominator across all of these challenges is the increasing realization that high-performing employees are every company’s most valuable asset. Panelist Mike Ettling, global head of Cloud and On-Premise HR at SAP, said, “The talent crisis is one of the top three priorities among chief executives. It hasn’t been solved despite the huge hype cycle around talent management in the last year. The contingent workforce presents an interesting opportunity because the power to tap into that workforce is not just what it gives procurement or finance to manage costs. The real power is how it enables you to source a talent pool that becomes your warm bench for recruiting.”

Panelist Sean Kundu, director of Human Resources and Employment Counsel at the San Francisco 49ers, agreed that contingent workers are becoming an important part of his fast-growing, multi-generational organization. “We’re building a new stadium and trying to find the right talent to join a very diverse team. We’re reaching out to people on social media who enjoy technology and sports, and giving them a chance to see if they like the job.”

Adjusting to a more project-oriented, short-term working experience is central to understanding the workforce of 2020. According to panelist Jacob Morgan, Principal at Chess Media Group, companies and employees need to fundamentally change how they work. “You can’t hire somebody based on where you’re going to be in five or 10 years. It makes more sense to hire employees focused on projects they can do across the company.”

Filling the leadership void in a diverse workplace

Diversity also impacts the definition of leadership. “We’re facing a shortage of qualified people who are not just able to lead people, but who are able to think more broadly about the bigger, wider business,” said D’Agostino. “The marketplace is much more diverse with a broader range of cultures, sensitivities, and different ways of working. We need people who can accommodate that.”

Ongoing, two-way communication is fast replacing traditional top-down, command and control at many workplaces — at least those that want to attract and keep motivated workers. Kundu says that when asked what they wanted most, 49ers employees responded with a desire for accurate, timely feedback along with being heard. In addition to formal and informal quarterly reviews of employees, the company also introduced semi-annual leadership reviews where employees rate their managers.

Turning performance reviews upside down doesn’t change the fundamental role of leadership. Shortened work tenures and the rise of freelancing are also changing the role of the leader. “Every successful company does extraordinary well by having a shared sense of purpose. That means the number one focus of leaders has to be about creating that strong sense of purpose,” said Ettling.

Having a purpose is foundational to worker motivation. In the new work era, leaders will only be as strong as their ability to communicate that purpose authentically with their teams. It may not be a true state of nirvana but for many employees, it comes very close.

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