The future is here, so let's get on board!

  • DeakinCo.
  • 1 November 2011

‘I wish that he would stop Facebooking his friends!’, the manager gasped, exasperated at what she saw as diminishing productivity in the employee’s office. When questioned, the employee said that he had simply been ‘crowd sourcing’ on the IT project that was due in a few days and was finding a quicker solution from experts in the field.

Whose perspective do you take? While this scenario is obviously multi-layered, it is a salient example of the changing work environment that we are confronted with. Most CEOs and senior managers of organisations are in furious agreement that they must be ‘prepared’ for the future. However, it is difficult to know where to start. If nothing else, let the following points act as catalysts for stimulating discussion and debate around the water cooler and boardroom table.

Talking about my generation

By the year 2020, we will have five different generations in the workplace all competing to make their mark. This is both sobering and exhilarating. The generations include the traditionalists (born prior to1946), the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1976), Gen Ys (born between 1977 and 1997) and Gen 2020 (born after 1997).1

For Human Resources teams in organisations large and small, the issue of a multi-generational workforce is top-of-mind. Not only will organisations need to consider how they recruit employees, but also how they retain and engage them. In their book, The 2020 Workplace, Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd ask us to consider whether a company’s brand appeals not only externally but also internally to each generation in the workforce. They ask us to source Gen Y workers not through career fairs but through social networking such as Facebook, LinkedIn and microblogging sites. In relation to Baby Boomers, we are also often urged not to forget the rich corporate memory that members of this generation possess as well as their ability to share ‘war stories’ through conversation and discussion. Similarly, we know that Gen Xers grew up during the boom and often have an entrepreneurial bent.

Employers need to be aware of the commonalities and complements between the generations, but also need to find ways to respond to the differences between them. Tapping into a Gen Y’s strong sense of social responsibility may make him/her the perfect candidate for contributing to the Corporate Social Responsibility report. Similarly, a Baby Boomer may be able to mentor a Gen Y on how to slowly but surely climb the career ladder.

Go forth and be audacious 

In his book, A Whole New Mind – Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future,2 Daniel Pink argues that the Information Age has been succeeded by the Conceptual Age where workers are not hired for the knowledge or information that they have acquired but because of a certain disposition or temperament. Many would argue that a ‘questing’ disposition or the ability to be audacious and creative are keenly sought qualities.3

Why are these skills so revered in the 21st century? Much of the answer lies outside the organisation, where the macro environment is complex and where solutions to work tasks are non-linear and involve hypothesis. No longer do mining organisations simply dig minerals out of a pit. No longer do retail organisations only have to worry about engagement with their market simply through bricks and mortar. A senior executive in any one of these sectors will need to understand the downstream and upstream implications of any one of his/her decisions beyond the next quarter.

John Mc Williams, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour, Deakin University, explains the audacious disposition in the following way: ‘It’s about having a sense of adventure, an outgoing sense of confidence – that’s where the idea of Audacious Leadership comes from.’ Dr. McWilliams runs a course in Audacious Leadership which involves taking participants on a voyage from Melbourne across Bass Strait to Hobart. The course challenges participants, previously unknown to each other, to work together to solve urgent problems in the constrained physical environment of a sailing ship.

Participants describe the experience as gruelling because it tests the boundaries of cognitive thinking in terms of finding daring solutions to unexpected circumstances such as choppy weather, an under-supply of equipment or a misjudgment of skill level. In addition to the participants being inexperienced in sailing, the emotional conflicts that can arise over the eight days require a temperament that is humanistic and encouraging but also creatively oriented. The analogy of a ship to an organisation coupled with the various audacious challenges that exist is an easy one to make.

The thing to realise from this is that employees who possess an audacious and agile mindset can help propel organisations into the future.

Think and act globally

With many organisations in Australia moving to operate outside their domestic shores to the Asia Pacific and beyond, employees are now required to have a more global focus. An employee’s skill set needs to go beyond technical, inter-personal and business skills – increasingly, a sense of intercultural understanding and adept global mobility are required.

DeakinPrime is certainly seeing its client base reach out geographically – this is happening in the banking and financial sectors, in retail and construction. And with this comes the expectation that employees will have a rich, deep and sensitive understanding of not just one but many cultures. This also includes an understanding of how multiple cultures may operate in the one setting.

Interestingly, Paula Caligiuri, Professor of Human Resource Management and the Director of the Centre of Human Resource Strategy of Rutgers University, points out that first, not all individuals have the ability to develop from their international assignments – traits such as extroversion, openness and tenacity are crucial elements in being able to adapt to new environments. Second, an individual may have completed a number of international assignments, but may not necessarily have developed the desirable global leadership competencies.4

Organisations with a global footprint will need to take into account that traditional talent management and leadership development may not be hitting the mark in the new global environment and a re-think may be required.

It’s all about playing games

Jay Cross is well known as the person who coined the phrase ‘e-learning’. He has been called the Johnny Appleseed of ‘informal learning’ as he has been a strong proponent of the 70:20:10 philosophy where 70% of learning can take place on the job, 20% through coaching and mentoring and 10% through formal workshops.5 He has gone as far as saying that ‘an overemphasis on formal learning in organisations is dysfunctional, uneconomic, bad business and not a whole lot of fun’.6

DeakinPrime concurs. While DeakinPrime’s foundations lie with Deakin University and the richness that a lecture-style approach brings, it should be remembered that Deakin University has always been at the forefront of introducing learning technologies, and encourages each and every student to enrol in at least one online unit. The online unit enables the informal to meld with the formal through real-time discussion forums and syndicate group analysis of project questions.

Interestingly, Jay Cross closed his blog earlier this year declaring that informal learning had gone mainstream and that the crusade was behind him. While that may be true, the real challenge is around what the discrete elements of informal learning may comprise. When it comes to less-formal online learning for example, many have been talking about the online ‘gamification’ of the workplace as a way to accelerate learning across the enterprise.

Gideon Gelbart of the Deloitte Leadership Academy comments that: ‘The Deloitte Leadership Academy has plans to release an upgraded capability development portal in 2012. The upgraded portal will enable users to receive virtual badges after completing training courses. They will also be able to engage in simulation activities which parallel their work lives but in a virtual context.’

The ‘gamification’ trend responds to the cry of workers who need to absorb factual information in a more interesting way. It also responds to the competitive nature of salespeople who want to see leader boards and point systems to reflect their performance. Tech industry research firm Gartner in fact estimates that by 2014, as many as 70% of large companies will use one form of gaming technique for at least one business process.7

So where to from here? Perhaps the question is not ‘where’ but ‘how’. It seems that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. The destination is always changing, but it is about taking the journey boldly and getting everyone to hop on board. CEO of DeakinPrime, Jules Cauberg, comments: ‘Ultimately, it is about getting people to be happy to come to work every day. If we can create the right environment, and by that I mean physical, intellectual and social, then we are laying some great foundations for the future.’

  1. J. Meister and K. Willyerd (2010), The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today, HarperCollins.
  2. D. Pink (2006), A Whole New Mind – Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future, Riverhead Books.
  3. J. S. Brown (2010), A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, CreateSpace.
  4. P. Caligiuri (2009), ‘The necessary collaboration between global mobility and talent management for global leaders’, Mobility Magazine, November.
  5. M. M.Lombardo. and R. W. Eichinger (1996) The Career Architect Development Planner, Lominger Ltd.
  6. J. Cross (2010), Overcoming Bipolar Thinking, October,
  7. R. E. Silverman (2011), ‘Latest game theory: Mixing work and play’, Wall Street Journal, 10 October.