Business Agility Series #1 – The Future of Work

As my colleague Jerónimo Palacios says, “you have no idea what digital transformation is about”. The most important aspect of Digital Transformation is people not technology. As it is for Business Agility, the topic of this post.

The question is how individuals and organizations deal with technology advances and how we organize for speed, agility and adaptability in times of extreme uncertainty and disruption.

Technology has always been there since the industrial age, but now change is happening at an exponential rate.

Although it seems contradictory, a forgotten or secondary aspect in many agile transformations is people. You see slogans like “Yes, we Kanban” or “Yes, we are agile” but  your employees don’t have a flexible schedule, they cannot work from home, you operate in comand-and-control mode from 1920s or there is no career development or learning systems whatsoever.

In order to survive companies must change how they organize, recruit, develop, manage and engage people.

The content of this post is a summary and adaptation of “2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends – Rewriting the rules for the digital age”, which is an awesome study I recommend everyone to read.


Change is occurring at an accelerated rate. Technology advancing at an unprecedented rate, however businesses adapt to change at a slow rate.

Business practices and structures developed in the industrial era are no longer valid. We need to design organizations for speed, agility and adaptability not for efficiency.

Technology Gap

Business productivity has not kept pace with technological advances.
 Rate of Change - Productivity


Only 12% of Fortune 500 companies from 1995 are still in business.


Individuals are faster to adapt to changes than business and public sector, and in order to close the gap companies must change how they organize, recruit, develop, manage and engage people.

We need new organization models that highlight the networked nature of today’s world of work, we need shifts in mindset and behavior required to lead, organize, motivate and manage 21st century professionals.

And, this is not just HR’s responsibility, as Deloitte suggests, but everyone’s.

There are five trends that were identified as the most important challenges by executives surveyed by Deloitte and for which I will be publishing a blog post in the following weeks:

  1. The organization of the future
  2. Careers and learning
  3. Talent acquisition
  4. Employee experience
  5. Leadership disrupted

The Organization of the Future

Identified by executives as the most important challenge in 2017. The cornerstone of the organization of the future is a shift from designing the new organization to actively building organizational ecosystems and networks.

We need structural agility as a key foundation to achieving business agility. By replacing hierarchies with networks of teams. Several approaches are going to be mainstream soon: Holacracy, Sociocracy or the model by Niels Pflaeging.

There are already many companies that have been operating in similar ways for many years with sustainable growth and market leadership, like The Morningstar Corporation, Handelsbanken or W.L. Gore.

It is sad, that still today, many promising startups when they start to grow they build layers of hierarchy and waste, becoming slower and bureaucratic, creating silos that generate friction and turf wars. They don’t realize that structure will jeopardize their awesome culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and structure eats culture for dinner.

Careers and Learning

The concept of career is being shaken to its core. Career development is not only upwards anymore but in many directions. Being a manager is not the aspiration of many professionals who want to progress in other areas of expertise, become freelancers or change job every two years.

The idea of a static career in the same company with an immutable skillset is dead. Main reason being the declining half-life of skills which is 5 years currently. So, as an example:

If you currently have 100 skills required for your job, in average, only 25 of those skills will be useful in ten years.

We must support employees in taking responsibility for their career and provide them with systems to build skills quickly and easily on their own terms. We must support and coach employees not tell them what they have to learn.

Talent Acquisition

Schools, Universities and Business Schools are training people for jobs that don’t exist yet or won’t exist anymore soon.

We need to use social networking, analytics and cognitive tools to find people in new ways, attract them through a global employment brand, and determine who will best fit the job, team and organization.

We must also change relationship with freelancers and external communities. If you want business agility you cannot rely on having only internal employees. You need a flexible workforce made not only by employees, but also complemented with freelancers, providers and external groups.

Employee Experience

Employee experience is one key part of the global employment brand strategy, perhaps the most important, as employee referrals are the main source of quality candidates.

Companies have been working for many years in developing their customer experience, but many have forgotten employee experience. Well, if your employees are not happy most probably your customers won’t be either, because one thing leads to another.

There are companies over there claiming they are agile and haven’t even started managing their Glassdoor account, or they are not managing employee experience from beginning to end, or they don’t have a flexible schedule arguing global policies or people cannot work from home. And then, they wonder why it is so difficult to hire good professionals or people is unengaged …

Employee experience is much more than a nice office and a hipster culture with shorts and flip-flops, it is tapping into the internal motivators of every human being (mastery, autonomy and purpose) and making sure we accompany employees all the way from the first contact with our company to retirement or exit to another company.

Besides workplace design, which is a sanity aspect, like salary, we have to include in the formula well-being and real-time feedback systems. Employees want to participate and express what they think about what is going on, they want to suggest ideas and being taken into account.

Leadership Disrupted

Leadership development industry is struggling. What have we really achieved in 40 years of studying leadership, with hundreds of different theories and leadeship training programs? Not much. Because the system beats the individual always, and we have been training individuals to perform in pathological environments.

Besides, as new organizational models evolve and we advance into business agility, those behaviors that were healthy in pathological environments, like servant leadership or management 3.0, will become pathological in healthy environments.

We have to move from this belief of the leader as a hero to everyone is a leader. A new breed of employees who can thrive in rapidly changing networked environments is needed. People with a growth-mindset, that not only recover from set-backs but improve in uncertainty and under difficulties.


More on Business Agility series


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