It is clear today’s workforce is changing dramatically the rate of which is unprecedented[i] and this rate will only increase as technological advances and the ability to transport both people and information around the globe expand. How might these changes affect our organizations is often difficult to tell. If you had access to a crystal ball it might tell you that the workforce in 2025 would see the influx of a generational cohort that is technologically savvy and socially aware, yet naïve to the demands a career mandates on their time? Perhaps the crystal ball would describe how Baby Boomers, burdened with debt, stayed in the workforce well beyond the traditional retirement age. Thereby signaling that retirement as we know it would cease to exist by 2025.
The problem with the crystal ball is it cannot help prepare the organization for the type of future it predicts. There is a solution, something that already exists in each of us; intelligence, insight, experience, and creativity. In other words we have the capability to use foresight. As leaders we will need this foresight if our organizations are going to thrive today and into the future of 2025.
How can foresight help? First foresight is not astrology or palm reading, but a learned skill. It is the ability to create and maintain a high quality, coherent, and functional forward view, and to use the insights gained in useful organizational ways.[ii] Strategic foresight is based on the principle of planning from the future back to the present and not the more typical approach of planning from the present toward the future.[iii] Foresight enables individual leaders and organizations to anticipate many of the risks and opportunities that might be confronted in the future, giving organizational leaders time to decide what to do before these risks or opportunities overwhelm them.[iv]
Used in conjunction with an organizations traditional strategic planning processes foresight techniques, such as scanning, are powerful tools that do not predict one future rather they provides a mechanism for organizations to prepare for any number of possible futures. Scanning is defined as the managerial activity of learning about events and trends in an organizations environment.[v] In other words the scanning process is a tool for collecting early signals of change and for nurturing a futures orientation more broadly in an organization.[vi] A successful scanning process should focus on the collection of data points from a wide spectrum of sectors; business, culture, technology, science and so forth. Organizations that emphasize only their own industry and areas of expertise will miss important signs from the broader business, cultural and technological environments. Utilizing the aforementioned scanning technique allows an organization to create scenarios like the ones provided at the beginning of this article and allows leaders to consider how the organization can adapt to or drive a particular scenario. To get you started on your own foresight planning process consider these three workforce trends that are expected circa 2025.
From employment to deployment. 50% of the workforce will be contingent and talent will be deployed from around the world as internal and external labor become more mobile. Work will be done anywhere, anytime, across the globe.[vii] Both a passport and virtual data device will be required for our completely mobile workforce. Home is no longer where you hang your hat; rather it is where you download your data.
Technology via social/collaborative communities. Gene Zaino CEO of MBO Partners suggests that the growing adoption of collaborative cloud computing tools and social networks is driving a new kind of community-building in the workforce. Combining the virtual water cooler with the benefits of professional associations, online communities formed around work interests, industries, and skills sets are fast rising.[viii] These new communities will replace the need for internal recruiters and may even force headhunters into niche markets.
A backlash: increased government regulation. As workers and organizations move toward independent work expect the government to seek more aggressive means to fund tax revenue. The classification of contract workers and work will be met with much scrutiny and organizations should expect increased regulatory guidance with regard to contract work.[ix] More analysis is required to discover the affect these legal and regulatory restrictions will have on the burgeoning freelance workforce.
These trends and those that your organization discovers through its foresight process will allow leaders and organizations to adapt to the paradigm shift occurring within the traditional workforce. Foresight, more than any other strategic planning practice, addresses the vital strategic question of how to survive in an increasingly competitive environment.[x] Foresight will not predict the future, instead it anticipates a variety of futures and how these futures might affect an organization. Thus, I hope you will set out on a new journey toward an in-depth understanding of what might happen instead of the impossible search for what will happen.
[i] A.J. O’Connor Associates, “Leadership 2020: 10 workforce trends 10 critical leadership competencies.” Last modified 2011. Accessed May 18, 2013. http://www.ajoconnor.com/blog/leadership-2020-10-workforce-trends-10-critical-leadership-trends.html.
[ii] Slaughter, R. (1999). Futures for the third Millennium: Enabling the forward view. St. Leonards: Prospect.
[iii] Marsh, N., Mcallum, M., & Purcell, D. (2002). Strategic foresight: The power of standing in the future. Crown Content.
[iv] Cornish, E. (2005). Futuring: The exploration of the future. Bethesda: World Future Society.
[v] Hambrick, D. C. (1981). Specialization of environmental scanning activities among upper level executives. Journal of Management Studies, 18(3), 299-320.
[vi] Wilson, I., & Ralston, B. (2006). Scenario planning handbook: Developing strategies in uncertain times. Mason, OH: South-Westem Educational Publishing.
[vii] A.J. O’Connor Associates, “Leadership 2020: 10 workforce trends 10 critical leadership competencies.” Last modified 2011. Accessed May 16, 2013. http://www.ajoconnor.com/blog/leadership-2020-10-workforce-trends-10-critical-leadership-trends.html.
[viii] Zaino, G. MBO Partners, “5 trends that will topple the traditional workforce.” Last modified January 22, 2011. Accessed May 15, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2011/12/22/5-trends-that-will-topple-the-traditional-workforce/.
[ix] Zaino, G. MBO Partners, “5 trends that will topple the traditional workforce.” Last modified January 22, 2011. Accessed May 15, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2011/12/22/5-trends-that-will-topple-the-traditional-workforce/.
[x] Voros, J. (2003). A generic foresight process. foresight, 5(3). 10-21.