The adaptable workforce

October 27, 2007 at 3:30 am 2 comments

Kim photoThe IBM Global Human Capital Study 2008 has just been released. More than 400 organisations from 40 countries across a range of industries participated in the study. I don’t think KM practitioners will be overly surprised by the results, but it does make for interesting reading. The study identified 4 themes that senior executives say need attention and focus: (1) developing an adaptable workforce that can rapidly respond to changes in the outside market; (2) leadership to guide individuals through change; (3) an integrated talent management model that addresses the employee lifecycle; and (4) driving growth through workforce analytics.

Okay let’s look further. Quickly shifting global markets require responsive organisations but only 14% of surveyed companies believe their workforces are very capable of adapting to change. The survey found 3 key capabilities influence a workforce’s ability to be flexible and adaptable: (1) predicting future skill requirements; (2) identifying and locating experts; and (3) collaborating across the organisation and connecting individuals and groups that are separated by organisational boundaries, time zones and cultures.

Here’s a bit of a worry: 75% of the participating organisations cited their inability to develop future leaders as a critical issue. The leadership skills required when organisations face ongoing turbulence and uncertainty are (IMHO) resilience; mentoring and coaching; understanding emergence and working with diversity; understanding the strength of distributed leadership; (dare I suggest) willing to trigger disruptive patterns; creating temporary boundaries until new meaning emerges; working with scenarios for future states; harnessing the power of interlocking clusters and networks. You get the idea.

But (shock, gasp!) those of us who work in organisations are probably all too familiar with the type of leadership that still exists – ego-centric; controlling, monitoring and measuring; leader as decision maker steering the one true course for the organisation (with fingers crossed that it’s the right course!). The slogan for this modernist notion of leadership is Unfreeze/Change/Refreeze ie constantly restructure, try a new strategy, build a new vision.

The study highlighted that organisations are facing changes in employee demographics and need to think about reaching out to alternative labour sources such as older workers, corporate alumni and developing a presence in virtual worlds. Participating organisations also reported a lack of systems integration, which led to an inability to extract data to either analyse or support other functions like Sales or Marketing. Information could not be shared across applications and without consolidated data, the organisations reported they were unable to identify rising stars, reward solid performers or retain desired employees.

Only 13% believe they have a very clear understanding of the skills required in the next 3-5 years and reported they were engaging with future business scenarios. Similarly, only 13% believe they are very capable in identifying individuals with specific expertise within the organisation. And of course there’s more to a successful workforce than merely locating experts. People need to be able to collaborate with others to innovate and share knowledge. The usual suspects were highlighted as barriers to collaboration – 42% of participants cited organisational silos and 40% cited time pressures.

There was an interesting section on how some companies are wading into Second Life. Manpower (a global provider of staff) with over 4,400 offices in 73 countries is targeting the young, technically savvy labour pool and launched an island in SL in July 2007 as a way of bring job seekers and employers together.

You can get the full report here. And for any leaders still stuck in a command and control paradigm, I offer up the ThinkingShift Guide to Living Leadership (particularly Tables 2.1 and 3.1). Enjoy!


Entry filed under: Knowledge Management, Leadership.

Back from the dead Will KM survive?

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Herman  |  October 27, 2007 at 9:26 am

    I think many employees are beginning to address their own lifecycles today. People rarely stay at the same job more than a few years. An enterpreneural attitude seems to be sweeping across teh landscape of organizational life. Do you see this happening?

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  October 27, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    to some extent I do Herman. I think it depends on the industry sector, but I do think that (as Peter Drucker was said) we are taking charge of our employee experience; seeking out organisations that will support our learning, listen to our ideas etc. I do think that leadership remains a big issue – what type of leadership is required in a complex, turbulent world? how do we dispose of the old command & control leader – I don’t think this will necessarily happen with generational change although it might given the different mindset.


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