Prior to 2020, it was hard to imagine that the way we worked would undergo the transformation, to the magnitude or at the speed, that it did – as most of the world locked down, work moved from offices to homes overnight. While we are now years beyond the disruption of a global pandemic, the way we work continues to transform driven by other market dynamics such as mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, cost reduction pressures, opportunities to scale in high growth markets, climate change, socio-political trends and technology.
Technology has taken a central role in business and work models; it has been a disruptor for some and an enabler for others, bringing opportunities to leverage robotic process automation and artificial intelligence, as well as to standard enterprise systems. HR plays a critical role in partnering with business leaders to capitalize on the opportunities that these changes can bring.
In this article series, we asked WTW’s Work, Rewards & Careers experts, Bill MacKenzie, Lesli Jennings and Khaleel Albiss to share their perspectives on why work transformation is important, what organizations gain and how they can approach this. We believe work transformation takes the practical steps to apply the theory of the future of work.
Why is work transformation so important right now?
Bill MacKenzie: The pace of change in organizations has heated up dramatically in recent years, especially after the pandemic. Disruptive business models, digitalization and shifting talent dynamics have reshaped the corporate landscape. The emergence of fintech has redefined traditional financial services models, while digitalization has transformed the way organizations operate, bringing with it new skill requirements. And talent dynamics have changed in terms of supply and demand. These new business models are impacted by demographic shifts in terms of ageing workforces as well as opportunities to leverage workforces in different geographies. Additionally, employee preferences and expectations are evolving. All of these factors have created challenges. But they are also strategic opportunities for organizations to rethink their business, organizational and work models.
Lesli Jennings: I absolutely agree about the pace of change. Organizations are now operating in a landscape marked by constantly evolving market dynamics, new entrants challenging traditional business models, changing regulatory environments and increased mergers and acquisitions activities. Companies now need to ask themselves how they are going to grow, scale and take advantage of market opportunities. Because what got us here isn’t going to get us there. The pressures of cost as well as supply and demand when it comes to talent have just increased since the pandemic. There is so much complexity. To succeed, companies need to adapt, which often requires reevaluating their work models. This is no longer about making tweaks but about transformation.
Khaleel Albiss: Whenever there’s a pocket of challenge, there’s an opportunity somewhere else that’s popping. The notion of keeping some of your industries at home or coming up with a more robust business model in terms of quality control or cost control, all of these historic themes are more pressing than ever. The post-COVID world, coupled with the disruptive technologies already mentioned like AI, Chat GPT and robotics, has made work transformation a critical imperative. Before, we had these projections of how the world would operate. But now we’re here and we need to align with the future that has become our reality.
What do organizations hope to gain from this work, and how will they fare compared to those that don't do it?
Lesli: Reducing workforce risk is a top priority. Ensuring the right talent supply, both internally and externally sourced, mitigates the risks associated with workforce shortages. I've had clients who had to stop a key business process because they just didn't have the talent that could deliver on the work that needed to be done. As you can imagine, if you don’t focus on this it can significantly impact business operations.
Bill: Businesses will also benefit from looking at their work models and their organizational structures and assessing how the work gets done. I think it's all about the ability to scale and flex to be able to adapt to growth opportunities and move into different products and markets faster and with more agility than competitors. Agility is key, as is optimizing cost so we're smarter about how we invest in people. Labor is the single biggest cost element for most businesses so it’s important to determine how you leverage your investment in people to ensure the biggest return.
Khaleel: I agree, agility and growth matter a lot. Another important factor is the link between strategy and business transformation. The strategy has to be clear and well communicated so it becomes a small set of activities that everyone will do to meet the Key Performance Indicators. That is where the magic lies.
Bill: That's a really good point. One always hopes that organizations are growing, but in some cases, organizations are facing headwinds, and how do they optimize their cost efficiently without cutting into muscle? How do they choose where to make cost reductions and invest more efficiently? Because it's not always all about growth. Looking at work models can help to hone in on the capabilities that the organization needs not just to play but also to win. In some cases, organizations have rested on their laurels with a capability they thought was important to the market, but it’s no longer relevant. Unlearning can become an important aspect of self-discovery. Organizations must know where their strengths lie and which capabilities are crucial for long-term success. Work transformation is a strategic tool for identifying and leveraging these capabilities.
Lesli: Work transformation also focuses on enhancing employee experience. It entails upskilling and reskilling employees, providing them with the tools and technologies needed to succeed, fostering motivation and reinforcing the company culture. A positive employee experience is essential for retaining and attracting talent.
Bill: Yes, employee experience is critical. At the end of the day, you might have the most efficiently designed processes and the most immaculately constructed technology but if your people aren't engaged, committed, capable and productive, none of those infrastructure things are going to be that effective.
How do organizations get started if they are new to this journey?
Bill: Organizations new to the work transformation journey should start by understanding the work that’s being done within the organization. This includes who performs it, how much is being done, what it costs and how talent is being deployed. This baseline assessment is crucial for evaluating the necessity of every activity and understanding where improvements can be made. Are there too many people involved in certain processes? Can some work be automated or outsourced for greater efficiency and are we efficiently and effectively using management as a resource?
Lesli: Using baseline analytics to evaluate the current state of the workforce is an important place to get started. Understanding the distribution of the workforce across different functions, job families, and career levels can help organizations identify hotspots and areas for improvement. Additionally, reviewing talent and reward programs and processes to ensure alignment with workforce goals is essential.
Khaleel: Organizations can also start by analyzing engagement surveys and culture surveys. Key themes, such as decision-making, can provide insights into areas that require change. For example, empowering employees with the authority to make decisions and providing them with the necessary tools can impact an organization's structure and efficiency positively.
Bill: Additionally, talent forecasting and strategic workforce planning can provide organizations with valuable insights. Understanding the supply and demand for talent is critical for making informed decisions about organizational structure and strategic talent management.
Khaleel: Typically, we recommend organizations start with strategy and understanding where you are, but organizations can choose where to start based on their maturity, strategic objectives, and the specific challenges they face. If they have just reviewed their strategic direction, for example, they may want to focus on how they can be more efficient, effective and robust in dealing with resources. Data on their current situation would be the very initial start of the conversation for me.
Bill: No one's crystal ball is any better than anyone else’s. But if you've done the analysis and carefully looked at the various assumptions and scenarios, you’ll have an excellent guidepost for what your organization should be doing to get started or to move further on the work transformation journey.
The dynamics of work are truly changing, and this will likely mandate greater flexibility, adaptation and innovation in the way we work. Are you ready to transform your organization for the success of the future? WTW can help you meet the challenges of a new work ecosystem.
The future starts now – contact us to get started on your work transformation journey.