The COO dilemma: Dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture and agility needed to en­able to­mor­row's work­force

The fu­ture of work is likely to re­quire in­no­va­tive tal­ent man­age­ment and flex­i­ble workspace ar­range­ments that en­able mo­bile-op­ti­mised work.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - Mehmood Khan is Chief Op­er­at­ing Officer at SAP Africa

Mil­len­ni­als will soon out­num­ber all other gen­er­a­tions in the work­place. This gen­er­a­tion al­ready rep­re­sents a quar­ter of the work­force in the US - and more than half the work­force in In­dia - and within two years will ac­count for 50% of the to­tal global work­force.

Com­pa­nies' suc­cess in at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing tal­ent will de­pend on how well they can adapt to the dras­tic changes her­alded by the en­try of this highly skilled, con­nected and techno-savvy gen­er­a­tion. A PwC study found that mil­len­ni­als of­ten feel con­strained by what they con­sider to be out­dated work­ing prac­tices: nearly twothirds said they felt tra­di­tional hi­er­ar­chies and out­dated man­age­ment styles pre­vented them from per­form­ing at their best. Tra­di­tional no­tions of re­ward and re­mu­ner­a­tion are also be­ing chal­lenged: 73% of mil­len­ni­als say that the abil­ity to cus­tomise their ben­e­fits would be at­trac­tive to them, with train­ing and devel­op­ment and flex­i­ble work­ing hours rank­ing higher than mone­tary re­ward.

The en­try of the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion into the world of work is also up­end­ing longheld no­tions of how com­pa­nies man­age their work­force. Not con­tent with jobs-for-life or lin­ear ca­reer pro­gres­sion, this most con­nected gen­er­a­tion is forc­ing com­pa­nies to re­think their re­cruit­ment, tal­ent man­age­ment and on­board­ing prac­tices or risk los­ing out on much-needed skills. In a global study by Ar­dent Part­ners, 58% of re­spon­dents across 24 in­dus­tries stated that em­brac­ing on-de­mand and real-time tal­ent sources is a top strat­egy for adapt­ing to the chang­ing tal­ent en­vi­ron­ment. On-de­mand tal­ent, the so-called con­tin­gent work­force or 'gig econ­omy' work­ers, is help­ing en­ter­prises pro­mote the qual­ity and depth of their tal­ent sup­ply chains and push­ing them to utilise new sources of ex­per­tise to drive busi­ness value.

But the en­try of this new gen­er­a­tion of worker into the mod­ern work­place is not au­to­mat­i­cally seen as a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment, es­pe­cially in Africa. De­trac­tors are quick to point to the con­ti­nent's un­der­per­form­ing ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and reliance on the agri­cul­tural sec­tor for em­ploy­ment. A lack of STEM skills - Science, Tech­nol­ogy, En­gi­neer­ing and Maths - is a key un­der­ly­ing is­sue that will only be com­pounded as the Fourth In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion picks up mo­men­tum. Africa's labour mar­ket will be trans­formed along with that of the rest of the world, but a work­force es­ti­mated to be 1 bil­lion strong within the next 25 years will cre­ate chal­lenges unique to the con­ti­nent.

Hack­ing the dig­i­tal skills deficit

Presently fewer than 1% of African chil­dren leave school with ba­sic cod­ing knowl­edge. Pub­lic-pri­vate sec­tor ini­tia­tives such as Africa Code Week - which last year trained 1.3 mil­lion youth in ba­sic cod­ing skills - play a vi­tal role in equip­ping the fu­ture work­force with mar­ketable ex­pe­ri­ence and skills. Grad­u­ate pro­grammes that sup­ple­ment

class­room knowl­edge with prac­ti­cal tech­ni­cal skills help to fill the gap be­tween aca­demic and in­dus­try knowl­edge. Com­pa­nies can ar­guably do more to en­able life­long skills devel­op­ment among ju­nior and more ex­pe­ri­enced em­ploy­ees, but care should be taken to not ex­clude the con­tin­gent work­force when de­sign­ing such pro­grammes.

Nearly 38% of the global work­force can now be con­sid­ered "non-em­ployee", which in­cludes con­tin­gent work­ers, free­lancers, gig work­ers and tem­po­rary staff - an in­crease of 30% over a five-year pe­riod. Ag­ile tal­ent, which in­volves con­sis­tent use of highly-spe­cialised skillsets on a re­cur­ring con­tract ba­sis, is a grow­ing con­cept among global or­gan­i­sa­tions. And with stag­nat­ing or neg­a­tive pop­u­la­tion growth in many de­vel­oped mar­kets, Africa is seen as a vi­tal fu­ture source of tal­ent that will drive the global eco­nomic en­gine. It is es­sen­tial that the in­fra­struc­ture that will en­able ef­fec­tive utilisation of Africa's tal­ent pool is es­tab­lished down now.

COOs to sup­port, en­able work­force man­age­ment

Tal­ent man­age­ment is an or­gan­i­sa­tion­wide con­cern in the mod­ern en­ter­prise, but the chief op­er­at­ing officer has a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant role to play in a dis­rup­tive en­vi­ron­ment. The job of hu­man re­sources is likely to change sig­nif­i­cantly as the con­tin­gent work­force grows in size and im­por­tance. Data and an­a­lyt­ics will play sig­nif­i­cant roles in man­ag­ing to­mor­row's work­force. Con­tin­u­ous skills devel­op­ment in the face of con­stant tech­no­log­i­cal dis­rup­tion will be­come the norm in high­per­for­mance or­gan­i­sa­tions. COOs need to start lay­ing down the in­fra­struc­ture that en­ables HR to man­age multi-dis­ci­plinary teams across cul­tural and geo­graph­i­cal lines - and this work should start right now.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum's Fu­ture of Jobs re­port, two-thirds of com­pa­nies sur­veyed be­lieve that fu­ture work­force plan­ning and change man­age­ment are rea­son­ably high or very high pri­or­i­ties for their or­gan­i­sa­tions. How­ever, only half of chief hu­man re­sources of­fi­cers sur­veyed were con­fi­dent that their work­force strat­egy is ad­e­quate to pre­pare for the changes In­dus­try 4.0 will bring.

The fu­ture of work is likely to re­quire in­no­va­tive tal­ent man­age­ment and flex­i­ble workspace ar­range­ments that en­able mo­bile-op­ti­mised work. With AI and other forms of work­place au­to­ma­tion soon to be­come the norm, or­gan­i­sa­tions need to start de­vel­op­ing pro­cesses and poli­cies for how in­ter­nal and con­tin­gent work is bal­anced with ma­chine-based tasks. Crit­i­cally, busi­ness lead­ers need to adopt a trans­for­ma­tive mind­set, since the pace of change and fierce lev­els of com­pe­ti­tion for top tal­ent re­quire im­me­di­ate and trans­for­ma­tive changes: an it­er­a­tive ap­proach is sim­ply in­ad­e­quate.

COOs should part­ner with the rest of the C-suite to start digi­tis­ing HR: the devel­op­ment of dig­i­tal work­places that in­clude real-time data and an­a­lyt­ics ca­pa­bil­i­ties will help man­age pro­duc­tiv­ity and stim­u­late in­no­va­tion across in­ter­nal and con­tin­gent work teams. A fo­cus on di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion will help at­tract the tal­ent needed to out­per­form in­dus­try bench­marks, while a com­mit­ment to on­go­ing skills devel­op­ment and train­ing will go a long way to re­tain­ing scarce skills.

It's time to start build­ing the foun­da­tion of a brave new world of work. COOs have the rare op­por­tu­nity to help shape what that fu­ture looks like by build­ing the foun­da­tion of fu­ture hu­man cap­i­tal man­age­ment.

Mehmood Khan

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