This post has been adapted from a presentation given by Carl Hicks, Project Manager at Dalberg Advisors, at Nation Builder's In Good Company conference on 15 August 2019.
Carl Hickson, Project Manager at Dalberg Advisors, explained that we are experiencing the Fourth Revolution, but need to trace its origins back for it to make sense. First, there was mechanisation, the steam engine, then the rise of electricity which radically changed the way we work. Thereafter, digitization arrived to improve and speed up communication, amongst other things. Now, most recently, technology and the physical world are converging and combining in a way never seen before. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada said at the World Economic Forum: “The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.”
It is worthwhile to reflect on three trends which are relevant today. Firstly, new business models and industry segments are emerging. Secondly, consumer behaviour is shifting and becoming more purpose-driven. Thirdly, rotating skill-set requirements, viewed against a backdrop of unemployment. There is no longer a separation between the worlds of social good and business. “These are enabling new jobs, new ways of accessing services, but each of them also has their threats which we have to consider, be that the rise of E-commerce, the rise of whole new industries, of business process outsourcing or of software development,” Hickson explains.
People are asking for something fundamentally different. Consumers worldwide are willing to pay more for sustainable brands, with the income dynamics of the countries making less and less difference. Everyone is asking more from business; connectedness to purpose is required if they are to stay competitive. The extreme levels of unemployment in existence today offer a huge opportunity for businesses to up-skill and train these people with skills required in the future. We have seen many examples today of the innovative ways businesses are responding to this trend. But in the end, all businesses must remain competitive and make money. However, these structures will look very different in five to ten years, so there must be a careful rethinking of the workforce of the future.
Many digital megatrends revolve around people, the internet, the internet of things, different ways relating to the management force and labour. All of these examples have elements of good business as well as being good for society. These trends open up whole new markets, whole new customer bases and also expand access to the internet and services in a way that would not be possible without them; livestock trackers, cloud phones, intelligent greenhouses, aerial data solutions and 3-D printers for medical procedures, among others. People are wanting to launch their new trends faster than before as these will allow people to work more efficiently. There is a fear that the rise of technology will eradicate jobs and this is so, but it will also create new jobs and equip people to be more effective; to change the way they interact with customers and stakeholders in a way that augments rather than replaces human beings.
“The days of sales and marketing as distinct functions are increasingly blurred and increasingly dissolving,” warns Hickson. These trends are all about assisting different disciplines to work together more seamlessly, allowing the world to work faster and more efficiently. Philips has done a lot of work around partnering with NGOs and ministries of health to improve health systems. That they will sell more medical equipment is important, but they are also enabling better health care delivery in communities where the patients have limited access. So there is a gain for the business as well as for society at large, and it is only by tapping into this that businesses can remain competitive.
The demand for sustainability will require businesses to rethink how they run their organisation. Workforce functions will change and evolve with new technology, requiring the businesses to undertake the responsibility of up-skilling their people. Agriculture was always a sector requiring hands-on, manual labour yet it is becoming increasingly mechanised thus requiring less manpower; the jobs have shifted to become more accessible to agri-processing, requiring more digital skills from the workers. This is true in almost every sphere. “There are jobs today that we didn’t know were going to exist 10 or 20 years ago and actually, the ability to predict where skills need to be is incredibly difficult,” warns Hickson. We need to create transferrable skills and the ability to learn in our workforce that will enable them to adapt and grow. Training and learning must be more ‘bite-sized’ and expand beyond our core workforce. This need for training is a real commercial need if businesses are to remain relevant and sustainable, but in fulfilling this need they will also be addressing social impact.
In conclusion, there are three points to consider. Firstly, are your business model and the needs of your customers evolving? If so you need to adapt very quickly to the new requirements. Secondly, how will you rearrange your structures to enable you to work faster and to take advantage of the current situation? Thirdly, realise that more and more of your investment will go to talent, learning and development within your workforce and beyond. These points may present a daunting prospect but the pace of change will never be this slow again so you have to be ready to deal with it, irrespective of the speed at which it may occur. With increasing levels of uncertainty and with customer preferences that evolve too quickly for your workforce to keep pace, you need to keep really close to your consumer base to remain relevant. “That enables you to start, to pilot, to iterate and adapt. You start with a focus project and prove it; that touches on what you can do, but also on changing how you do it,” says Hickson.
Carl brings extensive experience in the strategy development space across both developed and developing markets. Prior to joining Dalberg, Carl worked with Accenture Strategy, where he advised a range of commercial and non-profit clients across Europe, South Africa and the US on organisation effectiveness and operating model re-design. This included focus on how organisations can become more agile and purpose-driven in response to the forces of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
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