by Dr. Tim Glaid
“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail, is not taking risks.”
– Mark Zuckerberg, Co-founder of Facebook
Throughout history, business leaders have constantly sought new ways of gaining efficiencies in the production of their goods and services. More than a century ago, Henry Ford designed assembly lines in the manufacturing of his automobiles. When radios and then televisions were invented, they were quickly used in the advertising of most goods and services. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, many companies offered toll-free (800) numbers that enticed customers to place orders, and/or to receive service. The 1980s brought us automatic teller machines, and electronic point-of-sale retail terminals. The 1990s saw the “dot.com” explosion of the worldwide web, which paved the ways to electronic commerce and information centric applications. And the new millennial offered social media, and mega e-commerce supplier Amazon.com grew from a book reseller to one of the largest businesses in the world.
For as much change as businesses have experienced, the basic purpose and formula for most business success remain the same. Create as much profit for the stakeholders of the business, where the profit is the difference between revenues (monies coming in) and expenses (monies going out). And, in order to maximize that profit, business leaders must find ways to increase revenues while decreasing expenses.
How does technology enable business growth and sustained success?
Are today’s business leaders prepared to create competitive advantage?
What is the role of technology in creating such advantage, growth, and sustained success?
Leadership Skills in the Age of Technology
Bert Miller, President and CEO of MRI Network, in his July 23, 2021 article, “Leadership Skills in the Age of Technology” posits “technology and team models are changing in the workplace, and leaders need to proactively adapt”.
The world is amid a fourth industrial revolution, which is fundamentally changing the world of work. Specifically, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, and other cutting-edge technologies are adding efficiencies and transforming how we work, which in turn is changing the profile of the workforce. As technology becomes more of a horizontal that affects every industry vertical, the workplace evolves in lockstep. The future of work is heavily augmented with technology. Leaders need to develop the right skills to help an organization maintain its competitiveness, both in leading the charge for upskilling, and initiating mentoring and development for the teams.
Technology has a direct impact on staff. Every robot added per 1,000 workers, for example, results in a 0.2 percent decline in employment-to-population ratio. This translates to a loss of about 400,000 jobs, according to the report “Robots and Jobs: Evidence from U.S. Labor Markets. The World Economic Forum expects that technology innovations in the workplace will ultimately eliminate 85 million jobs worldwide by 2025. At the same time though, these technologies will help create 97 million jobs requiring a different skillset and finding staff to fill these positions will be difficult as demand outstrips supply.
How the Workforce Will Catch Up with Technology
There is a cause and effect to this challenge of hiring a more skilled workforce. Productivity has not kept pace with technology innovations. Eventually, the workplace will catch up as staff members become more adept at adopting new innovations through leadership and upskilling. Leaders will focus more on results, accountability, and freedom, versus where and how employees get work done. Many roles will need to be redesigned. These changes take time, though, as people are often uneasy with new technology, and getting upskilled and reskilled can be a process.
Leaders need to manage through this transition. As more repetitive tasks are performed by technology rather than people, employers will increase demand for employees with strong technical skills across multiple disciplines, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, data science and analytics, and cloud computing. Teams will ultimately focus on more value-generating tasks–technology cannot make decisions and solve problems the same way a person can. Critical thinking skills are imperative for both teams and leaders.
Agile Leadership Needed
Technology changes at a fast clip, and organizations are constantly adopting the cutting edge and bleeding edge just to stay competitive. Doing so requires an agile leadership, and companies need the right leadership structure in place to allow for this evolution. A hierarchical structure may not be the best strategy.
Rather than develop a select few people, management responsibilities will likely be spread across an organization. Leadership models need to be able to capture the new path forward in this increasingly digital world.
Large teams are not as agile as a network of small teams that can be disbanded and reassembled to move on to new projects and challenges. This model is more product, customer, and service based. It can help bridge the gap between productivity and technology. To form teams quickly requires having a clear understanding of everyone’s skillset, scorecard, and purpose.
As a company’s resource needs change, a growth mindset will help leaders strategize and pivot while following the latest trends and innovations. Organizations need to be able to dislocate themselves first before a competitor does.
Also, leaders need to be strong advocates for their teams so individuals and the team can achieve their goals. A leader needs to provide their team with the right resources and direction, and that means understanding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to be able to assign roles accordingly, and to provide training or additional staff with the right skillsets.
In a technology-heavy world, strong communication skills are even more imperative. Staff members need continuous feedback so they can adjust goals accordingly and move to projects that are good fits. More frequent communication increases transparency, which is key to developing teams and moving forward as an organization.
Leaders of the future need to be able to provide a clear direction and strategy to staff, and take on the role of thought leaders and influencers. To be an influencer means the leader has obtained a level of success and shares their knowledge and philosophies to motivate others to achieve the same. Leaders grow because they have followers rather than the old model, where leaders were promoted into their positions regardless of their following.
Tomorrow’s business success stories require today’s visions, creativity, and risk-taking. Technology is only limited by one’s ability to foresee what is possible, and to configure its components in fulfillment of that vision.
New applications, productivity tools, operational efficiencies and excellence, increased revenues, superior customer service, and reduced payroll expenses, are made possible when leaders proactively adapt within the age of technology. Structuring the business with the optimal balance of skilled employees, and the augmentation of technology requires exemplary leadership foresight, risk-taking, and aptitude. Change is evitable. Leaders must remain flexible and nimble in their organizational structures.