Finally, we are nearing the end of the 2020 tunnel and seeing encouraging glimmers of light. While the pandemic is not yet under control, we do have promising vaccine news as 2021 approaches, and many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have returned to on-site work. We see stabilization in US government after months of uncertainty, and the beginning of commitment and action to address longstanding racial and social justice inequities.
At a more granular level, these months of operating in survival mode have provided valuable insight into how organizations and people can truly move forward from this disruption and position themselves to navigate the future disruptions that are bound to occur. In short, we see a path toward thriving, not merely surviving.
The lessons learned over the past eight months bring sharp focus to global human capital trends that have been evolving for years—trends in well-being, reskilling, superteams (combining humans with machines), workforce strategies, and the role of HR. Even more, these lessons reinforce the overarching need to build the human element into everything an organization does in order to create lasting value for workers, organizations, and society at large.
1. Human potential is our greatest untapped asset.
Organizations have tended to think about what people can do in terms of the bullet points on their resumes and job descriptions. But none of us really knows what we’re capable of and what our limits are until we’re tested and pushed to those limits. The past eight months have been a defining test. They’ve taught us that people can operate differently. They can adapt and perform in ways far beyond what their jobs and roles specifically call for and do what has to get done.
We must now challenge how we think about the workforce and use technology to help identify and unleash human potential within and beyond the organization. This includes retaining the magic that comes from empowering people to break through hierarchy and bureaucracy, lead at all levels, and roll up their sleeves to get the job done.
2. True top-of-the house leadership looks like nothing we’ve seen before.
For years we’ve talked about “tone at the top” and the importance of top-down leadership. Now we have stellar examples of what that looks like: examples of CEOs being more transparent and human than they’ve ever been before. This includes opening dialogues on tough issues like racism and well-being and allowing them to be front and center, and generally leaning into issues that go way past the traditional C-suite agenda.
Senior leaders now have the opportunity to embody the organization’s purpose—its set of values supporting economic, social, and human interests—to infuse meaning into work that mobilizes employees around common, meaningful goals.
3. Leadership and culture are about connection and empowerment.
As people isolated at home, team leaders became the organization’s lifeline. It became their responsibility to not only focus on outcomes and organize the work accordingly, but also think about the moments that mattered culturally and foster trust in the organization. If they didn’t have empathy, listening skills, the trust of their teams, and the ability to communicate, manage, and lead, work suffered or at times didn’t get done at all.
Going forward, leaders and teams at all levels (not just higher levels) must develop capabilities that enable them to work and lead effectively while supporting the human needs of their team and representing the organization’s culture.
4. Work is the most underutilized source of value.
Work is more than simply the output it produces. It’s a powerful human force—a way for people to connect to a purpose, feel motivated, build relationships, and showcase their true capabilities. Yet no one is responsible for driving work transformation, keeping up with the pace of change, or harnessing what it can bring to the enterprise.
Organizations now have the opportunity to re-architect work for the future, not as a mechanized process, but as a flow that aligns with ways humans think and engage, and that continues to evolve. By its handling of COVID-19 challenges, HR has earned the right to spearhead this effort on behalf of the organization.
5. Ecosystems are essential to extend organizational capabilities.
The sheer enormity of the past year’s challenges proved the value of being able to leverage external partners and resources to accomplish what organizations couldn’t do on their own. For example, one transportation industry CEO related to us that, given the company has no Chief Medical Officer, he was able to enlist a top academic medical center to provide that guidance. In another example, we’re working with a group of 10 CHROs to build a cross-organizational learning program aimed at moving Black and Latinx professionals from the director to the executive level.
Going forward, organizations should deliberately cultivate an ecosystem of partners, vendors, alternative workers, and professional networks, realizing it’s the new reality of how work gets done.
From hard-learned experience to a leap forward
It would be a tremendous waste to treat the past year as a detour—a momentary delay that leads us right back to the path we were on. Instead, we need to treat 2020 as a shortcut that showed us how to leapfrog to our desired destination: a place where we’re not merely surviving, but thriving.
With the end of 2020 in sight, we have the means to createthe light we want to step into. There’s no “waiting for a better time”—the time is now. We’ll be sharing more insights on how organizations can get this done in the coming weeks in Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends (sign up to receive a copy here).
This piece was co-authored by Jeff Schwartz, principal and US leader for the Future of Work, Deloitte Consulting LLP.
Erica Volini is the Global Human Capital leader for Deloitte Consulting. Throughout her career, she has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations to link their business and human capital strategies. She is a frequent speaker on how market trends are shaping the future of work and the HR profession and is a recognized thought leader in the trends shaping the world of human capital today.
Steve Hatfield is a Principal with Deloitte Consulting and serves as the Global Leader for Future of Work for Deloitte. He has over 20 years of experience advising global organizations on issues of strategy, innovation, organization, people, culture, and change.
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