People strategy & the future of work

Picture of Michelle Fotheringham

Michelle Fotheringham

CEO & Founder

3 min read

The ability to establish a future-fit organisation is shaped by your action and inaction today. Disruption, uncertainty and increased complexity are the new normal and continue to transform the world of work.

The Future of Work (FoW) is not some distant, abstract event that is going to ‘arrive’. It’s happening now and, even if we don’t realise it, each of us is shaping the future of work, through what we do and what we don’t do, today.

More and more leaders are using future thinking to inform their people strategy and immediate people priorities. Leaders accept that doing things differently is inevitable and see the opportunity to have a competitive advantage by acting now.

As Founder of Work Futures, and academically trained and practicing futurist, Reanna Browne says, “Embracing the futures of work has shifted from a nice to have ‘out there and then’ activity to a critical capacity ‘in here and now’.

An organisation’s people strategy and future thinking are not mutually exclusive things.

Futures-based action should not just get organisations ‘future ready’ but should also solve today’s problems. This work often starts with letting go of our deeply held assumptions that no longer hold true, and disrupting structures, beliefs, and solutions that are no longer fit-for-purpose.

There are three practical ways to start turning future thinking into action within your organisation: You can Play, Pilot or Parallel.

1. Play: Explore future possibilities

Carve out time as a leadership team for “what if” discussions, collectively lifting your focus to scenarios that may play out in the future. Centre the discussion around workforce insights, external data points and stories of change that point to a potential future. Identify the most likely scenarios that will have the greatest impact and embed action in your people strategy.

What is the likelihood of this version of the future playing out? What would it mean for us? What opportunities would it create? What problems would it solve? What are the risks of playing with this idea? What’s at risk if we don’t play with this idea? What do we need to do today?

Examples: What if 50% of the workforce was working in a gig-based capacity by 2027? What if there was increased unionisation and employee activism?

2. Pilot: Place small bets

Find pockets of the organisation where you can trial new ways of working and people strategies. Remember that these initiatives should both develop future readiness and solve a current world problem. Choosing an area of the business to run a pilot may lead you to a “safe zone” where there is low risk if the pilot does not have the intended impact or a “high need zone” that is screaming for change. When designing these small bets, favour action over the need to form the perfect solution.

Examples: Eradicating cyclical performance activities in one part of the organisation and measuring impact. Setting up a shared talent model within your Communications team and monitoring utilisation, performance and cost.

3. Parallel: Try different things at once

There are many different ‘futures” that could play out, so it is essential to not put all your organisational eggs in the one organisational basket. Compare, contrast and learn. Does the future hold ‘Bot Leaders’, increasingly human leaders, or no leaders at all? We don’t know. No one does. But questioning our assumptions and exploring ‘what could be’ in parallel to your current state is an essential leadership skill needed to inform a robust people strategy.

Examples: Contrasting three different mechanisms for uplifting remote contact centre performance: spyware, bot-based coaching conversations, and flexible working hours. Trying two different approaches to resource similar work requirements: traditional recruitment and matched on-demand talent.

The future is here so be ready to act

It can be hard to step away from what we know and how we’ve always done things. But the future is here and unfolding in front of us. Leaders must be in tune with the signals of change but also be ready to act on them, infusing the concepts of the future with their current reality. Play. Pilot. Parallel.

To explore this topic further, book a time with Werkling CEO and Founder, Michelle Fotheringham.