CEOs: Changing technology landscape is impacting people strategy

16 March 2017

Technology has the potential to create considerable disruption to employment across a range of industries. A new report considers the current trend, as well as the kinds of skills that employers cannot automate. Many of those skills themselves remain difficult to find, pointing out that considerable social transformations may be on the horizon, with people strategies likely to adapt to the new normal.

In PwC’s latest edition of its 'Global CEO Survey', the 20th edition, the firm considers a range of factors affecting businesses across the globe. One key area of concern, from both the public as well as industry more widely, is the effect of automation on employment. A slew of recent studies have highlighted that robots, in a variety of forms, can already largely replace part, or all, of the jobs performed by humans across a range of industries – a McKinsey & Company report finding that if today's technologies are fully implemented, it would mean that 1.1 billion in FTE positions would be wiped out.

While the optimistic assumption remains that new jobs would be created, providing ample opportunities for those out of luck, key concerns remain – the industrial revolution resulted in wide spread income inequality as the new positions took a generation to materialise – as it is by no means certain that new positions will arise, nor that those new positions will be accessible to all or provide a living wage.

Technology has less of an impact than CEOs predict

Robots rise up

According to the study, technology has been somewhat less impactful on business than projected by companies in the first study run by the firm. While the question then focused on e-commerce, the number of respondents that said it would completely change their industry has been relatively in line with expectations, at 20% in 1998 and 27% in 2017. Respondents in 1998 were much more likely to say that technology has had a significant impact, then at 59%, compared to new, at 33%. Today, around 30% say that technology has had a moderate impact, compared to 20% that predicted this in 1998.

One area that has seen considerable effects from automation is heavy industry, with the number of robots installed at plants increasing from 700,000 to more than 1.8 million today, which could soar to 2.6 million by 2019. Globalisation and automation have created a perfect storm for manufacturing employment in developed countries, with considerable number of employees – total sector employment falling from 25% of the US population in the 70s to 10% today – losing their manufacturing job.

The most confident CEOs plan the largest headcount increase

A recent study of employees finds that that vast majority (79%) are concerned about the future of their role in the face of advancing technology. Experts point out that between 9% and 57% of jobs are likely to be automated within the next 50 to 100 years – just based on technology available today. PwC notes that “technology will have a disruptive impact on the workforce, and it will do so right across the skills spectrum.”

The effects of automation are likely to be gradual however, partly as a result of attrition and partly as a result of new technologies becoming cost effective due to scale effects. As it stands, the report notes that 16% plan to cut their company’s headcount over the next 12 months – and around 25% of those are doing so due to technology. There are considerable differences though, cautions CEOs are much more likely to cut headcount (46%) compared to confident CEOs (11%).

The hardest skills to find are those that can’t be performed by machines

What is in demand

The report notes that companies are in general (52%) looking to increase their headcount in the coming months. Companies are, in particular, looking to fill positions with people capable of delivering a range of skills that robots currently lack. These skills tend to be difficult to recruit – pointing out a key concern for the future employability of those without at least merit on their master’s degree in a supply side excess meritocracy.

The most in demand skill is problem solving, which 61% of respondents cites as difficult or very difficult to recruit, this is followed by adaptability, also cited as at least difficult by 61% of respondents.

Leadership is harder to find still, and takes the number four spot as a skill in demand by companies surveyed. Creativity and innovation remains the most difficult skill to access, while taking the number four spot in terms of importance to employers. Emotional intelligence takes the number five spot, with 64% saying it is hard to attract.

CEOs are looking more widely to find the skills they need

To acquire the skills companies need to meet their recruitment needs, the study finds that companies are expanding their net. Many companies strongly agree (28%) or agree (50%) that they have change their people strategy to reflect the skills and employment structure we need for the future, with many also at least agreeing (77%) that they move talent to where it is needed. Companies are also increasingly focused on training their employees with digital leaning programmes (65% at least agree).

Around 60% of respondents say that they are rethinking their HR function in light of changing conditions, while 52% are exploring the benefits of having machines and humans work together. The areas of least concern – at this stage – relates to companies considering the impact of artificial intelligence on future skill needs, with around 40% looking into it. Few companies are increasingly relying on contractors, freelancers and outsourcing, with around 46% of respondents disagreeing that they are.



Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.