Dr. Constantine “Dino” Kiritsis, Founder StudySmart, International Curriculum Development Expert, PwC Serbia and Consultant, PwC Middle Eas
Introduction - The new business environment:
The employment arena has been changing drastically especially from the start of the 21st century mainly due to the amazing technological advances. Virtual jobs, the rise of automated tasks, the changes in organizational structure due to the internet, globalization and the speed of change have created an unprecedented employment framework. My experience from consulting and delivering training in more than 30 countries has proved that the changes are global, constantly changing and professionals are still – unfortunately - dealing with these issues with “weapons of the past”. The new job market requires a new way of thinking, a focus on new skills, a continuing development approach in becoming sustainable in the job market and a great degree of flexibility. Furthermore, we are becoming more diverse, international, multicultural, project oriented, short-term and need to be prepared as these changes are affecting all of us.
We need to challenge conventional thinking. We need to understand how fast employment is changing and we need to be prepared. What do these changes mean for us individually? How often should we change directions? Should we specialize or generalize when it comes to our continuing development? What competencies & skills do we need? How will the future organization look like?
Tip 1: Embrace change:
The first tip is that we all need to embrace change. For example less and less people have “working hours” in the 21st century. I always ask this question and get the same answer from groups I coach: We do not have any strict working hours any more. We work on Sundays, on Saturdays during the evenings always trying to check our emails, finish a report or a proposal and/or get informed about what is going on at work. This is a fact. We cannot seem to be able to distinguish between our personal life and our work life. Given that anyone can find us and we can work from anywhere, time management has become increasingly important as we will need to juggle time 24/7. There are too many overlaps. Therefore, in order to find our “work-life balance” we do not need to fight this, but – on the contrary – we need to find solutions that have to do with appropriate management of time, effective judgement, effective communication, adequate delegation and other such softer solutions. The problem is that we have been mostly trained in terms of knowledge and not competencies and therefore are not competent in these areas creating frustration, stress and – in some cases - burn-out (apart from the effects these have to our families). In any case, changes will continue to take place within this amazingly fast business environment and we need to be ready, prepared and able to anticipate.
Another example of change is the increased automation of tasks. A recent article in Harvard Business Review (Davenport & Kirby, June, 2015, p. 61) suggests augmentation as a solution to machines taking over a number of jobs. “We propose a change of mindset, on the part of both workers and providers of work, that will lead to different outcomes – a change from pursuing automation to promoting augmentation”. Augmentation, as they define the term, means starting with what humans do today and figuring out how that work could be depended rather than diminished by a greater use of machines. If you have not done that already it may be a good time to start…
Tip 2: Work from…”anywhere” - The “office” concept:
One of the most important characteristics of the new professional in the job market is that of the new “office”. For many researchers, “office” has become a verb. “Where will you office today”? A rising number of young professionals and free lancers are actually working from café’s answering emails, Skyping, holding meetings in order to be in-synch with their virtual lives. This implies lower costs for organizations, flexibility and mobility. As MIT’s Professor Tom Malone has argued (2010), cheap communication has made all the difference in that it has allowed people to do things cheaper, faster and better.
Given that an increasing number of individuals are working from home, a rising number of employees work remotely on projects and a rising number of young aspiring professionals use common space and – essentially – only require wi-fi, it makes you wonder what organizations will do with their office space in the future. This has also been nicely supported by Fried and Hanson’s (2015) book “Remote”. As the authors state: “Say you spend 30 minutes driving in rush hour every morning and another fifteen getting to your car and into office. That’s 1.5 hours a day, 7.5 hours per week or somewhere between 300 and 400 hours per year, give or take holidays and vacation…imagine what you could do with 400 extra hours per year. Commuting isn’t just bad for you, your relationships and the environment – its bad for business. And it doesn’t have to be that way” (p.17). Furthermore, size has become irrelevant and therefore small organizations can make a huge impact. Let me remind you that companies that have developed a small application have even been able to become listed on well-known stock markets (i.e. King, who developed candy crush is listed in New York since 2014).
The fact that office space (in its classical sense) is not required along with the fact that small is the “new big” (to use Seth Godin’s well known title of his book), has given rise to numerous small organizations and the rise of free-lancers. This has even triggered Entrepreneur Loulou Khazen Baz in 2013 to set up nabbesh.com (which means search in Arabic) that connects business with freelance professionals. It has a rising community of 40,000 people in 130 countries (Gulf Business, 2015). It would be interesting to see how many of these actually own or rent an office!
Tip 3: “Competencies requirement”
A very important point that I like raising is that of competencies. Most employees feel that career advancement can be greatly fulfilled by opting for another academic degree. This assumption has been greatly challenged in the past 15 years, however a significant number of individuals continue to agree with it. An additional degree does not necessarily offer you a greater salary or an additional competency. This is mainly because University degrees (especially in the business area) are more knowledge based than skill based. In the 21st century, organizations are looking for competencies. As I like saying, degrees can get you in, but competencies make you stay. The problem is that Universities do not focus on teaching us competencies. They focus on knowledge. Therefore, the question arises: How can I gain competencies? How can I become better in the areas in which an organization will appraise me? These areas are usually leadership, communication, working with teams, presentation skills and others? These skills are learnt – in many cases – practically or, as they say, “on the job”. They need to be supported by workshops and seminars as well as action based learning methods.
A great example of this move is portrayed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the largest HR association in the world, which has developed a competency based qualification for HR professionals. The qualification includes situational judgement questions that have two (2) possible ‘correct’ answers, acknowledging differences in dealing with business situations.
We should always ask ourselves, what is missing from our arsenal? Do I need a new skill? How can I get better? How should I tackle this problem? The solution may lie in a seminar, a workshop, a MOOC (Mass on-line open course) or even a new certification that will “verify” this skill, soft or hard. This leads us to tip number 4.
Tip 4: Continuing Professional Development
Isn’t it amazing that despite the rise of unemployment in Europe and many parts of the world, organizations are still finding it extremely difficult to find the right employees with the right skills? Universities feel that they are doing an excellent job in preparing graduates for employment and employers feel that they need extensive training and they are ill-prepared. What we all need to understand is the fact that we need to continue to invest in ourselves if we intend to stay employable. One of the solutions is to become a specialist in an area through a qualification and eventually re-certify in order to continue developing skills. We need to stay on top of our game given the amazing changes globally. This is why the title of my forthcoming book is called “From Degreefication to Certification”. Becoming certified can certainly help, especially due to the fact that to retain your certification is designed around updating your knowledge and gaining credits that need to be submitted to the respective association. This fact assists not only the certified employee but also the HR Manager who can verify this fact with the association and also confirm the candidate being up to date.
The book does try to give solutions in terms of career paths, as career management has become more important than ever. This problem has numerous repercussions for Human Resources professionals not only from their perspective as HR managers but also for themselves.
Tip Number 5: Personal Branding
The rise of small organizations, start-ups in general, the irrelevance of ‘office space’ in its traditional sense and the rise of free-lance or part – time work has forced us to actually start building our personal brand. Employees are staying less time at one organization, participate in projects and therefore it is imperative that we create a track record that will enhance our personal branding. Linkedin has assisted us greatly in this. Most headhunters are using linkedin to search, check connections, links and also evaluate networks. Even though we have been using such tools for years, we need to find ways to optimize our social media footprint and gear it towards career opportunities (among other). Organizations are becoming more and more interested in hiring ad hoc given the constant changes (and in some cases the inability of employees to be agile) and due to the fact that organizations deal with more and more “projects” that have a beginning and an end.
Gratton (2011) in her book “the shift” talks about Micro – entrepreneurs and ecosystems as one of the possible “futures”. If this becomes a reality, our digital footprint becomes imperative. How well so you promote yourself? Your CV is now digital and your work may be ranked by former employers in the future. We need to have this in mind moving into a digitized, cloud oriented business ecosystem.
The question, therefore, to ask yourself is how will these changes affect my area of interest? What should you do to confront these challenges? How can you get better prepared? There is also an educational perspective in all this, apart from the more obvious Human Resource Management perspective as indicated above. As the Economist (2015) noted in its March special edition, more and more money is being spent on higher education and too little is known about whether it is worth it. This comment reinforceσ the changing times in the supply chain of employees. Workforce diversity, the rise of remote employment, virtual organizations, the irrelevance of size as well as automation require all of us to follow the trends, evaluate them and get prepared.
This article had as its objective to stimulate employees and HR professionals and stress that the changes are non-stop and constant. Whatever the case, society changes forcing organizations, employers and employees to change. These changes will continue and we need to be prepared to navigate our careers. As Bobby Unser stated, success is when preparation and opportunity meet…
Deloitte, (2015) “Tech Trends – The fusion of business and IT” Deloitte University Press
Economist, March 28, 2015, Leaders – The world is going to university, p. 11
Fried, Jason & Heineman Hanson (2015) “Remote – office not required” , Crown publishing, USA
Gratton, Lynda, (2011), The Shift – The future of work is already here, William Collins publication, UK
Gulf Business (2015) “Top Entrepreneurs” article, p.56, Volume 20, Issue 04, August 2015, Motivate publication, UAE
Harvard Business Review (2015) Beyond Automation – Strategies for remaining gainfully employed in an era of very smart machines, Davenport Thomas and Kirby Julia (June 2015), USA
Harvard Business Review, (2011), “The age of hyper-specialization” Harvard Business Review, Malone, Tom, Laubacher, Robert (August, 2011), USA