The Future of Talent unfolds

What would you tell yourself to study at college if you could go back in time...clears throat...20 years? Study more, drink less, party less? I keep coming back to this question as I finish of my report on the Future of Talent. Would my 21 year old self know where the smart money is or will be tomorrow? Would I know what to do and where I need to position myself for a long and rewarding career through an economic revolution that, let’s face it, matches the coming of the railways back in the 1850s?.

I truly believe that the tectonic changes unleashed by digital technologies are profoundly disrupting how we live, work, and play. Like the coming of the railways, the force multiplier of digital is radically shifting customer expectations, revenue flows, cost structures, changing who you need to partner with versus who you should see your competition. As an ex-analyst, I give credit to the analyst houses as they cycle furiously to keep up with the sheer pace of change but Forrester, Gartner, HfS, IDC et al offer unique and compelling insights from the Age of the Customer, The Rise of the 3rd Platform to Robotic Process Automation on what to expect. But even the most senior market watchers are finding it very hard to predict where the new upstart competitor will emerge from to shatter a business model that stoically stood the test of time.

If you accept that the digital world is moving faster and faster, demanding rapid innovation cycles, experimentation and a challenger mindset wherever possible—this is the context for talent and where I wanted the Centre for the Future of Work to map out the future of talent. What type of people and what capabilities will a firm need to capture its digital future? How are firms going to find them, engage them, train them, motivate them and incentivize them? Rather than just dream up a response or crib an answer from someone else, I put together a series of questions and asked the Economist Intelligence Unit to run an online survey of 400 executives from strategy, business development, marketing, sales and HR to find out. The respondents were geographically split between the Europe and the US and selected across banking and financial services, healthcare, retail and manufacturing. I augmented the survey data with in-depth interviews with senior commentators, decision makers and industry experts and if I would like to start sharing my findings on this platform.

Through the analysis we’ve been able to try and answer some pretty big questions. These range from what sort of organizational structures will allow the firm of the future to flourish (answer: flatter, shared and more collective) to how you begin to forge the organization of the future in the white hot heat of technical, economic and social change (answer: use a digital workaround while at the same time laying down the foundations for some big honking changes in corporate culture). I also examine the mechanics of workflow arising from the rise of automation as new people to machine workflows emerge (don’t’ despair though...the robots aren’t coming just yet). What the report really shows is that whether you’re born digital or not, companies across all industries and geographies must respond by harnessing new engagement models, collaboration platforms and advanced modes of intelligent automation without losing sight of the most important assets—their people. Watch this space...

PS—If you want to put digital into context and see technology’s impact on how people live and work then read this great book Railways—Nation, Network and People (ok, ok, I guess I am arailway nut.) Railways were the digital of their day, revolutionising everything from manufacturing industries and leisure activity and even our diet (Underneath St Pancras station in London where the Eurostar now departs was designed to hold 1000s of hogsheads of the fine Burton ale arriving on train from the North). Railways spawned the first chain stores (WH Smith) in the UK, introduced mass advertising to the country and created a standard, universal time for Britain (every town had their own version of “British time” before timetables appeared and imposed London time...railway companies faced concerted resistance from local people who refused to adjust their public clocks to bring them into line with London Time and kept two different times on display...).