The future of work: Commentary I

19 Jul 2017

The future of work: Commentary I

by Elyse Allan, President and CEO, GE Canada

How do you see the world of work in the year 2030?

So much of work is and will be impacted by digitization. It will affect how we work; it will drive productivity in new and different ways, and it will require a refreshed look at the capabilities of both internal and external human resources. In the coming years, digitisation will enable the development of new social networks where leaders can easily tap into ‘global brains’. Collaboration will be a critical skill set.

As we expand more globally, I think there will be increased focus on shared accountability within the team. To support this, a leader will need to create a culture based on open communication and transparency. Already we see a demand for the ‘democratisation’ of data. Leaders need to be honest players and thoughtful listeners. They need to come to the table with the intent to work openly and to debate challenge and compromise, and that only comes when you have absolute trust and mutual respect between players.

Organizations are also evolving and informally organizing more around networks of people that exchange information or share resources and capabilities. I expect we will see increased fluidity in how we structure and work, as next-generation workers have both digital savvy and industrial domain. In the meantime – certainly at GE – we appreciate the need to understand the differences between the digital and industrial cultures, and to respect the capabilities each brings to the party as we build out the industrial internet. Finally, I would add, that as we maneuver around all the technology and business disruption we anticipate over the next decade, we can’t lose sight of the customer, their challenges and ultimately the problems we are solving and the value we are focused on delivering.

What will be the fundamental challenges for global businesses with increasingly fragmented workforces and working practices?

I think there are two challenges we need to address. Firstly we need to ensure we have strong collaborative teams that can work across a global organization while also maintaining domain expertise. We need to ensure that people have both the hard tools (i.e. IT and digital capabilities) as well as the soft leadership skill set to collaborate well. A successful organization needs to nurture the ability to work horizontally across the company, while also building domain expertise around the appropriate capabilities. Ultimately, we want to understand the segment in great depth, and to be able to customize a solution to meet the individualized needs of customers in their particular locales.

Secondly, around the world, a company still needs a regional presence, and we see the expectations for what that means evolving. A colleague once said to me: “To be a great company, you also have to be a good company.” We’ve learned that to do business around the world, we have to be a good citizen and that means understanding what that country needs and values, be it jobs, healthcare or infrastructure. Our success in that country will stem from a company-to-country partnership around defined key priorities. Our company approach to that region needs to be defined, and our capabilities organized to deliver on that partnership.

What three things would you like to see happen in the workplace by the year 2030?

Firstly, more trust. As organizations trend towards more decentralized decision-making, we’ll need to ensure cultures are value based, information is openly shared and collaboration is efficiently achieved.

Secondly, an agile workplace: new, more fluid ways to pull people together and allocate resources to deliver results as needed and when needed. This includes new structures that redefine the matrix – enabling faster decision making, thoughtful approaches to risk and shared accountability.

And thirdly – and vitally important – is diverse teams: building teams of smart people with varying perspectives from around the world, ensuring diverse voices are at the table. Different perspectives make us a better company – more creative, more effective and better citizens – in every region of the world.