This article was first published in Forbes on 12 Dec 2016, and has been adapted for this blog. You can view the original here.
Change is afoot in the Asian workplace. Change with seismic impact.
I attended seven different human resources (HR) related events last November as a speaker, panelist, event partner, and delegate. Overall, there was some apprehension for economic headwinds coming into 2017. With unemployment inching upwards last year in countries like China, India, and Singapore, it is tempting to get gloomy.
However, there were several reasons to be optimistic. Five key threads emerged that present significant opportunities for forward-looking Asian leaders.
1. Tap Into Freelance Talent Liberally
The traditional model of relying on a core set of “full-time equivalent” employees, augmented by part-timers, is evolving rapidly towards what is known as the “gig economy”. CNBC estimates that over the past two decades, the number of freelance workers has increased 27% more than payroll employees.
For most companies, flexibly employing labor in this way involves creating new systems and processes. Confidentiality of personal data, protection of trade secrets, avoiding miscommunications all require fresh thinking. Effectively sourcing and managing independent contractors presents new leadership challenges.
The spoils of a more responsive labor cost structure and access to niche expertise await those who master these first.
2. Sharpen Your Management Soft Skills
In a recent Economist Corporate Network study of CEOs and other business leaders, respondents believed that opportunities and threats created by several changes in the global economy have greatly impacted the skills required to thrive.
In fact, 71.9% felt that soft skills (interpersonal and social skills) are more important than hard skills (specific abilities) for their business currently. “Complex problem solving, co-ordinating with others and people management are seen as the three top skills for businesses in the present and are expected to remain similarly important in the future.”
The majority of leaders believed that they neither appreciate nor use many of these skills today.
The challenge is to create a system for learning new soft skills in your teams. Allow leaders at all levels to practice their coaching and collaboration skills, peppered with the odd training workshop (and not the other way around). Done well, this allows companies and teams to be much more responsive to the significant stresses in the workplace and marketplace.
3. …And Build New Hard Skills
With the volume, velocity, and variety of data collected increasing exponentially, it is only natural for HR to use some of these new tools to make better decisions.
Using data more effectively in HR is more of a “must-have” change than a “good-to-have” one. Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicts that by 2025, up to $9 trillion in employment costs may evaporate due to Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled knowledge work. Any routine, repetitive work hidden in various aspects of the HR department is a ripe target for robots to disrupt.
Instead of digging in deeper and entrenching its own turf, in 2017 HR needs to embrace new disciplines and learn from them. Form strategic partnerships with experts from fields of data science and computer engineering, and collaborate on projects to gain fresh perspectives, to grow expertise within your own team.
4. Track Key Metrics Continually, Not Annually
Professor Richard Foster at Yale found that the average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading U.S. companies has fallen significantly, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today.
Waiting a year, or a whole 6.67% of the average company lifespan, for feedback just cannot cut it anymore.
Companies like General Electric, Accenture, and others have started moving away from annual performance reviews towards continuous performance management. Real-time employee feedback, a system to collect and analyze what employees think on an ongoing basis, is now a critical guiding tool. Josh Bersin at Deloitte describes this as “critical infrastructure for companies trying to understand their employee’s needs”.
Making the switch in 2017, thoughtfully and with careful planning, will go a long way towards helping your company and teams stay ahead of changes down the road.
Real-time employee feedback is “critical infrastructure for companies trying to understand their employee’s needs” @Josh_Bersin @EngageRocketco
5. Focus On Engagement In Teams
When it comes to people management, the emphasis should shift from the macro to the micro; while it is important to have robust company HR policies, research has been indicating that the managers throughout an organization make the biggest difference within their immediate teams.
Employee engagement, for instance, is a local phenomena: Gallup finds that up to 70% of its occurrence can be attributable to direct supervisors or managers. These team leaders represent the organization to each individual contributor, and make or break the execution of strategies and policies.
Equipping and enabling them to align with corporate strategy will be the essence of managing through the changes that will inevitably come. This might sometimes come at the expense of short-term haste, but remembering that change is a “ground war, not just an air war”. Any illusion of speed with policy changes can be shattered if front-line managers drag their feet.
Relish The New Order
Focusing on these five opportunities in developing your organization and teams next year will put you ahead of many others in riding the waves of change as they hit our shores. May you have a productive and engaging 2017 with your teams, and I look forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments.
Author: Chee Tung
CheeTung is the CEO of EngageRocket, an HR tech startup that analyses employee feedback in real-time to advise you on how to build a better culture, one team at a time.