The future of jobs

Last week the REC published their report on the Future of Jobs. I’d absolutely recommend taking a read of it if you haven’t already. It is freely available here.

What really excited me about the commission was the range of interests being expressed and how much agreement there was in the views being conveyed by different parties. Ultimately, those representing employees, those representing employers and those representing government and special interest groups want pretty much the same thing. The summary conclusions of the report make this abundantly clear.

For employees:
“The best jobs market in the world for individuals is one with opportunities to get
into work and subsequently progress, and one where people have genuine choice in terms of ways of working. A future UK jobs market is also one where individuals feel fulfilled, respected, and recognised, and where people can succeed irrespective of their background. Realising this vision rests largely with the government – particularly with regards to the need for an education system that nurtures individual potential and prepares future generations for the changing world of work. However, a future jobs market must also be one where individuals take personal responsibility for their own career development and take advantage of lifelong learning opportunities. Advice, guidance, and development for all workers is an essential development.”

For employers:
“The best jobs market in the world for an employer is one where evolving skills and staffing needs of employers are easily met, where productivity levels are improving on the back of increased investment in skills, where recruitment procedures have been ‘re-imagined’ to reflect the new world of work, and where management and leadership capability has been radically enhanced. Planning for the future jobs market must be a priority for UK plc and for the public sector. Demographics, ‘flexible hiring’, managing a multigenerational workforce, adapting to new technologies, and the use of data will prove critical to organisational success. As technology, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and robotics gather pace, businesses, recruiters, and managers must plan their workforce more creatively and ensure that they are able to access the talent that they need. Access to UK, EU, and global talent will remain critical, but we also need to see more employers working with schools and colleges.”

For policy makers:
“Policy-makers should seek to ‘get in front’ of the seismic changes that will impact on the jobs market. The government has a key role to play in ensuring that education is adequately preparing young people for this new world of work. The government must also lead a radical focus on lifelong learning and create an infrastructure that enables individuals of all ages to make transitions and compete in this ever-changing jobs market. The Brexit process will have a profound impact on the UK jobs market; we need to ensure that the post-EU landscape is one in which both demand and supply of staff remains vibrant. In addition to a world-class skills and work infrastructure, we need a progressive and balanced immigration system that allows businesses to ll the jobs they have available. We must not take the UK ‘jobs machine’ for granted. There is a need for a proportionate and effective regulatory and taxation landscape that reflects modern working practices while also facilitating job-creation.”

Of course, saying it is easier than making it happen. But we all have the ability to make micro changes that move our organisations in the right direction. And in that, we need to consider the world through the lenses of all the stakeholder groups. Building a successful future means building one in which as many people as possible can share in and profit from that success. If we can do that, we’ll all be able to be proud of the work we’ve done.

If it walks like a duck

The connection between self belief and outcomes can be one of the most powerful drivers of performance. When an individual or team truly believe in something, they can often deliver results greater than the sum of the parts. That’s why we often seen teams deliver incredible, unexpected outcomes – “against the odds”.

At the same time, the connection can also be one of the biggest inhibitors when we fail to see or listen to the feedback that surrounds us. Not all of our efforts will bear fruit and the ability to realise this, see where we are falling short or can improve and recorrect is critical.

That’s one the beautiful things about creating a team that operates as an open system. Open systems listen to the feedback in the external environment and respond and develop accordingly. They are, to some extents, the epitome of selfless, ego less organisations. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t the need for process or procedure, but that these are constantly developing in relation to the external environment in which they operate.

In the book “Black Box Thinking”, Matthew Syed gives a number of examples of open systems, but the one that struck me the most was the airline industry, where feedback and information is shared across companies and used to deliver improvements industry wide on all aspects of safety. When someone shares something they’ve learnt because of an incident or a near miss, you don’t hear anyone respond, “but that’s not how we do things here” or “we’ve always done it that way”, they listen and learn.

It begs the question, in our organisations how much do we really listen to the feedback that is around us and how willing are we to adapt and respond as a result? Too often we talk about the reasons why things are as they are, or why they’re too hard to change. But wouldn’t a more engaging, energetic and profitable way be to listen and address?

If we see the work that we do it and the way that we do it as an ongoing journey of improvement rather than a fixed deliverable, we can use the feedback that we hear and see as a positive means of continuing on that journey, rather than as a means to critique what we’ve just done. And from that, we will only ever see better results for everyone involved.

Be a high performing team

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of really exceptional teams working in different organisations and in different functions. I’ve been part of some great teams and also some that were really quite dysfunctional. If you’re struggling, or interested in making your team perform better, here are the areas that I’ve seen make a real and sustainable difference.

What are your drivers of strategic value?
Not every organisation is trying to achieve the same and therefore, their demands on your function aren’t going to be the same. Understanding the organisational strategy and the value that you can contribute to delivering that is key to aligning your activities and resource. Keep it simple, keep it focused, keep it understandable.

How well are you currently performing?
This requires a massive dose of self-restraint, the commitment not to justify and a genuine willingness to improve. I’m talking about getting beyond the noise of “they didn’t let me do xy&z” and really examining the performance of the function – seeking feedback from even the biggest critics. Would you pay for the service that you are delivering if you had a choice? Can you clearly articulate the organisational value?

What’s getting in the way and how can you change it?
Most teams will tell you that they’re ridiculously busy and most of them will be telling you the truth. At the same time, most day-to-day activity, process and protocol hasn’t really been looked at for years. If you’re spending too much time and energy on activities that don’t drive strategic value, you’re going to have to stop. That means permission to rip up the rule book and do things differently.

Can you create the right attitude?
You’re going to need to create the right attitude to deliver your agenda – remembering it won’t always be the same approach, depending on the scenario. Too many people confuse an attitude with personality and often you see teams which look like an identikit version of their leader. The best teams, the highest performing teams recognise difference, but they all share the same attitude and appetite to succeed. If you’re going to be successful, you need everyone on board.

Be relentless in your pursuit of the end game
One of the biggest reasons that teams fail to deliver high performance is inconsistency of focus and approach. Consistency, perseverance and relentless drive to deliver against your goals is key. Success doesn’t happen overnight, there will be challenges and moments of doubt. But ultimately, if you’ve got your direction aligned with your organisation, reduced the things that got in the way and have made sure everyone is pointing in the same direction, you’ll see performance start to improve.

There is much to take from The Taylor Review

Last week saw the publication of the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. Inevitably it made headlines and drew attention to a number of high-profile ongoing debates – not least the “gig economy” and the challenge of flexibility. Perhaps unsurprisingly it also managed to draw criticism from both the trade unions and some within the business community – I generally think anything that fails to appease two potentially opposing groups must have something interesting and progressive about it.

The debate about work, the future of work and the working practices that we want to encourage in the UK is one that weaves a tricky path between those that argue for deep legislative protection for employees and those that argue for total liberalisation of the employment market. The answer almost certainly lies somewhere in the middle and navigating the world of compromise and pragmatic outcomes is always harder than taking a simplistic, dogmatic position. It is always much easier to highlight the issues that aren’t solved, than to look at the solutions that are actually proposed.

The report is over 100 pages and yet most of the reporting focused on relatively small sections and all in all there is much to be commended in the review. It provides one of the most balanced, thoughtful and helpful assessments of the challenges of developing an economy whilst maintaining good work and working lives – particularly in a world post membership of the European Union.

The definition and scoping of “good work” aims to take the debate beyond simple wage growth or contractual status – but without suggesting that they’re not important. Like the political manifestos of all major parties, it recognises the importance of employee voice and participation within the workplace and discusses the importance of work life balance and working conditions.

The section on learning and skills and employability is one that has had perhaps the least attention but is perhaps one of the strongest. Let me give you three direct excerpts:

On education policy: “Government should use its convening power to bring together employers and the education sector to develop a consistent strategic approach to employability and lifelong learning. This should cover formal vocational training, ‘on the job’ learning and development, lifelong learning and informal learning outside work. It could be linked to the longer-term development of life-time digital individual learning records. As part of this, the Government should seek to develop a uni ed framework of employability skills and encourage stakeholders to use this framework.”

On careers education: “In developing a national careers strategy, the Government should pay particular attention to how those in low paid and atypical work are supported to progress. It should take a well-rounded approach, promoting the role of high-quality work experience and encounters at different education stages.”

On unpaid internships: “The Government should ensure that exploitative unpaid internships, which damage social mobility in the UK, are stamped out. The Government should do this by clarifying the interpretation of the law and encouraging enforcement action taken by HMRC in this area.”

The Taylor Review doesn’t answer every question on the future of work, but it provides an incredibly helpful, thoughtful and balanced starting point. It is beholden on all of us associated with and interested in the UK economy, productivity and good work to take the outputs of the review and to build on them to develop our country’s approach to work. There is much good within the review and much to consider, we mustn’t lose this amongst the faff and nonsense of special interest groups concerned with looking after their own, increasingly dated agendas.