An interview with Euan Semple, Knowledge Management, Workforce of the Future and Digital Technology leader and influencer.
Tell me about your career to date?
I began thinking about the workforce of the future during my time at the BBC. I set up an internal social network at the BBC – before it was even colloquially known as that.
Seeing the many ways technology impacts businesses, I set-up my own consultancy to help organisations better prepare for the workforce of the future. I help business leaders get their head around technology. When I started, it was mostly around social media (which was the new big thing) but now that’s moved onto artificial intelligence (AI), automation and blockchain. I’ve since worked with some major organisations, including BP, the World Bank and NATO.
How is the workforce changing? What have you experienced yourself?
Communication is playing a huge role in how the workforce is changing. We’ve now got WhatsApp, Skype, Slack and numerous other tools. We can connect instantly to each other, no matter the time or place.
Some organisations are beginning to understand this. However, many remain wary of such technology. But for us to move forward as employers, we need to embrace this change. Because it’s happening regardless.
The next stage of digital transformation will be employees and customers having increasing access to each other and communicating via these tools. Employers have to learn to adapt to this.
However, facilitating effective communication isn’t just about purchasing a suite of tools. For organisations that do this, employees are suddenly faced with a selection of communication tools that their company has implemented, but no understanding of what to use and when. Connecting people in a relevant way involves more than purchasing the trendiest tool on the market. There needs to be a way to stop irrelevant communication, otherwise today’s Slack will become tomorrow’s death-by-email.
How are organisations preparing for the workforce of the future? Are they?
What organisations are missing is that they don’t understand the actual challenge at hand. It’s not about the tech. Instead, preparing for the workforce of the future is much more cultural. It’s about challenging managerial assumptions, the status quo and how people feel about the future.
For example, managers who are used to keeping people in check, who have a checkbox mentality – lack the future skills needed to develop their teams. As automation increases, the need for creativity and strategy will become paramount. Managers will need to understand how to foster this.
Employees that have previously kept their head down to feel safe in their jobs, may discover in the next few years that their roles are becoming far more automated and, even completely automated by robots in some cases.
For some organisations, technology is used as a ‘sticker-plaster’ solution – often prioritised instead of focussing energy on building the right culture and structure to achieve successful implementation. Plus, too many people default to a “I don’t do tech” approach which, when purchasing, leaves them at the mercy of what IT vendors will sell them.
How are traditional networks within organisations changing as work is evolving?
The lines are blurring between permanent, full time and ‘gig economy’ style jobs. Organisations are adapting to new styles of working by building structures and implementing solutions that enable internal networks.
There are some generations that recognise this. My own children (who are 17 and 20 yrs old) have stated they don’t want a full time job anymore. The old draws of corporate stability don’t work anymore. Mostly because it isn’t stable. Our ways of working are changing dramatically.
What should organisations focus on in order to make an impact on the workforce of the future now?
Our future is much more hands-on. It’s more intimate. My consulting, for example, has become much more of a coaching role. Managers and senior leaders need hands-on support to help them transition to the workforce of the future.
Workshops play a key part. People are used to working in silos and bringing key stakeholders together in a room which, can often cause conflicts. Embracing this change with clear structure, process, and a focus on making cultural based transformation supports this change in mindset.
And one last note… curiosity is key
I’ve found that a lack of curiosity is a big hurdle in many organisations. You’ve got to take the risk and experiment with things. Preparing for the workforce of the future is all about experimentation.
That’s on an individual level. Some employees want to be passive – they keep their head down and get by with the day-to-day. Instead they need to rediscover their curiosity. Traits they have lost since school. Curiosity will save a lot of jobs at risk of automation.
The way companies are measuring success is also skewed. Instead of focussing on how much time and money a project has taken, consider its overall progress. How has it moved the organisation forward? How has it prepared you for the future?
About the interviewee
Euan Semple has has been a leader and an influencer in the ever changing field of digital technology for two decades. An early adopter of social media he implemented one of the first enterprise social network systems inside the BBC. He also ran BBC DigiLab, a department whose purpose was to help the BBC understand new technologies across the range of its activities and make better decisions about their use and implementation.
Euan left the BBC in 2006 to establish his own consultancy and has subsequently worked around the world with an amazing range of organisations including BP, The World Bank, The European commission, and Volvo. His work with them has been to help stretch their thinking about digital transformation in all its forms and to ensure that they end up doing the right things for the right reasons.