The Business Trends of 2019 are Innately Human
Organizations will rely overwhelmingly on a key resource to drive progress, people and human judgement
Looking back, 2018 saw the rising use of new technologies, talent wars fueled by the lowest unemployment levels in almost two decades, vociferous demands on companies to act as good corporate citizens, and new innovative partnerships – all of which accelerated sweeping change. With so much evolution across markets and society, what key issues should business leaders be addressing as we head into 2019?
Looking ahead to 2019, even as flashy technologies continue to permeate core processes, business will overwhelmingly rely on a key resource to drive progress: people and human judgement. People are business' best asset to charge ahead and compete in an ever-changing landscape, and the relationship between human and machine will be stronger than ever before. There are three core areas where businesses will be required to put humans first: stricter monitoring of unintended impact from disruptive tech, investments in continuous learning, and inclusivity from all corners of the organization.
The added complexity for leadership is that these initiatives need to be approached based on a workforce that is changing dramatically. Nontraditional team constructs are on the rise whether geographically speaking or full-time vs. part-time such as with contractors and "gig' workers. So, how do you strategically manage relationships and foster a culture in a cohesive way that factors in workforce segments that sit outside your enterprise?
The "black box" of disruptive tech is cracked open: Blockchain. AI. Machine Learning.Cloud. The buzzwords of 2017 and 2018 will be further brought to life in 2019 through real business use cases. While adoption is key, greater transparency in understanding the context of the technologies in-use and greater scrutiny of unintended consequences will be critical – and this is where human judgement plays a significant role.
It's no secret: technology, for all the good it provides, can also have unintended consequences. As leaders, we can't rest on technology to police itself, and we must be critical in how we are examining its impact. "Does it truly create net-positive value?" is now at the same level of importance as "Is it being used in a socially acceptable way? Is unconscious bias being mitigated? Is adequate tracking and reporting of both intended and unintended outcomes in place?" These are all questions business leaders across the board must be asking.
If every company is now a tech company and every career is a tech career, it requires an ethical mindset at the center, improved transparency of technology, and the institution of formal processes and procedures to course correct. In a recent survey, 32 per cent of business leaders ranked ethical issues as one of the top three risks of AI specifically. However, most organizations don't yet have specific approaches to deal with the critical challenge. For 2019, this will rise to a board level issue.
Companies make investments in continuous learning: 2019 will see the rise of the learning organization. It's not enough just to find the talent – the effort has to be made to retain this group as well. Talent must be a continuous investment which includes establishing ongoing learning opportunities. As the labor market continues to tighten, talent with the right skillsets becomes increasingly challenging to find and retain. And, at the same time, emerging tech is growing and changing the required skillset for our top talent. It's an unforgiving cycle that investment in continuous learning can help break.
To dive into an example, take the rapid expansion of the cloud. Cloud-enabled technologies are becoming pervasive in today's largely software-driven workplace, necessitating ever-more-frequent human-machine interaction, new skills will be needed to keep pace. Already, 43 percent of business executives reported they would upskill or reskill the capabilities of their workforces. Businesses absolutely should promote learning and development—and the innovation that comes with it— from the top. It's about setting a vision for the company – one that celebrates education, innovation, and problem-solving skills in our increasingly complex digital world. A true learning organization starts with a culture that embraces the notion that technology moves quickly, and organizations should, too. The winners of the future will be those companies that successfully integrate continuous learning into their models – among full-time employees, gig workers, and crowd employees alike.
The proliferation of inclusive leaders from front-line talent to the C-Suite: As society has reached a tipping point, so has business – inclusion as a business imperative will take hold.No matter who or where a person falls in an organization, there is an obligation to champion inclusivity as part of everyone's jobs.
Beyond the fundamental issue of equality, data shows that inclusive cultures drive stronger performance and unlock sustainable business benefits. Leaders should look beyond what I call the "mini-me" phenomenon when it comes to sponsorship and instead build teams that ensure a valuable mix of diverse skillsets, experiences, and backgrounds are not just brought to the table – but empowered to contribute. This will require organizations to put structured training and mentoring programs in place to scale this efficiently and appropriately.Otherwise, the opportunities and innovation that inclusion affords will be missed. This must be a central tenet in the future of leadership.
By curating the right resources, making investments in continuous learning, and recognizing inclusivity, businesses will have a running start to 2019. Businesses must go beyond the status quo and recognize that there is an evolution going on – from the individual, to business, to community. To lead in 2019, where will you begin?