Updated: Feb 4
Way before the pandemic, business journals and websites were full of articles warning that the jobs that we are all doing would no longer exist in 2, 5 or 10 years time.
In the low-paid end of the service sector automation would replace most jobs, whereas at the more professional end, traditional professions such as accountancy and engineering would see their work dramatically altered by AI - rendering parts of their role obsolete.
Prior to COVID19 such articles were largely dismissed as “interesting - but not coming any time soon” - however, the pandemic has shown that we can change our ingrained behaviour when we need to, we are able to be resilient in the face of change and we able to find better ways to work and spend our time.
Taking charge of your career
The implications for government policy to create a fair and equal society in an age of automation and possible job scarcity are also being discussed, such as universal basic income. But assuming to want to take charge of your own career, and get yourself in the best possible position for when all this happens (and it will happen), then what should you do now?
The most obvious answer may seem to get a qualification in coding or AI or robotics. This will definitely be the way forward for some people (and something I would like to encourage my teenage sons to think about for the future), but being a technical expert is not the answer for everyone. Being tech-literate however, is definitely a required skill - you need to be able to understand what tech can do for your organisation, the basic principles and limitations of each technology and have the ability to speak a common language with the specialists.
Artificial intelligence, whilst getting more accomplished by the day, is not yet able to convey the wide range of skills that a human can, particularly around emotional intelligence. So develop your competencies in the areas that computers are unlikely to be able to perform in the mid-term. The bonus is that these are valued by employers now - so what do you have to lose?
There are many lists of these online but my top 5 would be these:
Leadership is changing. Even over the course of the last four months, leadership has mutated from being about managing a physical team in a fixed location with standard working hours and a broadly unchanging agenda to one of managing a virtual team, coping with an uncertain future, dealing with unfamiliar working environments and with a requirement to communicate ever-changing messages based on ambiguous data. A command and control style is not going to work - you need to be able to delegate effectively and let go - which may also involve holding up a mirror to any personal perfectionist tendencies. As time goes on, leadership may involve managing resources other than humans - how do you delegate the right work to humans and the right work to machines?
Effective decision making
The science behind decision making is fascinating - some elements are logical and some emotional. Decision making includes an element of critical thinking (although most will be performed by AI), but also weighing up the evidence, and finding the best solution for a complex problem in an ever-changing environment. A key skill going forward will be discerning the integrity of the data used - being able to determine the risk of bias in the data and the implications of decision making on the wider ecosystem. Computer modelling will do the calculations, but understanding the model and the assumptions requires human judgement.
By this, I mean the cognitive flexibility to make links between things, think of new ways of doing things and keep improving performance. In the current pandemic, those businesses and individuals that will thrive are those that have thought about how they can apply their core skills and passions in a new way to take advantage of the changing environment and pivot their business. This lesson will apply just as much in the automated workplace of the future.
The ability to work effectively with a wide range of people across multidisciplinary teams with a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy is always going to be crucial in business. These kinds of communication skills are the foundation of a wider range of higher-level personal skills such as the ability to negotiate and influence effectively. As organisations become more fluid, each of us will need to work with different people on each project - and skills such as creativity and effective decision making are wasted if you are unable to persuade anyone of your great ideas
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Change alone, is unchanging”. Agility means not just coping with change and adversity, but seeing them as positives to be taken advantage of, that can take you in new and exciting directions. Much has been said about Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, but when the world of work is developing so quickly, we are always going to be trying and failing, and the ability to continue to seek new experiences, to take lessons from defeat and be able to apply those lessons to the task in hand, is a valuable skill. There may be behavioural blockers here around fear of failure that can be worked on through coaching or other performance development interventions.
So leadership, decision making, creativity, communication skills and agility - all things that both my coaching clients and training clients are asking for help with. Which one will you start working on today?