Chief executives must do more to adapt their companies to the working practices of tomorrow

Gi Fernando
Business leaders need a thorough understanding of digital developments (Source: Getty)

Most chief executives and other C-suites in the City must admit they’ve fallen behind the fast-moving digital curve – and catching up could be the most important challenge they have ever faced.

Incumbency offers the shakiest of foundations as startups and challengers disrupt the landscape through rapid implementation of new technologies and ideas, attracting the best talent to respond to changing tastes and demands.

But leaders of FTSE 100 companies and large organisations can win if they seriously grapple with embedding digital skills and knowledge, new structures and ways of working throughout an entirely transformed hierarchy. They must disrupt existing processes, take risks, hire from a diverse talent pool and empower employees to understand the positives of automation and AI, instead of fearing them.

Boards too have a responsibility, not just to ask questions on finances, but pose those relating to technology. Regulators will seek to build competency frameworks to look after employees, customers and the business in the digital age.

And CEOs and C-suites are not fit enough to lead unless they understand it all themselves.

The digital future doesn’t mean relying on a bunch of “millennials” and “hipsters”. Such younger generations are your future customers though and they will have more experience communicating with people and brands through technology than current CEOs.

Older people within your companies also have distinct experience in terms of dealing with conflicts, building loyal relationships and, along with long-term customers, know your business inside out.

The key is to fuse this wealth of knowledge to offer new digital solutions that make life easier for all customers. This diversity of thought helps decrease risk and drives a longer-term view of customer behaviour.

Freeformers – the workforce technology and transformation company I founded – has released a report this morning entitled “Mapping the digital future” in which leaders and experts in transformation from the likes of Facebook, Cisco and Santander discuss how to embrace this change and create purpose and profit from it.

One simple way is to totally redefine what “good” looks like within our businesses and teams.

That means not hiring based on inherent biases such as CVs, what university someone went to, exam grades or their background.

It means looking for human characteristics or what lies untapped. It’s about embedding both soft and hard skills in all employees; a mix of empathy, curiosity and a growth mindset alongside a working understanding of coding, app ideation or creation, automation, use of AI, social marketing and cyber security.

One size does not fit all anymore. We must move towards flexible and agile thinking and a willingness to learn in different ways. We must drop our reliance on stored knowledge or sending people on training courses every few years. This should be replaced with time to watch and learn from YouTube videos or take free online courses. It pays dividends quickly as these new skills are put into place instantly, then honed on an on-going basis, or taught and shared through peer-to-peer learning between diverse groups of people.

Technology can measure “good” in real time too, capturing data that demonstrably shows the effect each person has on your business to improve or adapt without delay, affecting even greater influence on your success and sustainability.

The future of work now awaits those brave enough to challenge and change. It is time to meet that future head on.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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