On the Avengers and facing uncertainty

Credit to Author: The Manila Times| Date: Thu, 16 May 2019 17:06:11 +0000


Avengers: Endgame is one of the most highly anticipated movies−the conclusion to an 11-year story arc on the Avengers superhero team. This sequel to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War opened in Philippine cinemas, grossing $2.2 billion less than two weeks after its release.

PwC also released its sequel to the Workforce of the Future study, called “Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce, today”. It explores what companies need to invest on to safeguard their future and identifies the most important capabilities that organizations need to get their work, workers, and workplaces ready to take on the disruptive challenges ahead.

Disruptions take on many forms, but the most apparent are technological ones brought about by artificial intelligence, automation (no, Ultron doesn’t count), digital mobility, and virtual collaboration…these changes can cause anxiety and insecurity. We don’t know how many or which jobs will disappear, much like “the Snap” (Thanos, in the movie, was wearing the all-powerful Infinity Stones in his Infinity Gauntlet and snapped his fingers so he could eradicate 50 percent of all life in the cosmos). Half of the jobs and skills we know today may fade away or become irrelevant.

So how should organizations face the inevitable? Survey respondents share that each person must possess capabilities that differentiate themselves from machines: trust, humanness, and individual adaptability. The Avengers, especially Black Widow, had those traits. Although Ant-Man suggested doing a time heist to reverse the Snap, Black Widow rallied the rest of the Avengers to take a stand for humanity, eventually defeating Thanos.

Before reaching victory, bridge the gap between preparations and execution. Beyond those capabilities, organizations must create a conducive work environment that allows people to maximize their current skills and develop new ones. In Endgame, the Avengers−with Black Widow much like the group’s HR Director−were able to cultivate this environment by enacting decisions, similar to PwC’s key action points to prepare for the eventual Snap:

1. Create a competitive advantage through a more engaging people experience. Despite the dismal state of affairs five years after the wipeout, Black Widow kept the team together through consistent engagement, presiding over holographic meetings, giving emotional support, and motivating the hopeless. Her leadership led to the Avengers’ conviction to face the uncertain with courage.

Similarly, PwC believes that a company must focus on harnessing its talents who play pivotal roles on how the company develops, competes, creates, innovates, and ultimately, drives success. PwC suggests nurturing agility and adaptability by communicating the inevitable and providing the people with diverse experiences to broaden their skills and to make them more resilient. Set the expectation that change is a constant and ‘skills to change’ are valued; provide ‘just-enough, just-in-time, and just-for-me’ learning; and create internal mobility or make ‘career customization’ a reality.

2. Use workforce analytics to make the most of your talent. To mobilize the team, Black Widow, Captain America, and Ant-Man had to overcome doubts and resistance before convincing the rest of the team that time heist was worth trying. To do that, they used available information −from their current locations to their personalities. Knowing each other’s strengths helped them form a detailed approach in executing the time heist.

Twenty-seven percent of the survey respondents claim they have done something similar, using insights from big data and advanced analytics in workforce decision-making. Analytical rigor application, experience personalization, and de-biasing of people processes are essential steps in using workforce analytics to maximize an organization’s talent capabilities.

3. Bring HR and business leaders together to create real change. With only a few heroes and Pym Particles (the technology that could alter the size and mass of objects or living beings), how can they find the most optimal solution? After countless team interviews and sleepless nights spent brainstorming, they reached an impasse. However, Tony Stark, Captain America, and Black Widow continued to collaborate and were able to determine that the three Infinity Stones were in New York at a certain point in time. They found the answer to their resource constraint.

PwC sees the importance of bringing HR and business leaders together to find solutions to future-proof their organization. Being on the same page gives them a more realistic view of their company’s gaps, and the ability to collectively find ways to accelerate preparations for the future. Make sure that initiatives aimed at future-proofing the people experience are consistently communicated, lived, understood, and felt across the organization. Speak with one voice by ensuring coherent and regular reinforcing signals about the value and importance of these initiatives.

4. With so much to gain from technology, HR needs to step up. Not only was technology an integral part of Tony Stark’s Iron Man persona, it also helped the Avengers find answers to problems once thought to be impossible to solve. He was able to invent a device that circumvented time travel complications. The Avengers wouldn’t have
succeeded without it, and had much to learn from him.

Half of the HR respondents shared that they do not have full understanding of the risks caused by workforce automation. Organizations should build HR’s understanding of technological change and its implications so they can plan for and deliver a compelling narrative about the future to workers.

5. Harness the potential of flexible talent and innovation. Captain Marvel wasn’t always part of the Avengers. She was only recently introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a standalone movie of the same title, released a few months before Endgame. In both films, she was a very powerful hero who could be a threat to any villain who crossed her path. Her ability to lead the charge and lock horns with Thanos was evident.

Yet what brought Thanos to his demise? It was Iron Man’s ability to think outside the box−who knew that he had his own version of the Infinity Gauntlet? With this innovation, he was able to deal the final blow to Thanos by doing his own Snap.

The lesson here is to be unafraid in welcoming new people and innovation. It is becoming increasingly important for organizations to take advantage of the ideas and skills from the non-traditional workforce. Engaging flexible talent such as freelancers, portfolio workers, and startups, and being open to their new ideas will help organizations handle disruption with more tricks up their sleeves.

6. Get your story straight. Black Widow said the simplest of words−“Whatever it takes”−showing the Avengers’ awareness of their roles in saving the world. Likewise, organizations are responsible in preparing their people for the Snap. This is a business issue that requires a clear-cut vision and leadership from the top.

Leaders should communicate a clear, compelling, and honest story about how the organization is influencing, planning, and delivering on the future of work. They need to be honest about what’s important, and to be thoughtful about communicating changes that have a great impact on their current ways of working. In the face of job disruption and change, leaders should strive to reassure their people by being transparent and enabling honest dialogue.

It’s not a question of whether the Snap will happen. In our world, it simply is inevitable that what we do, what we know, and how we do work will eventually change. The usual job descriptions will soon be gone. We will always have to adapt.

Skills, technology, and organizational foundations form only one side of the coin. On the flip side should be the ability to instill trust and to deliver the people experience that inspires commitment and maximizes organizational potential.

With these, we can face disruption with more confidence. As Black Widow said, “Even if there’s a small chance that we can undo this…we owe it to everyone who’s not in this room to try.”

Ricky B. Aguirre is a Management Consulting Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting Services Philippines Co. Ltd., a Philippine member firm of the PwC network. For more information, please email markets@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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