While robotics, AI and workforce automation continue to make headlines, our research shows that it's people in partnership with technology that will create most value for organisations in the future of work.

“Every company is now a technology company”. It’s a sentence (and a sentiment) that frequently headlines articles and raises sweat on the brows of CEOs. Domino’s is now a tech company. McDonald’s new investment strategy suggests similar aspirations. And then there’s Facebook, which Zuckerberg claims is “not a traditional technology company”. Whatever that means.

It’s hard to keep up. With these stories spotlighting how legacy companies are pivoting towards technology and the share market’s fascination with tech IPOs (just look at SnapChat), it’s easy to see why CEOs are focused on technology investment.

So, when we came out and said in our Future of Work report that human capital outperforms physical capital – including technology – we knew this would challenge current thinking.

We launched our online seminar series to continue the conversation that our research started and to discuss some of the key issues for Asia Pacific companies.

Economic Yin and Yang

As companies contemplate how to balance their human and technological capital needs, the varying market conditions are driving different local responses. In the mature markets, growth remains slow (Japan at 1%, Australia at 2.4%, New Zealand around 2.6%), while emerging ASEAN markets, as well as India and China speed ahead at 6.2%, 7.4% and 6% respectively.

The drive for high performance is, however, the same across all markets. And as businesses in emerging and established economies compete for the same customers, they’re facing the same underlying questions – how do you align your talent with your financial goals across the short and longer term?

The millennial challenge

A lot of the uncertainty around this question comes from the emergence of the millennial generation and their increasing presence in the workforce – expected to reach 75% by 2025 – and the need to adjust traditional workforce management strategies to attract, develop and retain digital-savvy talent.

But again, the millennial challenge takes different forms. In Australia, research shows that millennials are now the most populous generation, making up 35% of today’s workforce. Overall though, the working population continues to age.

The story in Asian nations – where 58% of the world’s millennials live – is very different. India is only getting younger, with 65% of the population born after 1980. Meanwhile, Japan’s population is “super-ageing”, with millennials only making up 22% of the total population. China’s story is different again. In absolute numbers, China has a large millennial population, but it accounts for only 27% of the Chinese population overall, largely due to the now-reversed one-child policy and they face a shrinking workforce.

Disrupt or be disrupted

The buzzword for dealing with these challenges is agility. More and more we are working with businesses to enact a parallel (or two-speed) organization which is dynamic enough to transact today as well as build for the future.

The critical thing is understanding where that future lies and then creating the impetus within the organization to get there. This may mean embracing internal disruption before the external market does the disrupting and sourcing the hard data to build a burning platform for change and align your leaders around the vision for the future.

Getting started

There’s no denying the hard work involved in meeting these challenges but there’s a way through.

1. Start slow – Identify current deficiencies and use tools and data to build your story. Use technology to your advantage – it’s there to help you understand what talent you have, where your strengths are and where the gaps lie, and how you benchmark against market leaders.

2. Focus – Don't go after everything at once. Instead, pick the gap that has the biggest impact, and identify ways to close it. This could mean apps and automated tools, but it will also require leadership. Look at what your current leaders bring as well as whether you need to bring in new talent to support the change.

3. Verbalize – Change alone isn't always enough to build a burning platform, so take the opportunity to disrupt yourself before being disrupted. You’ll change the paradigm and you'll inspire more agility, more innovation and more engagement.

4. Measure, evaluate and go again.

Join us in our remaining webinars as we explore in more detail the tangible actions that will ready your company for the future of work. Click here to learn more

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About the contributor

Michael Distefano, based in Shanghai, is Korn Ferry's President, Asia Pacific and also a member of Korn Ferry’s Global Operating Committee. He is passionate about the importance of people in boosting organisational performance and is the driving force behind many of the firm's research projects.

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