Technology is positioned to reshape the future of work. But without a critical component—acceptance and adoption by people—it can never achieve its full impact.  Who are the pivotal people who create disproportionate value for their firms? 

There’s a new war on for talent, and it’s driven by digitisation. Companies across all sectors are being exhorted to go digital, do digital, or be digital – and scared of being left behind, or eager to disrupt, they are scouring the landscape for onetime leaders at Google and Facebook. They hope these shining lights can replicate their successes and deliver outsized value to their organisations and customers in this new environment.

It’s a smart move; companies seeking to create superior performance need to focus on people. And the people they need to create the unimagined innovations of the future are those who can embrace change, see around the corners, and outmaneuver the competition. Talent that possesses this type of profile is a rare find in traditional organisations.

Tangible Intangibles

As traditional organisations transform and the sharing economy continues to grow, we expect to see traditional assets like real estate and inventory decline in worth. Instead, people and their potential to create economic and intangible capital will become a firm’s highest-value assets. In fact, an economic analysis commissioned by Korn Ferry found that human capital represents today to the global economy a potential value of SGD$1,692 trillion. It is 2.33 times that of physical capital, which includes tangible assets like technology, real estate, and inventory.

But while people hold the greatest value for organisations now and in the future, not all human capital is the same and some people will contribute more than others. For example, a Korn Ferry client has set up research and development ‘innovation centres’ around the world. Although these centres are small, they create a disproportionately high impact. Another client pursuing a digital strategy is experimenting with online business models to develop new revenue streams. Although they deliver modest returns now, these models are seen as key to growth.

People hold the greatest value for organisations but not all human capital is the same. Click To Tweet

These are not isolated cases. Driven by the unstoppable disruption that all industries face, Singapore businesses are setting up incubators and innovation hubs. Insurance Australia Group (IAG) is launching an innovation hub in Singapore, Firemark Labs, in partnership with Singapore’s central bank. Mazars formed an Innovation Lab with a cross-department start-up team looking at ways to hack internal processes. The Hub Singapore, in conjunction with DBS, created Asia’s leading incubator and accelerator for social programs. NUS Enterprise is a key organisation supporting entrepreneurial innovation. The Singapore government is keen to encourage innovation and supports it through equity financing schemes, cash grants, business incubator schemes, debt financing schemes and tax incentives schemes. This push will foster new ideas, improve products, services, and create new business models. The people engaged in innovation will be the ones responsible for driving their firms’ future success.

Connecting people to the firm’s strategy

Who are the people driving growth for your organisation, where are they, and where should they be deployed? Firms should beware of a one-size-fits-all approach – not every business can or need to scour leaders from top tech or set up incubators. The pivotal roles and people that will make the most impact differ not only industry by industry but also company by company. That’s why connecting people to the firm’s future strategy is critical. Before planning roles, organisations must be clear about the skills and capabilities needed to create success in their chosen business models. If external partners deliver an integral part of the value chain, the business needs strong collaborative skills. If everything is being done in-house, perhaps driving process execution is the number one desired capability.

The World’s Most Admired Companies (WMACs) are already proactively developing their people in line with future needs. In Korn Ferry ’s 2016 research with Fortune, three-quarters of WMACs stated that identifying the capabilities they would need 10 years from now and determining the composition of their future workforce were top priorities. Finding and enabling the people who will create superior performance is how WMACs intend to succeed in the future.

To connect people to a firm’s future strategy, leaders must examine the business and ask some tough questions. Where in the organisation will the most value be created, given the new strategies in these changing environments? What are the roles that will be critical in making this happen (bearing in mind they may not be the traditional ones or even formal ones)? What unique people capabilities will be required in these roles? Who already has the right skill set? Who can be developed, and to what extent? What should be done with those who cannot move with the times? And how can leaders keep those remaining engaged so the organisation doesn’t lose its heritage?

Organisations that can answer these questions will be the ones with the ability to improve people’s performance and use their highest-value asset as a significant driver of business success.

Download our latest report: The Trillion Dollar Difference to find out why people can’t be neglected in the future of work.

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About the contributor

Gareth is a Managing Director for Korn Ferry in Singapore. His key area of expertise is in designing and implementing initiatives for senior leaders to drive executive team effectiveness and internal development needs. He uses his natural coaching skills in working with senior executives to not only identify and assess their Leadership Development needs, but also to support them as they focus on specific skills to enhance their leadership effectiveness.

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