There is no easier way to realise that technology plays an essential role in everyday life than when you accidentally leave your phone at home. This happened to me the other day. I could feel drops of sweat running down my back when I sat in front of my laptop at work, reached for my phone inside my bag and it wasn’t there.
I managed to function the rest of the day, calling clients and colleagues with the soft phone in my laptop but a hovering feeling that I was missing a limb followed me all the way home that night.
We’re living in the digital revolution, as significant for humanity as the discovery of electricity or the Industrial Age. The Internet has connected the four corners of the world and allowed business big and small to go global. Computers already surpass the human brain at sheer processing capability. Artificial intelligence is developing intuition and robots and drones are becoming as common as cars—many of which may soon drive themselves.
It sounds like science fiction. But, according to some, this is the future of work.
Yet a key aspect is missing from the picture. People, and their contributions to business, are being painted out. But we shouldn’t be so quick to erase them.
It’s true that technology is positioned to reshape the future. But it’s people who will either accelerate or limit its impact. People are inventors, champions—and customers. There is no value to be created from technology unless people embrace it.
The concept of value itself is shifting. The emergence of the sharing economy, with its flagship examples of Airbnb and Freelancer.com, heralds a new era of access, not ownership. Tangible assets like power plants and machinery may decline in worth. In contrast, intellectual property, innovation, and old-fashioned human creativity will forge value for customers and firms, fueling growth. Some analysts already insist that talent should become a financial metric, explicitly linking the value people bring with the performance they create.
And people do create value, simply because to work is human. People work for organisations that reflect their personal values and that allow them to release their innate human potential. Companies see the benefit in personal heroics and discretionary effort; that’s effort a machine will never make.
This isn’t a debate about man against machine. The purpose of advancing technology—always—is to boost the performance and well-being of people. The greatest value to societies, organisations, and individuals will be realised when people partner with technology to release their and its full potential.
But this poses huge challenges. Leaders must ask:
- What technology is right for my organisation, and how will my people partner with it?
- Who will create the greatest value, how can I identify them, and how can I enable their best performance?
- What jobs do I need to release this value for my firm and shareholders?
- And what happens to the people left behind?
This last question is important, from a business as well as moral perspective. Will they affect your business through political channels?
Korn Ferry’s clients are already asking these questions, and it’s our firm’s mission to answer them. Over the next months, we’ll share insights from experts via articles, webinars and events, aimed at helping companies prepare for, and to even outperform in the future of work.
When I got home that night my phone was vibrating on the kitchen bench. An alert message from the postal company on the screen told me that I had to collect a parcel from the local post office – a reminder not just for me to pick up my delivery but also of the digital transformation this iconic postal service organisation had undertaken to compete in online services as letters have become a thing of the past. The company is changing its culture to become a strong partner in the innovation economy. It’s using the talent of its workforce to explore ventures in identity check and drone delivery. At the same time it’s retraining and finding new roles for people whose jobs will be made redundant by the shift from snail mail to internet-based communication.
The digital revolution won’t render people obsolete and the algorithm all-powerful. But it is a paradigm shift. And organisations that engage with the hard questions now, embrace the new reality, and enable their people will see superior performance and release greater value.
Download our latest report The Trillion Dollar Difference to find out why people can’t be neglected in the future of work.