Next in the Future of Work: Unleashing Human Potential

All around us we are seeing the effects of transformative technologies in our daily lives – changing how we work, shop, communicate, and care. Every industry has been vastly revolutionized by advancements in automation, IT, and globalization to the extent that many only passingly resemble what they were four decades ago at the dawn of the Digital Revolution.

Tellingly, of the businesses on the S&P 500 in 1980, only 72 remain, while many fell off to acquisition or bankruptcy from declining profits and inertia.

One of the effects of the pandemic has been an acceleration in the uptake of digital technology. Organizations that were already on the path to digital transformation have emerged as best positioned to adapt and thrive in an era of uncertainty.

“We are living in times of exponential change,” says Gary A. Bolles, best-selling author of the Next Rules of Work: The Mindset, Skillset, and Toolset to Lead Your Organization Through Uncertainty and chair for the Future of Work at Singularity University.

“Enterprises need to be able to adapt quickly to the pace and scale of change,” says Bolles, noting that the ideal “Next Organization” of the future is one that can continually reinvent itself. “Today’s poster child for a Next Organization may be tomorrow’s less successful organization if they don’t continue to adapt.”

Bolles, a longtime resident, teacher, and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area, says he wrote the Next Rules of Work as a “guide to work for the post-pandemic era.” The future of work is a domain of expertise he began in the 1970s while working with his father Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the popular job-seekers’ guide and career advice book What Color Is Your Parachute? Today, he also continues the family business as co-founder of eParachute.com, an online career exploration platform.

Decades of work in Silicon Valley as an executive and entrepreneur have given Bolles unique insight on the provocative subject of humans and technology in the future of work. Bolles’ position is unequivocally human-centered.

The key to unlocking business agility is not to develop more automation or faster technology, according to Bolles, who is known to say, “Robots and software don’t take jobs away; humans give them away.” Rather, the real key, he says, is to unleash human potential.

“The Next Organization is focused on creating a next mindset, skill set, and toolset,” says Bolles, highlighting what he terms the three pillars of the Next Rules of Work. “The way it is doing that is to get its workers to shift that mindset to a process of co-creation, collaboration, and changing the roles and contexts for work so that it is more human-centric.”

Mindset Eats Skill Set for Lunch

From artificial intelligence (AI)-filtered job descriptions to narrow corporate learning tools, workers are boxed and categorized by their known skills and legal employment status, whether full-time employee, part-timer, gig worker, or contractor. In the “Old Rules” organization, where a “know” skill set of technical expertise is paramount, there is often little flexibility and limited recognition of the worker’s whole self. As seen in the Great Resignation, workers are rebelling against a lack of agency to combine their whole selves, personal needs, and private ambitions, with workplace constructs.

“The totality of the whole self is extremely unique to an individual,” says Amy Wilson, senior vice president of Products and Design at SAP SuccessFactors, the leader in human capital management (HCM) software and home to a new cloud-based technology category called human experience management (HXM).

Earlier this year, Wilson attended Bolles’ thought leadership presentation to SAP employees. She affirmed how today’s digital technologies are opening the way for the future of work. The Whole Self Model, for example, has transformed the way SAP SuccessFactors innovates to put people at the center of business.

“We’re thinking much more about the individual as being a unique person, who needs a completely unique experience,” says Wilson. “They need to feel valued as individuals and to have a sense of belonging as unique individuals. That ties to DEI&B [diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging], as well, because the more we understand that each person is truly unique, the more you can feel comfortable being your whole self.”

The Whole Self Model is one example of why mindset, more so than skill set, is fundamental to creating a culture that drives business agility – or “mindset eats skill set for lunch,” Bolles’ preferred spin on the popular Peter Drucker axiom “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He says, “It’s a tremendous opportunity for organizations to help people understand the range of mindsets the organization has and for it to develop an opinion about the mindset it believes will be most effective.”

Bolles urges organizations to start with a growth mindset that encourages every worker to have a development path and think of themself as a life-long learner.

Hidden Skills Match with Internal Opportunities

The work-from-home culture of the pandemic brought an awkward awareness that there is much more to our coworkers than we possibly imagined, including hidden skills that were revealed in web conferences: the guitar hanging on the wall that hinted at musical talent, the hobby horticulturalist, or the sports photographer. In the Next Organization, these hidden talents and passions will be recognized as part of the whole human’s skills to contribute to the organization.

The challenge however, as Bolles notes, is that we are first and foremost icebergs to ourselves, with a range of skills and experiences we have ignored or forgotten. A comprehensive skills inventory can uncover hidden expertise.

“At an individual level wanting to know what our skills are and at an organizational level wanting to make a commitment to that whole human, that gives us a tremendous amount of information. Now we have far more skill set and capacity in the organization than we understood we had,” Bolles explains.

Empowering Employees with Agency for Healthy Change

Internal talent marketplaces like SAP SuccessFactors Opportunity Marketplace, introduced in 2021, empower employees with the agency to seek internal opportunities to grow and invest in themselves within their organizations. Whether trying a temporary assignment, applying for a new role, finding a mentor, or taking a social sabbatical, employees can log on to the platform to find the next step in their development based on their unique skills and interests, as well as their strengths, styles, and passions.

“Change is something people want if they are in control of it,” says Wilson. “We believe that if we understand each individual and serve up opportunities for change to them based on their wants and needs, then we shift the whole dynamic. This way change is not being thrust upon people; much rather, it’s their idea.”

Dynamic teams as a foundational organizational structure is another new innovation from SAP SuccessFactors. Cross-functional project teams have long been the source of creativity and productivity within organizations. However, they often remain hidden. They have no space on the org chart – although this is the way work is getting done. Without better transparency, it is impossible for managers to know how their investment is connected to what is being delivered.

“We believe that teams are the best way to learn and grow,” Wilson says. “Those times in your life when you’ve been on a team of people with different backgrounds, skill sets, and styles – that’s when you’re able to deliver something really cool. Those are the most memorable times in your career.”

Being a part of a dynamic team enables employees to co-create the future, says Wilson. “Being able to bring those kinds of team opportunities to SAP SuccessFactors Opportunity Marketplace is an essential part of growing individuals and creating a multiplier effect for change.”

Humans Differentiate Organizations

Advancements in digital technologies are opening the way for greater agility as businesses need to adapt to exponential change. For Bolles, however, the future of work within the Next Organization is distinctly human.

“Digital transformation has more to do with empowering workers than with specific technologies,” he says. “The opportunity is in the transformation of the human being that uses the technology. It’s the humans that are using the toolset that differentiate the organizations.”

“Organizations need to be adaptive because individuals are dynamic,” says Wilson, who believes that empowering employees is the key to business agility. “With HXM, SAP SuccessFactors is imagining a new way of experiencing work with human-centered experience at the core. By putting people at the center of business, organizations can unleash the vast human potential within their workforce to respond to new opportunities with agility, creativity, and passion.”

Learn more about SAP SuccessFactors innovations at SuccessConnect virtual event on September 14, 2022.