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Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Revolution 4.0’

 

Vision and Mission Statements of corporates adorn their walls and can be readily copied. However, the value system of an organization is not something which can be copied very easily. It permeates the entire organization – its hierarchy, its various divisions or departments. It rubs off on most of its employees. Even service providers and supporting manufacturers get tuned to the same frequency.

Our youth are already reeling under the impact of latest technologies being unleashed on the unsuspecting work-force with gay abandon, leading to drastic changes in the skills required to survive and do well in the times to come. Were they to decide to join an owner-driven smaller business, it would be wise on their part to be aware of the nature of values that such outfits could be following.

Those who get hired by such businesses are the ones who offer willing service and selfless cooperation, even to the extent of taking pay cuts when they are told that business is in the red. They need to be quiet, respectful and deferential by nature. They need to have an adventurous outlook on life and be always prepared to receive a pink slip at a very short notice.

Employees are expected to be timid and behave like worms endowed with a backbone made of cottage cheese. Smarter ones who have backbones made of sterner stuff would be inclined to look for greener pastures within a few months of joining up. Those who somehow survive longer would soon find getting hauled out unceremoniously, much like worms found floating on top of a bowl of chicken soup meant for the Lion King.

While entering the company campus, the employees find it worth their while to leave their ego at the main gate. A doormat-like behaviour alone ensures that they do not suffer the spiritual anguish like that of the person who, having grown accustomed to opening the crackling salary envelope on the first day of each month, reaches out for it one day and finds it empty.

When asking for leave, they need to deploy tact and delicacy. Long vacations are obviously ruled out, simply because the stiff-upper-lip visage of the Lion King simply discourages such inane requests, work-life balance be damned.

The proceedings are invariably of a nature as to create an inferiority complex amongst its employees. Whenever anything goes wrong, even if the decision had emanated from either the Lion King or a member of his family, they willingly take the rap and get frequently ticked off by the top brass. Over time, they start resembling one of the more shrinking and respectful breeds of rabbit.

One of the values which some owner-driven companies find difficult to imbibe is that of respecting its people. Employees often get treated like chattel, getting hired and fired based on assessments made either in the bedroom or on the dining table of the owner’s abode. If the mood of the Lion King fluctuates in tandem with either the Dow Jones Index or the Sensex, the employees feel as if they are always on a roller coaster ride.

An incoming employee is never permitted to meet the outgoing one, thereby ensuring that negative vibes do not get passed on from the latter to the former. Inevitably, this ensures that past experience continues to get lost. Continuity in systems and procedures becomes a victim. Each incumbent keeps trying to reinvent the wheel.

When a meeting gets called, the Lion King alone presides. When he throws out a statement of opinion, a respectful silence prevails. He looks about him expectantly. This is the cue for the senior Yes-Sheep to say yes. He is followed, in order of precedence, by the middle-rung Yes-Sheep and then the junior Yes-Sheep. Then the turn of all the Nodder-Dormice comes. They simply nod, one after the other.

When the Lion King delineates a new business plan, he merely informs. He directs the Marketing-Monkeys, the Production-Bovines and the Supply-Chain-Management-Goats to get down to their respective tasks without delay. The Human-Resources-Canines are told to take care of their part of the work, while the Finance-Felines are told to keep a sharp eye on the collections against invoices raised by the Marketing-Monkeys. The Research-Pachyderms are exhorted to keep coming up with innovative products and services. The System-Giraffes are advised to ensure that the high-hanging fruits of the latest advances in technology are made available to the team. The Liaison-Fox is tasked to see that all regulatory permissions are in place well within due time.

Working in a smaller outfit has some unique perks as well. Besides being able to observe the core business processes at a close quarter, one is apt to face mighty challenges, thereby growing spiritually. One can pretty soon evolve into a Spiritual Manager who practices detachment and handles tough situations with alacrity and equanimity.

Peter Drucker, the renowned management expert, has this to say about imbibing spiritual values:

‘The individual needs the return to spiritual values, for he can survive in the present human situation only by reaffirming that man is not just a biological and psychological being but also a spiritual being, that is creature, and existing for the purposes of his Creator and subject to Him.’

Different organizations sport different cultures, presenting an interesting rainbow of values. The most prominent colour in such parabolas of joy happens to be black, denoting profits. The most disliked colour is obviously red, a prospect which leaves many a business owner and CEO cold in the feet and shuddering.

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(The following is an abridged and modified excerpt from an upcoming book on Leader Mindsets, authored by Prof G P Rao, founder of SPANDAN, and others.)

Advances in technology inevitably lead to more efficiencies, better products and improved lifestyles for people. But each leap of faith into the domain of a newer technology brings with it a set of newer challenges for mankind. As machines increasingly take over the drudgery of repetitive tasks and become more intelligent, human beings invariably need to re-skill themselves. This applies to business leaders as well as their followers.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution in the offing now builds on the Digital Revolution, representing new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even the human body.

Skill-sets of the future

As per a World Economic Forum document titled ‘Future of Jobs Report’, employers are said to anticipate a significant shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms for the tasks of today.

The aforesaid report states that of the total task hours across the industries covered, on an average, 71% are currently performed by humans, whereas 29% are performed by machines or algorithms. By 2022, this average is expected to have shifted to 58% task hours performed by humans, and 42% by machines or algorithms. It can be readily appreciated that this signifies a very rapid pace of change, something for which leaders need to be better prepared.

The report goes on to project that skills related to analytical thinking, active learning, technology design and technology competency would grow in prominence. It also proposes that such ‘human’ skills as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will either retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving.

It follows that in the impending man-machine conflict, human beings are not likely to suffer the same fate as that of the non-avian dinosaurs which went extinct some sixty-five million years ago. But the writing on the wall is clear. They need to roll up their sleeves and get down to the task of sharpening their soft skills. A humane approach to handling team members needs to be consciously developed, especially when operating in a business environment characterized by a shortage of skilled workers. In turn, this would pre-suppose a higher Emotional Quotient and better service orientation. Even as the reliance on artificial intelligence grows for the analytical part of decision making, the role of intuition would become even more crucial.

A focus on the bottom line

Most employers would go in for innovating through technology if it makes business sense. It follows that technology would continue to remain a tool in the arsenal of the corporate world to squeeze more profits out of their operations, thereby making careers more fragile and impacting labour incomes adversely. With 24×7 connectivity, people are already working longer and enjoying lesser leisure time.

In a scenario of this kind, there is a grave risk that leaders would end up losing a connection with themselves even more than at present and hence end up de-humanizing the work place.

However, values remain indestructible. As an example, honesty and truthfulness in relationships is something which is bound to withstand the onslaught of newer technologies in the centuries to come. Same is the case with empathy, compassion, resilience and a flexible approach in problem solving.

Perhaps there is a need for governments the world over to anticipate newer moral and ethical dilemmas in a proactive manner and influence technological developments suitably, so human dignity and freedom is not compromised.

The perks and the perils

One may also surmise as to how the imminent advances in technology could throw up positive as well as negative factors which are likely to impact the man-machine equation in the times to come.

According to a 2014 report entitled ‘AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs’, published by Pew Research Centre, researchers Aaron Smith and Janna Anderson went to the extent of seeking feedback from as many as 1,896 experts. They found that when it came to the impact of advances in technology upon economic opportunity and employment, the opinion was deeply divided.

The optimists opined that technology would free us from day-to-day drudgery and end up redefining our relationship with ‘work’ in a more positive and socially beneficial manner. They felt that we shall adapt to these changes by inventing entirely new types of work and control our own destiny through the choices we make.

The pessimists amongst those who participated in the aforesaid study were of the opinion that the coming wave of innovation would mostly impact those involved in white-collar work. Whereas highly skilled workers will do better, many more might get pushed into lower paying jobs, and might even face permanent unemployment. They also felt that our educational, political and economic institutions are poorly equipped to handle the challenges which are likely to come up.

The aforesaid piece of research throws up instructive insights into how the future might shape up. Leaders and managers really need to think up some innovative ways in which they would handle a highly polarized workforce, comprising a disgruntled lot at one end and a highly skilled one at the other.

The challenge of creating happier workplaces

Unlike the earlier industrial revolutions, which first created and then changed the skill sets required by our blue collar workforce, the Fourth one promises to change the work profile of our white collar workers.

In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes how this fourth revolution is fundamentally different from the previous three, which were characterized mainly by advances in technology. According to him, these technologies have great potential to continue to connect billions of more people to the web, drastically improve the efficiency of business and organizations and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management.

As we grapple to understand the future direction of monumental changes in our socio-economic fabric owing to the next phase of technological evolution, few things stand clear.

One, that our educational institutions are nowhere near the task of training a workforce which would not learn analytical skills by rote but would grasp the importance of creativity, resilience and improve upon their Emotional Quotient.

Two, most of our governments are yet to devise ways and means of regulating issues of protecting individual privacy, executive burnouts arising out of a 24×7 connectivity and heightened civic strife due to growing inequalities. The next phase is bound to create a newer class of elite – those who are adept at newer technologies, leaving far behind those who are not.

Those in the first category could end up believing that they are all too powerful. Those who remain blissfully ignorant and continue to be disconnected to those who are reaping the benefits of newer technologies are likely to gravitate towards a belief that they have no place in the knowledge universe. With poor resources of material as well legal kind at their command, these new ‘have-nots’ of the society may be doomed to languish for a long time, till the governments of the day intervene, willfully or otherwise, and ensure implementation of economic policies which are more inclusive in nature.

The third kind, comprising those left in the middle of the normal distribution curve of technology dispersal, could end up having a balanced approach to issues. In fact, with advances in technology, this kind could well face a higher risk of extinction, paving the way for those who believe themselves to be all too powerful to rule the roost.

The same pattern may become apparent in the realm of management as well. Leaders and executives would need to increase their engagement not only with the society at large, but also with the governments of the day. A massive effort at re-skilling personnel would become a necessity.

A matter of trust and privacy

Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy happens to be of the view that technology is a great leveller. He thinks that technology has improved transparency, conquered distance and class barriers. Also, that it has the potential to create a fair society and enhance the accountability of the rich, the powerful and the elite to the poor and disenfranchised in all societies.

One cannot dispute this. However, concerns regarding an increasing trust deficit remain. Denizens of many countries are feeling increasingly jittery over instances of data privacy. Moral policing, electoral pitching, rumour mongering – all these are fuelling this trust deficit.

One case in point is that of Facebook which is already armed with tools to dig deep into our lives, with the singular aim of moulding our thoughts and opinions about diverse aspects of our lives.

Employees in most organizations already resent living in a virtual fish bowl, where all their communications are suspected to be getting monitored. No one likes to be micro-managed, especially those who are capable and self-confident. Business enterprises have already started deploying tools to monitor employee productivity by collecting and analyzing their activity and inactivity levels.

In the long run, a work environment of this nature would end up impacting productivity, commitment and motivation levels adversely.

The ever-increasing rate of change

One thing is certain. Change is not only a constant. With each passing year, the rate of change is also increasing. Much like Alice in Wonderland, Homo sapiens are discovering that they need to keep running faster and faster, with nary a respite in sight. Mankind is bound to evolve further much earlier than what was believed in the past. Alvin Toffler would perhaps heartily approve of this proposition.

Unlike thought so far, the man machine relationship shall become more integrated with each other in the near future. As a result, the combined force of processing of billions of data points for efficient decision making by machines, and contextual, emotional and intuitive aspects of decision making by human beings, would be, to that extent, higher and greater in their respective impacts – for good or bad.

What can be done to meet the challenge

– Employees, whether present or potential, can go beyond the formal education system and aggressivle look for avenues to hone their skills, so as to remain employable. As Stephen R Covey has said, we need to keep our saws sharpened.

– Same applies to our business leaders, who would do well to improve upon their Emotional Quotient.

– The agenda for educationists and politicians is clear: To keep taking steps to facilitate the change already upon us; to anticipate the challenges of privacy and rumour mongering and to intervene to have appropriate safeguards embedded in upcoming technologies.

(References:
https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018
“Future of Jobs.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (December 11, 2014);
http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/08/06/future-of-jobs)

(Illustrations courtesy www)

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