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Building Relevant Businesses and Work Experiences in a Digital World

The continued automation of our lives and work on multiple levels is inevitable over the next decade. Futurist and global speaker, Graeme Codrington, however, insists this is not something to be feared, and that we should consider advances in technology to be Intelligent Assistance (IA) rather than AI, or Artificial Intelligence. 

“AI or humanoid robots are not going to replace people,” Codrington told a Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Forum on digitisation and the future of work. “Systems, algorithms, and data will streamline our decision making and take away some of the boring and mindless tasks that must be done. Automation is coming for the part of our jobs that we don’t like.”  

While Codrington said people should not be nervous about losing their jobs completely to machines, they should be vigilant against allowing machines to make decisions that would be better made by humans. 

“What are the limits of automation and how do we decide? There is inherent ethnic, racial, gender bias programmed into the algorithms, and we must work to remove this. The future of work in the next decade will be an opportunity to programme machines, not just to make them faster or more efficient, but to humanise them.” 

Against this background of increased digitisation, one of the chief tasks of leaders in the coming decade will be to switch on the best in employees to get in order to the best out of them, Codrington explained. “The purpose of technology is to unlock the genius in your team and the power in your people. Unlocking your employees’ potential is a central task of leadership.” 

Employee Experience and Innovation 
Brad Shorkend, co-founder of Still Human and co-author of We are still human (and work shouldn’t suck!), explained that engaged employees are able to give their companies the edge in a competitive, fast-changing market: “The link between employee experience, innovation readiness and ultimately business relevance is undeniable,” he said. 

While many companies are oblivious to their employees’ experience at work, it can mean the difference between staff who are switched on by being inspired, motivated and able to participate intellectually; or those who are switched off and depleted. Such an organisation will not be able to innovate and compete, he continued. 

“There is a critical link between employee experience and employee engagement. It is mission critical in the war for talent for companies who want to attract and retain the right people.” Running a business in a complex, ever-changing world while remaining relevant is a challenge, and people provide the essential competitive advantage, he added. 

“There is a constant loop between employee experience and innovation readiness.  While many leaders choose to focus exclusively on the more easily quantifiable deliverables such as financials and production, we have to shift the obsession in companies from money to people – as it is people who are responsible for exceptional business outputs and innovation.” 

Learning, understanding and creating experiences with intention can be achieved through a personalised approach to leadership, he added. 

Shorkend’s co-author and co-founder of Still Human, Andy Golding, said a “company behaving awesomely” is one hoping to make resourceful humans out of everyone in the organisation in a world gone digital crazy. 

Such an organisation is intentional about its employee experience and integrates elements such as meaningful communication, energising workspaces, ownership and accountability and recognition into its daily operations. “As a result, the best people who want to come, do come and choose to stay. While they are working there, they shoot the lights out and are proud to say they work there,” she explained. 

Shorkend added that spatial design is intrinsically linked to the employee experience, and was currently in a “sad state.” 
Workspaces are not empathetic to people’s needs for simple things such as fresh air and connecting with others: “We need to try to understand the human experience and the need for spaces to collaborate, as well as for spaces to be alone and think.” 

Employees also need space to not work, Golding added. “People must be able to step away from desks, as no human being can maintain mental fortitude for eight hours. Breaks improve productivity.” 

Leadership in a Digital World 
The next four to five years during the switch over to artificial intelligence will be a turbulent time for business, Codrington said, with some unintended consequences and the possibility of over-automation.

But, “while people may initially lose jobs due to AI, they will be needed for other things. It is essential we retain human skills such as creativity, complex thinking, emotional intelligence, diversity intelligence, and curiosity.” 

This period will also examine the real role of leaders, he added. “Leaders will simply not be able to guarantee consistent quarterly profit increases to shareholders during the coming time of disruption, but will have to create a sustainable competitive advantage for their businesses. This is something that can only be done through people,” he said. 

Leadership requires courage, Shorkend added. “It is more difficult to do it differently and manage people rather than chasing profits and outputs. However, change doesn’t happen without courage.” 

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