As the ongoing pandemic impacts the global economy, employment opportunities are growing uncertain but employees that can adapt to the changing situation will become even more valuable
With the gradual opening up of economic activities, the role of employees in the corporate sector becomes more critical than ever. Barring a few, most of the sectors have been hit hard by this crisis. To mitigate the immediate challenges of business continuity, productivity, weak consumer demand and cost control, employees can turn out to be heroes or villains in their respective workplaces. Employees of the past will not be the same as the employee of tomorrow. Employers will look for some key traits or behavioural shifts in their workforce as we face a new business world. Few of the key ones are enumerated below:
Irrespective of position or designation, each employee has to demonstrate better empathy in understanding the on-ground situation to arrive at a win-win deal. Taking the right decision at the right time while facing several unknown variables will be the key differentiators between future success and failure. The speed at which such decisions are taken in a given situation will be another vital factor. Situational leadership is not about the single best way to deal with a problem. It is about adapting to the new scenario and getting the task done. It loosely means that one has to change the style and be fluid in their approach as per the conditions while still staying true to the purpose. The analogy can be with how a driver manoeuvres when he drives on unfamiliar roads or in traffic conditions. There will be known-unknown challenges in varying degrees as we face the new business world. There will be situations where one has to find 'their own way through the woods'.
Ability to handle VUCA
The acronym originating from American military strategists stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. This black swan event has given birth to a VUCA environment for which there is no business manual available in the closet. Employees with their experience, intuition, business acumen and analytical insights can act as somewhat dimly visible beacons in helping organisations to swim through this fog. One has to be flexible enough to accept that a problem has different solutions on different days during these VUCA times and that they must not be afraid of course-correcting as and when required. The journey will be non-linear and they have to re-invent continuously to stay relevant and ahead. The days of pre-defined work will make way for 'adaptive-any type of work' attitude. There are a lot of uncertainties around but smart employees will be curious to look for such oases of opportunities and harness them.
In the post-COVID world, physical interactions will surely be minimal, at least till a preventive medical treatment is within reach. In the virtual world, the response or the body language of the other person is difficult to decipher, thereby making it difficult to gauge the impact of communication. To make the chat interesting and keep the clients engaged, that too in a limited amount of time, one can hardly emphasise the need to be an excellent communicator. The language will be dependent on the profile of the audience (not necessarily English!) but the content and delivery should stir up positive action. One can be highly competent but if that cannot be articulated to positive action then it is a waste. As Indra Nooyi, ex-PepsiCo Chairman says, one needs to over-invest in honing communication skills. The best time is now to learn the 'art of pitching'!
Being digitally fit
Apart from being physically fit, most of the employees now have to get digitally fit. They need to equip themselves with embracing online communication tools, be prepared to use them more frequently as offline /online mix (O2O) will get skewed towards the later. Being digitally fit does not mean that employees can only handle the devices but they should be able to think, act and close deals at ease while operating online. Off course this requires training, tech-enabled learning and peer support. It is rightly said that digital transformation is more about people and less about technology. With AI adoption set to increase the employee of the future needs to be prepared to team up with technology. During COVID times one such sector which is struggling to sell online is the health insurance sector. The main reason is the employees are not equipped to sell products or close the transactions over a digital platform.
The extra contributor
With the twin challenges of cost reduction and maintaining productivity, companies will value employees who can voluntarily contribute by walking those extra miles. The traditional top-down command and direct style will wane away. The company bosses will increasingly favour team members who need little to no supervision. Being a multi-tasker and having the willingness to share more workload will catapult employees to recognition and prominence. Employers will look for more 'all-rounders' who can contribute more value to the table thereby optimising the returns. An employee needs to contribute beyond the laid down job descriptions. Learning different facets of business will be an asset as the future place of work is going to be much different. The boundaries imposed in terms of functional domains will get blurred. Any ideas or action which is going to benefit the organisation will be welcomed by the management.
Past experiences, knowledge or success will have little meaning as we embark on a new journey. Whatever field you are in, at whatever leadership stage, these insights and skills will be critical to learn or develop to be fit for the future. It is a necessity as organisations cannot protect jobs in future which will be made redundant due to various reasons but they will take care of the 'Future fit' employee.
The writer is the Country Head of Greenlam Industries Ltd and a certified life coach. Views expressed are personal