12-months ago, we made a set of 5 bold predictions for what might be in store for organisations in the year ahead. We put down big opinions, ideas and exploratory topics based on the conversations we were having, work we were doing, and with an eye to the trends, patterns and observations being made.
We are back with you to revisit our predictions, give them a score and reflect on what happened in organisations in 2023. We took a leaf out of our Economists friends’ book, and after making our initial predictions – we made slight revisions to the content, but we broadly held the themes.
Our 5 initial predictions were:
- The two-speed workforce – hybrid, but not as you know it
- Humanity versus technology – connecting in the right ways
- Organisational culture valued – finally!
- Laggard capability build – the labour market trends
- Community building as a leadership capability
Our 5 slightly revised/nuanced predictions (and a 6th observation)
- Hybrid Work and Two Speed Workforces
- Tension between technology and humanity
- Capability in Focus. ‘Hard’ skills matter, and ‘Soft’ skills are hard.
- Organisational Culture has heightened value post-pandemic
- Leaders as Community Builders
- Retention – is it the great resignation, or quiet quitting, or all just marketing? Now we are at silent sackings.
Scoring our Predictions
1. Hybrid Work and Two Speed Workforces (9/10, maybe even a 10).
I feel bad for scoring our first one out of the park, but that’s how the cards fell.
This is the enduring topic in workforces around Australia (and globally).
The conversation can seamlessly shift from whole workplaces and workforces, into ‘how many days in the office do you do’, to an individual’s work pattern and preferences, to a taxi driver’s view on the macroeconomic backdrop, to the impact on commercial real estate in the Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane context, in 2 blinks of an eye.
At the root of it all is the oscillating power balance (or imbalance) between employer and employee expectations and reality. Over-summarised, it moved from employer >50% pre-COVID, to employee (circumstantially) >50% during COVID-19, and now a delicate seesaw of expectations and reality between the two.
Pleasingly, there are still plenty of great people and organisations that work for impact, and to add value to customers and colleagues. They talk to growth, accountability and contribution – which becomes the baseline to solve for agency over, and choice of, work pattern. The downside risk we have seen is the rise in numbers, and voice of, ‘work is transactional-only’ thinkers.
This is one of the battlegrounds of trust, and as Edelman’s recent Trust Barometer outlined, for the first time, Australia is dangerously in the middle of the barometer as “Moderately Polarised”, and right on the cusp of risking ‘Severe Polarisation’, where we have typically been “Lowly Polarised”. We need to openly have wide-reaching conversations to find bridges across these divides and polarities.
2. Tension between technology and humanity (8/10)
This one was a broad topic, so it is easy to score relatively highly and argue why.
If we look at great hopes, and great fears, in the world of work, this tension between technology and humanity has been a central thread.
What will happen After Work? Is AI ethical and generative? How will Chat GPT and Open AI change some roles, or all roles, or should we attempt to restrict workers access to AI, at an organisation-by-organisation level, or via Government policy settings? Already, its moved rapidly from a productivity game, to a moral debate, and there is a long way to go.
If you haven’t seen it already, check out ‘After Work’ by Eric Gandini for a unique take on all things Work (and Not Work).
3. Organisational Culture valued – finally! (6/10)
This one is a little more mixed. Great people are valuing culture more highly than ever. Leaders get it. Employees of all levels get it. But the debate is becoming intertwined between ‘great culture’, and ‘great n=1 work patterns’, and not about deliberate culture creation where everyone has a valuable role to play. It is not about ‘everyone working in the office’, nor is it about marketing around fully remote, deeply isolated roles.
People get that culture is the secret sauce that makes everything taste better (whether the dish is a deep sense of self-actualisation, or just a great day at work with some fun and your best possible contribution).
4. Capability in Focus (desire 10/10, execution 3/10)
People remain obsessed with the topic of capability, of growth and development.
COVID certainly halted plans to build capability, given there were tight labour markets, skill shortages, closed borders, and institutional underspend on the capabilities companies needed – not just within organisations, but across whole industries, and Australia at large. As always, it was up to someone else to fix the issue, and the finger pointing started. Either Government should or needed to, or employers could and did, or we expected more initiative from individuals. Either way, we stopped the investment and reduced the required focus.
The reality is we didn’t have the right skills, or numbers with the skills, in the right places that we needed to create our best Australia – economically or societally, so we needed to focus and rethink.
Important plans were laid, but no sooner than the ink had dried, people slowed or pulled plans on capability to reduce costs. This comes with the backdrop of wars and tension in the Middle East and Eastern Europe (and more), tighter economic conditions (higher global interest rates, inflation, oil prices etc.) – and while we may not be in a technical recession, people are worried. And when we’re worried, we go short-term. The cost is not enough of the right skills in the right place for our shared future.
5. Leaders as community builders (5/10 - work in progress)
This prediction is a growing area of exploration and focus. There’s a clear push by Boards, Executives, and other Leaders to understand the impact they have beyond the label of what they do. This has seen a growing emphasis and reporting on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), on these topics – however, that has heavily skewed to Environmental efforts. There is often a sprinkling on Governance (particularly at the Board and C-suite level) but ‘Social’ is largely an afterthought or marketing – particularly for the largest companies.
That comes with no criticism, as we firmly believe the bar on Social impact, where leaders must be pillars of the community, has been raised higher and the majority of good people in leadership roles – and those seeking to be in them – are ready to lift.
We’re just at the beginning of this one. It will continue. But more about that in our 2024 predictions.
6. Change and Transformation – an inspired label for silent sackings.
This one was the late addition during the year. Everyone we spoke to was Changing or Transforming – which we have always done, of course, but never spoken about it with such consistent language. We have had these bouts of corporate speak, but ultimately, this particular pattern was trying to positively market (or sell) organisational reactions to a fear of economic slowdown.
We have seen all types of language over the years – restructuring, rightsizing, redeployment pools, redundancies, impacted persons, and triggering to name a few. Not, we’re ‘transforming’ – albeit, at speed.
Ultimately, what we saw through the year were not considered change and proactive transformation programs, but rather, (significant) waves of silent sackings.
Workforce reductions are inevitable through economic cycles, however, we came off an exceptionally tight labour market to this in the blink of an eye. As one client put it so beautifully to us recently, we must do organisational change with empathy.