The Future Of Work

By Chris Locke

March 1, 2021

Our CEO, Chris Locke, shares his vision for the future of work and why organisations need to think across the employee relationship and build in the opportunity for reskilling, upskilling and purposeful outskilling to enable organisations to become more flexible and agile to manage disruptions while accelerating growth and helping everyone secure jobs for the future.

As reported by the World Economic Forum: “The double disruption caused by automation and the pandemic is likely to displace 85 million jobs by 2025. Among those set to remain in their roles, 50% will need reskilling by 2025.” The impact of the pandemic and increased automation is going to continue to rumble through organisations and industries.

To adjust to the new norm of disruption and automation, organisations must adopt an approach or core strategy of flexibility and agility to be able to pivot, maximise opportunity and address the speed of change. How companies encourage the adoption of this across their business and within the DNA of their talent will be the difference between those that survive and those who face being left behind.

New skill sets and new types of employee structures will need to be instilled across your business. Organisations will also need to think big. You can’t limit agility approaches or test-and-learn cultures to just small parts of the company. When strategic plans can be impacted daily, complex problem solving, and creativity need space across the business to counter the disruption. 

What skills become important

Complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity became the top three skills required for survival in the 2020 Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum. The challenge for all organisations will be around instilling these core competencies at scale to drive speed for resilience and adopt startup creative thinking as a ‘business-as-usual’ approach. These skill sets are integral to startup creative approaches deployed by most if not all, successful startups. Upskilling and reskilling your teams with these fundamental skills along with startup methodologies and approaches will enable businesses to start gaining the benefit immediately. This enables businesses to gain the flexibility and agility to operate at the pace of a startup with the skills to navigate the current climate of disruption. A culture shift for many organisations but one that will separate the companies that survive from those that won’t be able to weather the disruption.

Upskilling and reskilling for strategic innovation and opportunity growth

Industry insight and company knowledge do not need to be, nor should be lost during the transition caused by digital transformations and the speed of technology adoption. By strategically deploying and instilling startup creative skills across the business, you start to open up the opportunity for game-changing innovation opportunities to occur. When incorporating this with more practical upskilling initiatives to move from labour roles into more tech-heavy future-proof positions, you can start to create a powerhouse of change lead by those who truly understand and have a passion for your business. Plus, from a purely business perspective, it can often be more straightforward and cheaper to develop in-demand skills in-house rather than looking to hire them in. Businesses that recognise that their existing talent already possesses much of what is needed can actually find additional urgency to tap into as with new talent you can wait a year or more for them to get up to speed with the inner workings of how a company operates.

Allowing innovation to come from those closest to the inner workings and most likely problems or the customers’ pains will enable you to find unexpected gems of insight. By making startup creative thinking a core competency within your organisation, you start to build in innovation at the velocity of a startup; naturally being able to pivot fast and be much more agile with those opportunities. Being built for speed of innovation opens the door for powerful outcomes from improving the lifecycle and value of your existing products and services lines by allowing you to find new ways to create value to more successful new services or solutions at pace, successfully meeting the evolving needs of your customers or even addressing internal issues that have slowed the pace of opportunity.

Bridging the skills gap with more than just technical skills

As quoted by the corporate philosopher, Chairman of Expothon Worldwide; a ThinkTank on Image Supremacy of Innovative Excellence & Entrepreneurial Leadership, Naseem Javed: “Unlimited, well-designed innovative ideas and global age skills can quadruple enterprise performance.” This combination of skills provides organisations with the core competencies needed to manage through this time of disruption and can turn it into a time of great opportunity.

For large companies, where the sums invested in new product development are in the tens of millions, this means only a fraction of the potential return on investment undertaken is delivered back to shareholders. And for existing successful product lines, value can still be unlocked with the right innovation approaches. Did you know that according to Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, each year more than 30,000 new consumer products are launched and 95% of them fail? (Harvard Business School)

The key is in combining skills with ideas. Just capturing innovation ideas without the ability to quickly implement on the insight leaves you still stuck.

Organisations that are looking to rapidly empower their teams internally with a combination of startup and technical skills are seeing an immediate impact turning ideas into action and ultimately revenue or competitive advantage. For example, Rambol adopted an internal innovation startup training programme which has resulted in 7 new spin-out ventures from idea to launch in 20 weeks which are now on track to deliver a 29% net new revenue by 2023. By creating new tech-enabled business models, they can serve existing clients needs better and identify new customer segments.

According to a survey done by McKinsey, nearly seven in ten respondents reporting reskilling say the business impact from the programs has been greater than or equal to the investment in them. What’s more, 48% say the programmes are already enhancing bottom-line growth.

Amazon logo

Amazon has invested considerable amounts of money into their outskilling programmes and in return has gained a competitive advantage.

Adding strategic outskilling to the mix

Unfortunately, as we see now, businesses can’t always afford to keep all their employees, or there is a natural progression of departure within the organisation that has a short employee lifecycle. In either case, there is a substantial opportunity to be made to extend startup creative training at all stages of the employee lifecycle. And even more critically, provide an opportunity to those who have been, by no fault of their own, made redundant. In the UK alone according to the ONS redundancies hit a record 370,000. If the study from Direct Line is correct, then over one-third of those 370,000 people will be considering starting a business. There is a moral argument to be made that we must do our best by departing talent to help them make this transition as successfully as possible. But it isn’t just about doing the right thing for your company; there is a broader picture that benefits all. Startups and new business in the wake of large redundancies may be our economy’s way out of the recession. You don’t just help an employee; it helps build local economies and in return, future customers. Additionally, within our connected universe of feedback and reviews, creating a powerhouse of people who are your active ambassadors can also be a game-changer.

Providing startup training, as part of traditional outplacement, can have a significant impact on employee satisfaction and even external consumer brand recognition. The Nokia Bridge programme discovered that they could reduce or counter the traditional 20%+ drop in productivity that surrounds layoff and redundancies. All in all, done right, you can expect a 15% ROI into improving outplacement processes.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For organisations that look to incorporate the full suite of reskilling, upskilling and strategic outskilling, there are substantial potential benefits.


McDonald’s and Uber have both extended the outskilling practices to become part of the employee cycle even without any redundancy or layoff programmes. McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity programme knows that employees will ultimately leave McDonald’s, but this programme typically increases employees’ tenure at the firm, reducing turnover and hiring costs. Uber’s programme has had mixed reviews, but at its heart, the idea is to enable departing drivers who might in the future be displaced anyway to leave into positive positions to continue as riders and ambassadors. As Uber states: “We want to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business, and backing business owners, creators and doers regardless of their background is essential to that goal.”

Amazon has invested considerable amounts of money into their outskilling programmes and in return has gained a competitive advantage. By empowering drivers, who they know will depart as there is a well-documented cycle of employment, to start their delivery firms, they have naturally extended their reach as well as ensuring that the external firms they are hiring can meet the expectations of the Amazon brand as they’ve been upskilling in the Amazon work ethics.

Many companies globally have been hit by the pandemic and forced to make unexpected changes. Their outplacement programmes could still become much more strategic through the use of startup outskilling. The mantra being “don’t let staff go, let them grow.” Departure driven by employee desire or a business requirement for redundancy can see organisations losing a tremendous amount of brain trust and insight. We also have seen a considerable reduction in innovation that can be the difference between success and failure for many organisations. By creating startup innovation programmes, you can divert talent from your organisation into startups but keep the opportunity within your sphere of influence.

We know that innovation from within, especially around industry problems can be incredibly difficult or confining to solve from within but by giving departing talent innovation pathways through startup creation, you can see a significant return for a relatively low investment. Nokia ended up investing in 20% of the startups generated during their Bridge redundancy programme enabling new business opportunities.

(Discover more about Nokia Bridge here by watching our recorded webinar with one of the team who lead the programme)

Looking ahead

COVID-19 has increased our speed of change and added to a challenging future for many workforces as more elements become automated, and companies need to re-allocate employees to new business opportunities. What will separate the long-term winners from those that might fall behind? Organisations of all sizes need to:

  • Rapidly instil startup creative training across your business to drive competitive advantage.

By building in the powerhouse of three skills: complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity, with the tools and mindset to operate at speed along with the focus of a startup creates a powerful engine. It enables your talent to drive value out of your existing products and services as well as start the focused space for innovation to develop new and exciting value for your business.

  • Deploying strategic upskilling, reskilling and purposeful outskilling as the tools by which to empower your workforce with startup creative skills at the right stage of their employee lifecycle.

Upskilling and reskilling existing teams can be a much more successful and supportive approach than looking to bring skills in-house which requires a significant time and energy investment in onboarding them into your process and methods. Allowing innovation and agile thinking to come from all areas of the business enables those closest to the problems and opportunities a voice that turns your whole company into an innovative machine for value creation. Purposeful outskilling is an underutilised strategic operation that can lead to huge gains when linking your talent’s lifecycle to opportunity building where both sides can benefit. Again, the mantra of “don’t let your talent go, let them grow” enables you to think differently about how you empower life-long learning with natural evolutions as well as continuing a positive connection that allows strategic growth for everyone.

  • Maximise your current assets and build for the future.

Using startup thinking to sweat your current assets for maximum value while building new products, solutions and services to meet future requirements. Did you know that 9 out of 10 product launches fail? But changing that success rate by 1 by empowering your talent with new skills and new ways of working will significantly impact your bottom line.

This article originally was available in the CEO Today Magazine March 2021 Edition

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