Agility requires fast, innovative, customer-centric tech -- and workers aren't ready for it.
Though 73% of U.S. workers say artificial intelligence will eliminate more jobs than it creates, just 18% say they are "extremely confident" they could secure the training they need for digitalization, according to a Gallup/Northeastern University study, Optimism and Anxiety: Views on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Higher Education's Response.
And when asked about the skills needed for digitalization, 52% in France, 43% in Germany, 37% in Spain and 30% in the U.K. say the demand for their qualifications will only increase. In no country do more than 9% say the demand for their qualifications will decrease.
Those data points should make leaders uneasy. Especially the last one, which came from a series of interviews Gallup conducted in late 2017 and early 2018 with 80 business leaders and managers in the U.S. and EU about their experiences with agility in their company.
Gallup followed up on that research by interviewing over 5,500 American and 4,000 European workers about perceptions of their company's culture of agility.
The study found agile companies have eight qualities that enable them to be agile, one of which is the ability to adopt new technology.
But most workers don't have that ability.
In fact, business leaders think only about a quarter of their workforce is prepared for AI adoption, according to an MIT Sloan study, though only 3% of leaders are upping their training budget substantially to fill the gap. (Incidentally, 61% of workers say their employer should offer and pay for training, according to the Optimism and Anxiety study.)
To some extent, however, it doesn't matter if companies do fund upskilling or reskilling programs. No matter how well-trained the employees, a slow, inflexible culture can't make much of its tech or its workers. Agile is cultural, not digital, and culture depends on managers and leaders.
Agile is cultural, not digital, and culture depends on managers and leaders.
To create an agile culture that welcomes fast, innovative, customer-centric tech, leaders must set the groundwork for tech adaptability. Here's how:
1. Be customer-centric.
Focus on technology that creates revenue and boosts sales. If you can't map the tech to the customer, it's not likely to provide much ROI.
2. Invest in simple technology and mitigate risks.
Instead of looking for new features, companies should strive to make their current technology easier to use.
Companies pay for every minute of the learning curve -- and the longer it takes to learn, the more expensive the product is, so work closely with IT to predict implementation problems. Failed rollouts can stoke cynicism about tech, and too many products at once can be overwhelming.
IT should be an enhancement, not a burden, and simple tech and risk mitigation can help integrate new tools with less trouble.
3. Embrace new technology and stay curious.
Managers should strive to be as technologically savvy as possible. Leaders need to give managers time to learn new tech before they can teach it and then do small-scale implementation within their teams.
That helps workers to test new tools, learn from each other and gin up enthusiasm for the tools. Internal and external networks can pool workers' feedback, which gives leaders valuable intel on their tech investment.
And along the way, curiosity primes managers to anticipate the digital future and coach their teams toward it.
4. Create incentives for learning and teaching.
Incorporate the use of new technology into existing performance goals. Remember, learning is a voluntary act and busy people will delay it if it conflicts with their deliverables.
Incentivize learning, or the tech's efficiencies will go unrealized.
5. Identify "technology champions."
Digitalization may pay off for an organization as a whole, but not for individuals in any form they can recognize. So involve organizational opinion leaders in the planning process.
Credible role models who see the value in new technology can smooth the path of implementation, especially if they can relate how new tech benefits people personally. Make sure tech champions get effective training sessions -- and that you listen to their feedback for process improvements -- because if they don't respond enthusiastically, others won't either.
Credible role models who see the value in new technology can smooth the path of implementation, especially if they can relate how new tech benefits people personally.
6. Be honest.
All new tech is better than the version that came before and worse than the version that will come next.
Leaders who oversell the promise of new tech too often give workers a "flavor of the month" feeling, which leads to delayed or halfhearted adoption. So be straight with employees.
Show how the new product is an improvement over the old, how it makes people and companies more productive, how workers' input on the flaws creates better future versions (and there will be more versions), how it boosts their value to the company, how it offers greater chances for recognition and how it may help preserve jobs.
Not yet adaptable, not yet optimized, not yet agile.
Leaders have an ace in their pocket: Most people don't want to do a bad job, and workers recognize the productivity advantage of new tech. Among employees who said in 2017 that there had been technology changes at their job, 70% in the U.K., 66% in France, 51% in Spain and 37% in Germany said the new tech would improve their work productivity.
Interestingly, 61% of Germans said their productivity would stay the same. That's probably because German companies are highly automated: With 309 robots per 10,000 employees, Germany trails only South Korea (631 units) and Singapore (488 units) in robot density.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ranks seventh in the world (189 units) and France ranks 18th (132 units). Britain is the only G-7 country to have a robot density below the world average (74 units).
Germans don't predict their productivity will improve because it's already high -- they're tech-adaptive. They're not appreciably more agile than the other countries Gallup has studied; in fact, German decision-making is slow and risk aversion is high. But Germany's tech-adaptive business culture gives its companies a productivity advantage.
Companies without that advantage will suffer in a digitalized world. Right now, most are in the same boat -- the majority of companies are not yet adaptable, not yet optimized, not yet agile.
But some will pull ahead. They'll build cultures around leaders and managers who embrace tech, stay curious, focus on customers and incentivize learning. They'll be fast and innovative. They'll be customer-centric.
They'll be agile.
Gallup can help you create an agile workplace culture that embraces technology:
- Download the Agility issue of our online publication, The Real Future of Work.
- Learn how we can partner with you to create a culture of agility across your organization.
- Discover the importance of managers in creating an agile workplace with Gallup's new book, It's the Manager.