People Profession 2030: taking an ecosystem approach to future workplace trends

Exploring how people management, leadership and culture interact with future work trends

The future world of work is ever-changing. As people professionals, it’s important to look ahead and take a forward view. Rather than reacting to future shifts and workplace trends, we need to be at the forefront of change – influencing and shaping the world of work, as the people experts. Our People Profession: now and for the future programme of work aims to take a horizon-scanning view on the future of work, to understand what’s driving influential workplace trends, how this impacts on people practice and strategy, and what this means in practice for people professionals.

Our report People Profession 2030: a collective view of future trends highlights five key trends that shape the modern workplace and therefore influence people practices. The trends were surfaced by people professionals through our Hackathon event and senior leader roundtables. They are:

  • Internal change: evolving organisational models, structures, and processes
  • Digital and technological transformation
  • Changing demographics and I&D strategy
  • Diversifying employment relationships
  • Sustainability, purpose and responsible business

While these trends aren’t an exhaustive list, they highlight the current people priorities faced by the profession right now. However, it’s clear that these trends do not occur independently of other organisational factors, and organisations aren’t passive actors in these trends. Organisational context will have a profound impact on whether they are relevant.

Therefore, it’s important to take a systemic approach to understand the interplay between these factors and the influence of the future trends. To do this, we present an organisational ecosystem which considers three key organisational factors that were deemed by people professionals to either enable or inhibit people strategy, playing a key role within all five key trends.

The ecosystem

Hackathon participants and senior leaders reflected on the importance of three fundamental aspects which, throughout all the trends, remain prominent to people strategy and people outcomes. The factors within this organisational ecosystem are people management, leadership and culture.

People management

‘People managers are the rocks on which our greatest plans are dashed or the wind that fills the sails. They remain, for me, the greatest asset and ally to HR or its worst enemy’ - Hackathon participant

People managers act as the ‘middlemen’ between the workforce and the organisation and are often the people who convey important communications between senior leaders and employees. Unsurprisingly, our Hackathon participants believe managers are an important gatekeeper, and ultimately a key stakeholder, when it comes to the success of people initiatives. People management practices and policies are enacted by line managers, so gaining their buy-in, prioritising their development and capability and managing their resistance, should be key considerations for people professionals. Managers’ responsibility to effectively embed people practices within their teams also requires a level of trust, so that they feel empowered to make decisions and step up to fulfil the people side of their role.

If we consider changing employment relationships, managers will need to feel comfortable and confident managing hybrid teams with a blend of contractual relationships. The recent shift towards increased remote and homeworking will also mean employees’ expectations around flexibility and having a more personalised working relationship will have changed. This means managers need to consider fairness and equality, championing organisational values and culture, and managing employee expectations across the spectrum of employment relations.

The need for continual learning and reskilling to respond to future trends was identified throughout the Hackathon. This is another area where people management is crucial; our report Creating learning cultures: assessing the evidence highlights that line management is an influential factor in supporting continual learning. In around a quarter of organisations, people managers have responsibility for identifying learning needs (find out more in our Skills and learning at work report). There’s a need to support them to do this effectively and ensure they, too, are upskilled.

Leadership

‘What are the leadership behaviours we need to be able to deliver our new models and purpose? You change culture by changing leadership behaviours, not by doing a cultural change programme’ – Hackathon participant

Leaders ‘set the tone at the top’. Their commitment (or lack of) towards organisational purpose, values and projects has significant influence. For example, our previous research highlights that the way leaders role model ethical behaviour in line with organisational values influences the social norms of what behaviour is seen as acceptable or permissible in a workplace. In turn, this influences climate and culture.

Our key trend around internal change recognises the need for flexible business models that adapt in response to wider distributors and consumer/business needs. Navigating through changing and complex business models requires strong and effective leadership to not only lead the way, but to encourage innovative ways of working. Senior leaders feel that leadership capability and style will be more important than ever in the coming years to lead through uncertainty and work more effectively with employees to innovate and adapt – a necessity for organisational relevance and growth.

Culture

‘I want to have philosophies rather than policies – to be principles-based. It’s about the frameworks and what you set as the norm’ – Hackathon participant

Hackathon participants and leaders in the profession feel that shared responsibility is key for developing and embedding purpose, value and culture. People professionals recognise they have an important role to play but emphasise the collective effort that enables cultural change beyond formalised policies and procedures. Culture is a thread that runs through all organisations and will interact with the key trends. For example, cultural readiness for digital transformation will have an impact on the success of any such initiative.

One systematic review found that culture – along with leadership, management capability and work environment – was a key theme in digital transformation. Important cultural components include data transparency, mindset shifts and avoiding the creation of a divide between those confident and not confident using technology.

In other words, culture can have a real impact on whether an organisation responds to change, or is able to transform, as it influences behaviour and how things are done in an organisation.

What’s the implication for people professionals?

In this article, we’ve touched briefly on the potential impacts of the organisational ecosystem on future trends that influence the people profession and our workplaces more broadly. This demonstrates the importance of taking a holistic, critical approach in considering how organisational context impacts upon these trends. It’s key that when considering these trends in people strategy or planning, we reflect on the interplay between line management, leadership, culture and how these might influence potential organisational change needed to adapt successfully to these trends and other future disruptors.

This forward-thinking approach and awareness of trends will enable people professionals to support organisations adapt or plan ahead, taking a central and influential role in equipping businesses to thrive, not just survive, in the future.

We will be taking a deep dive into each part of the organisational ecosystem in turn in future articles – check back here to see our latest thinking.

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