The end of work is closer than we think

Subsequent industrial revolutions have resulted in radical social and economic changes. Today the term “disruption” is ubiquitous, and the consequences of the changes continue under the “digital revolution” banner. We are now on the cusp of another workplace revolution – one that will inevitably lead to seismic changes in humanity’s social compacts and economic flows. These changes are likely to be profound, impacting how leaders lead and we work.

Each successive industrial revolution has forced changes to the way we lead, and how people work. Rapid shifts in technology suddenly complicate a once binary and linear world. Leaders who adapt and apply new ideas to old problems thrive, while those who are complacent face decline.

In 2016, the situation in which Australians are living bears the hallmarks of three earlier phases of the industrial revolution: rapid technological change, dramatic shifts in wealth, and disruptions to the way we work and lead. This has led to wealth being concentrated dramatically into the hands a tiny number of dominant global businesses and individuals.

The competitive gaps that now exist between these globalised automated services and “normal” businesses are starting to lead to high impact social problems in “developed” countries across the globe. Anti-globalisation and anti-business political movements and politicians such as Donald Trump in the US, Brexit and UKIP in the UK, and One Nation in Australia are at least partly fuelled by anger caused by widespread economic pain being generated by the current phase of industrial change.

Reframing how we work and lead

In a recent survey conducted by Grant Thornton with over 100 Australian CEOs and leaders with growth of more than 5% per annum, we noticed that their businesses had similar attributes and outlook on how they lead. These attributes included:

  • Setting ambitious growth targets
  • Establishing and maintaining a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Establishing dynamic, flexible and agile business models & work practices
  • Focusing on exports and global markets

Leaders of fast growing companies appear to focus on the external or market facing perspectives. This invariably presents some differences on how leaders lead within this changing economy.

Fig 1.0 – What leaders of fast-growing companies are focused on?
Fast Growth


 The leader of the future

Research conducted by Grant Thornton Australia into high growth companies highlights similar trends emerging. Leaders and CEO’s of fast growing businesses appear to be focused on.

  • Working with their customers to actively invest and manage their product development strategy, pipeline and process
  • They are investing in new technology in a timely way and staying abreast of technology as a competitive edge.
  • They are thinking differently about new markets. In an increasingly digital world, companies can make a leap from local to global much earlier and easier
  • They are leveraging the benefits of acquisitions such as new resources, business synergies, risk diversification, economies of scale and talent acquisition.

Along with all this comes a new mandate for leaders.

  • Decision-making will become more transparent, as affected communities expect to understand how decisions are arrived at.
  • A more consultative mindset will become the new normal.
  • Products and services will increasingly be developed in consultation with customers or citizens in the case of Governments.
  • Leaders will more rapidly rise up from communities in response to crises.
  • Leaders with global appeal will find their influence heightened and the speed of their impact accelerated.

In today’s fast-changing, knowledge-based economy, a static, top-down concept of management will become redundant; it wastes the talent, creativity, and energy of most people organisations. Arguably, the skills and competencies required to lead in this future world will be significantly different to the ones we currently lead with .

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