Of Obama’s four independent megatrends from last year, three are also critical in every Australian workplace: individual empowerment, the diffusion of economic power, and major demographic shifts.
The fourth – emerging critical shortages in energy, water and food – isn’t affecting Australia directly compared with other countries, but there are considerable threats to our near neighbours and major Asian trading partners, China and India.
Individual empowerment has affected us all in the past 10 years. Individuals in countries such as China have moved into that country’s middle classes, and that has caused a massive shift in economic decision-making power.
The powerless CEO
In Australia, consumers shop online, and can immediately see what their employers and favourite leaders are up to by opening their Facebook and Twitter accounts. A keynote speaker at this year’s AHRI National Convention, Vineet Nayar has written about how powerless CEOs have become.
He notes that the corner office has become more of a desert than a self-satisfied refuge, where their livelihood and future will shrivel unless they migrate out regularly to the coalface and see where the power is – amongst those employees serving the customer on a daily basis.
Obama looks at the diffusion of world power and sees Asia surpassing Europe and North America. By 2030, China’s GDP will be one-and-half times the size of Japan’s, and India’s will become 16 times larger than Pakistan.
As workers and consumers, we look at our big retail giants Coles and Woolworths, which are constantly restructuring and reshaping their franchises to cope with cherry-pickers like ALDI and the whole online consumer network. And from those visible scenarios we make our own shopping choices.
Diffusion of power has also affected professions like the police, where the keys to success are now less about barking out intimidating orders, and more about understanding, managing and winning the respect of people and attitudes across a widely diverse cross-cultural community.
We also share Obama’s concern for economic and demographic trends. By 2030, nearly half the adult population will be over 50. Gen X will be approaching retirement, and Gen Y will have become the new baby boomers, but will probably be intimidated by the 30-year-old Generation Z, who are likely to have taken ‘me generation’ thinking about their life and work to a whole new level of self-interested introspection.
Geopolitical game changers are focused on whether the world economy will become more volatile, or whether we will see the emergence of a few resilient multiple-growth centres. Will we see the stability of robust governance systems threatened in the face of changes that don’t respect national borders, leaders or laws?
Will there be a shift of power from traditional political and economic entities towards informal shadow organisations that are genuinely global in nature, but almost invisible as to their location and identity? A game changer common to the world and the workplace is whether the technological breakthroughs of the past decade will enable ways around urbanisation and natural resource shortages, that can constrain countries and corporations.
In terms of scenarios, the global outlook is a bit like what it could become for our employers, too. Will our big sovereign and corporate engines stall, like the US and Europe on the one hand, and BHP Billiton and the big banks on the other?
Will social unrest spread from Northern Africa and emerging Asia and influence people-safety paradigms and risk management in every neighbouring nation and workplace? Are we going to see massive shifts in wealth concentration all over the spectrum – uneducated middle classes becoming the new poor?
Some of this is too big for us to contemplate but we do need to be aware that it is part of global macro thinking as our world changes significantly and rapidly.