It may sound counter-intuitive but one of the best ways to prepare for the uncertainty created by digital disruption is to employ more older workers.
While younger digital natives are often considered an organisation’s best response to the rapid pace of change, a workforce with older, experienced employees can be more prepared to face change and deliver on agreed outcomes.
Last year, Ford CEO Mark Fields spoke about how profoundly technology has overthrown assumptions about business and is redefining business models and sectors in a dramatic way. In his own sector, he admitted that the companies now considered to be the main rivals to Ford are the likes of Apple and Google, as opposed to General Motors or Chrysler.
Some companies are tackling this disruption head on. Ford, for example, has been ‘disrupting itself’, expanding beyond car-making to position itself as a mobility company selling a ‘transportation service’. This will allow the business to develop new technologies such as driverless cars and related products.
Other companies are still trying to embrace change. Part of that challenge is how to anticipate, recognise and prepare for digital disruption.
Organisations can make sure they are prepared by diversifying their workforces and senior teams and introducing people with a longer career history – even though this goes against the received wisdom. When people talk about the skills an organisation needs to respond to digital disruption there’s usually an assumption that it is younger digital natives who are required. The wisdom is that their familiarity with new technologies makes them best suited to embrace change and adapt to new business models.
However diversity of experience and background is what’s really critical. Yes, digital natives can grasp and make sense of the changes around them, but older professionals have the experience – and the confidence that comes with it – that allows decisions to be made and delivered on agreed outcomes.
It’s the mixture of both, a diverse workforce of younger digital natives as well as experienced professionals in their 40s, 50s and 60s from various industries, that will give you the best chance at successful adaptation. Young people, although familiar with the technology, don’t always understand the older systems that need to be changed. They are also new to work and don’t necessarily have all the soft skills required to bring key stakeholders along for the journey.
Upskilling from experience
It’s also possible for older professionals to upskill and become digitally savvy and capable of responding to, or creating, disruption.
(Read our guide to developing older workers.)
Apart from diversity of age and background, organisations need staff who can innovate and create new improved experiences for their customers. Agile working methods can also help foster and accelerate innovation, such as groups of employees from all disciplines coming together in self-managing, autonomous units, with end-to-end responsibility for a specific customer-focused project – for example, think of ‘The ING way of working’.
Part of this involves looking for new opportunities and being able to adapt to changing circumstances. Another part consists of ensuring you have people with analytical, digital and problem-solving skills on your team, who can translate data into usable and valuable insights. In many cases these are the skills that older workers already possess, which they can also teach to others.
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