Workplace, interrupted

Employers looking unprepared for disruptive technologies: Survey

We’ve already seen how rapidly advancing technology is disrupting the workplace of the 21st century. But more dramatic change is coming — and the pace of change is accelerating. 

Yet only one in 10 organizations, or 13 per cent, are highly prepared for this transformation, according to a Deloitte Canada survey of 700 business leaders. 

“That leaves 87 per cent that aren’t fully prepared,” said Terry Stuart, chief innovation officer at Deloitte Canada in Toronto. “We’re concerned that the majority of Canadian companies are really not prepared for the disruption that’s coming, and it’s coming fast.”

Twenty-three per cent of organizations are “single-minded,” meaning they are taking action in one area but are not prepared overall; 29 per cent are tentative and struggling in their efforts; and 35 per cent are “wholly unprepared” and struggling, found the study. 

The disruptive technologies on the horizon — including artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, advanced manufacturing, 
networks and collaborative connected platforms — are going to fundamentally change entire industries and businesses, said Stuart. 

So companies need to be thinking about how they can become much more aware of the technologies that are coming, he said. 
“How do they actually build a culture inside their organizations that allows them to adapt and adjust and reward the right kinds of behaviours?” said Stuart. 

“How do they have agile processes and organizational constructs so that, as the change comes, they can move quicker and be much faster to adopt and adjust their game plans? And then,  fundamentally, how do they invest and deploy the resourcing?”

Long-term perspective
Some companies are already engaging in long-term planning for disruptive technologies, said Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center in Cambridge, Mass. For instance, MIT is integrating robots into some of its programs, and surgeons are using robotic technology to assist with surgery.  

But many organizations aren’t doing this — and it’s not unusual for companies to become mired in short-term thinking that revolves around the next quarter or the next year. But that sort of thinking misses the big picture, said Stuart. 

“Companies are now waking up at the board level and at the management level and saying, ‘We can’t just look at the tree that’s in front of us — we have to look at the whole forest and, in fact, beyond the forest, to determine what is going to make us viable for the future,’” he said. 

“There are entire companies and industries getting adjusted and wiped out by (these) types of capabilities.”

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a large multinational or a small mom and pop shop — every business needs to prepare for disruptive change, said Stuart. 

“All industries, all sizes of companies (in the survey) were in a similar position in terms of their readiness and preparedness, and the risk in terms of their organization.” 

Broader awareness
To truly prepare for these changes, organizations need to become familiar with new and emerging technologies and business models, he said. 

“It really starts with the awareness. If the companies don’t understand the technologies and the new business models that are coming, and the pace that they’re coming at, (that’s a problem).” 

Many employers have accepted that changes are coming, but haven’t taken action, said Stuart. 

“There’s kind of a bit of cognitive dissonance. They realize it, but they haven’t yet done anything about it,” he said. “Some of it is they’re realizing and starting to work (on it), but they haven’t yet been able to build it into their core systems and organizational constructs. So there is a process.”  

Gregersen has a favourite quote from philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli that says most of us do not believe in anything new until we have actually experienced it. 

“To me, this is the fundamental challenge of something like these future exponential changes, robotic interactions in the workplace… the challenge for leaders is how do they figure out what they don’t know they don’t know, before it’s too late?” he said. 

“The real challenge for leaders in organizations or companies that aren’t getting ready for that future is getting the leaders more comfortable with exploring what they don’t know they don’t know.” 

Leaders will also have to prepare themselves for the impact these changes will have on jobs, said Stuart. 

“There’s going to be some very interesting implications and that’s actually going to create a whole new series of jobs. On one hand, it puts jobs at risk; on the other hand, it’s going to create a whole series of jobs around data science, algorithm assessments, operational optimization using that data,” he said. 

And another key piece? Leaders will have to be willing to find the areas where they are wrong or predicted incorrectly, said Gregersen. 

“The future is full of seriously unexpected surprises,” he said. 

“In the past, that was just pure science fiction. And we now live in an age where so much of science fiction in the past is becoming reality in the present.”

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