I am back from a very interesting and thoroughly engaging conference. The Future of Work or FOW London last week had a great combination of senior business leaders and high end thinkers. There was a very wide range of topics from working in the gig economy, impacts of “robotisation” and creative collaboration, to job share at senior level such as Group HR.
There was clearly a common theme, in that VUCA is here to stay, and the working environment is changing exponentially. The Darwin theory keeps on trundling. We have to be agile and adaptable as employees, but also as coaches. Opening speaker Sir Charlie Mayfield, CEO of the John Lewis Partnership was talking about the need for having, those difficult but authentic conversations with employees. The Waitrose supermarket chain has seen an increase from 12 to 30% in its use of self-checkouts. This of course is going to lead to the inevitable job displacement as the tech. revolution marches on. I blogged about this recently with my lean consulting “hat”, on the German retail chain OTTO who are using sophisticated retail algorithms ( originally developed by CERN) and robotics to predict sales, and pick warehouse products. They were able to fill shelves with 90% sales prediction accuracy. It is not just manual labour that is being displaced, but it is hitting the professional service sector. At the same conference we heard about the reduction in demand for junior lawyers as AI and software was getting sophisticated enough to do library searches, and pull together complex contracts. Senior lawyers would be required to review and approve. This of course will reduce job demand in the early years, and then that of course raises questions of potential future skills and experience shortages. In Martin Ford’s 2015 book, “The rise of the Robots” , he talks about the technology threat and the potential trigger for mass unemployment. The advances are great, but create huge cultural and physical dilemmas. As part of the recent UK Brexit debate, voters and workers were asked whether they immigration as a threat. The answer was clear, they saw “Automation” as a bigger threat.
As coaches we have a huge opportunity to help this process by giving support / guidance in times of uncertainty, but most importantly facilitating change in a positive way with authenticity. We can guide both employees and leaders, and encourage the leaders to have the “Difficult Conversations” , and the employees not to be shy and come forward with their concerns. We also need to look at new and innovative approaches, such as Systemic Team Coaching .