The ‘future fit’ workforce: the transformation to a sustainable human-focused business model
The world has had a reset and now it’s time for us humans to upgrade our operating systems. Our ways of thinking, feeling and working are outdated. Organisations now need to equip their people with the tools to ride out this turbulent time.
The term ‘future-fit’ seems to be popping up everywhere at the moment, mostly in the context of business transformation as we navigate the current crisis.
Just as the world and our workplaces are undergoing rapid and dramatic transformation, so too are our people.
In the general sense, being future-fit means having the capability and flexibility to adapt quickly to change. In recent times, new books and business benchmarking tools have given the term broader meaning, encompassing ethical, sustainability and regenerative ideals. These are organisations that seek to create value, and not just profit. The UK based Future-Fit Foundation states, “a future-fit company is one that in no way undermines the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on earth forever”.
Businesses need to change and evolve
Most of us would agree that businesses and organisations need to change and evolve if they are to survive and flourish through the challenging times ahead – but what about the people that work within them? Our businesses and organisations are really only the sum total of their people, and we know that people (ourselves included) aren’t perfect, and present problems sometimes.
Borrowing and building on the descriptions listed here, a future-fit human could be considered as one having the flexibility to quickly respond to change; the willingness to continually learn and grow; and the skills, knowledge and awareness to operate collaboratively, in a way that benefits the good of all (people, planet, all life). If 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we’re all connected and interdependent. What happens in one part of the world can affect all other parts, and actions that don’t serve the good of all are counter-productive, and actually work against us.
People need to change and evolve, too
Just as the world and our workplaces are undergoing rapid and dramatic transformation, so too are our people. We’re being forced to change and evolve at a rapid pace in order to keep up, and it can be extremely uncomfortable for those who resist, with many struggling to adapt.
We know that the future of work will involve ongoing digital transformation, job disruption and change. The skills that have brought us to this point are no longer enough in an environment that’s demanding a lot more from us physically, mentally and emotionally. Workplaces everywhere are seeing an increase in mental ill health. In many cases the workforce is shrinking, but the workload isn’t. Frontline workers are dealing with an increase in distressed and angry clients and customers, whilst often dealing with problems and challenges of their own. Stress is affecting wellbeing, and this is impacting performance and results.
The humans need an upgrade
Essentially, the world has had a reset, and we need to upgrade our human operating systems – i.e. transform our ways of thinking, feeling and working. We need a future-fit toolkit that will provide that upgrade.
Every result in life and in business is traceable back to what and how we think. The pattern is:
Thoughts > Feelings > Actions > Results
Thoughts create feelings, which drive actions, which get results. It’s a simple concept, but understanding it provides us with the keys to success. Of course, we also need to look at the systemic forces that influence how people think and feel, ensuring that, as far as is possible, we’re doing all we can to create a positive environment where people can flourish. Ultimately though, it’s not so much what’s happening around us that determines the results we get, as how we perceive, interpret and respond to what’s happening.
Introducing the Future-Fit Toolkit
The Future-Fit Toolkit focuses on development in three key areas, including thinking skills, wellbeing, and personal effectiveness. When people think well, feel well, and perform well, they get great results. The benefits are happy, healthy, successful workers who are also agile, resilient and highly effective at what they do. The image below illustrates this.
When we train and equip our people in these areas, we achieve personal transformation that creates lasting, sustainable change.
To be more specific, this is about thinking skills. Assisting our people to think well doesn’t just involve teaching them higher-order thinking skills (for example, decision making, analytical thinking, agile thinking, creative/innovative thinking, critical thinking, lateral thinking, problem-solving, reasoning, evaluation, and so on). Nor does it just involve supplying them with the relevant tools and templates to facilitate this thinking. It also means exploring aspects such as mindset, attitudes, outlook, values and beliefs.
It involves looking at faulty and unhelpful thinking such as excessive worry and fear; self-doubt and overthinking; perfectionism, criticism and comparisons; thinking errors, distortions and biases. It also means looking at identity, and perception of self and others. All of these things can get in the way of our best efforts, and impact results.
This is also about holistic wellbeing. Helping people to adopt and maintain habits and lifestyles that sustain physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing can be tricky. Stress can affect all of these aspects, and as the pace of change and workloads increase, burnout is sadly becoming commonplace. Helping people to manage their workloads, and encouraging them to balance their work output with energy renewal activities is crucial if they’re to achieve a healthy life/work balance.
Most of us are aware of the basic ‘dos and don’ts’ of physical wellbeing – we’ve had all the ‘eat your five-a-day’, ‘get eight hours of sleep’, ‘don’t smoke’ messages. We tend not to be as knowledgeable though, about our mental, emotional and spiritual health, and these aspects are often neglected as a result.
Think of a table with four legs – each leg representing one of the four aspects of wellbeing. If one leg is strong, and the other three are wobbly, there’s an imbalance. Apply a bit of pressure to that table, and it’s likely to collapse. If all four legs are strong, however, the table is balanced and can sustain a lot of pressure before buckling. It’s the same with people – not that we should be piling pressure on people, of course. It’s inevitable though, that the current situation will inevitably be providing added pressure, and we need to understand the risk in this to our people, and do what we can to strengthen their wellbeing and resilience.
Also, there’s often a gap between knowing and doing. Many struggle to find the time, inclination and energy to do what they know makes them feel great. We’re often guilty of following the path of least resistance – doing what’s easiest over what’s best, and seeking temporary pleasure over longer-term health and happiness. Helping people to connect their behaviours, choices and decisions to their longer-term goals and aspirations can go a long way towards them finding the motivation to do the right things.
In addition to technical, role-specific skills, there are certain key skills that, if not mastered to an appropriate degree, can cause considerable damage. Failing to adequately train people in these skills costs a great deal more than the price of training would. These are the skills of personal effectiveness – often considered to be ‘soft’ skills – a term that could be perceived to downplay their importance when it comes to getting results. These skills relate to people, communication, time and task management, teamwork and collaboration.
When the workforce has mastered these skills, we can almost guarantee that work will flow smoothly and be completed within appropriate time, quality and budget parameters. Equipping people with these skills, along with providing the tools that make performing them easier, leads to greater confidence, which improves morale and drives productivity.
Businesses and organisations hoping to survive these turbulent times with minimal casualties need to act now to equip their workers with these future-fit skills and tools, as well as ensuring their operating models create value for and benefit both people and planet.
Interested in this topic? Read Employee wellbeing: training teams to be resilient during difficult times.