The future of organisations by 2020

We had an interesting response to our survey asking ‘How will the future be different for organisations by 2020?’ in last week’s newsletter. Many thanks to those who took the time to respond. This Trend Alert builds on your various ideas.

What is changing?

The primary focus of most of the responses was on digital transformation. The transformation will come from the combined impact of sensors, embedded intelligence and the internet of things plus robotics and new forms of automation – especially as these move increasingly into services; not to mention social media and yet to be developed tools enabling new forms of collaboration and of intelligence arising from big data analytics. But a host of other technologies will also drive change in markets and processes – nanotechnologies, biological sciences, 3D printing/ bio-printing.

More specifically, some of the impacts of these changes include:

  • Making the workplace less and less place-specific, resulting gradually in less demand for commercial buildings, but increased demand for new organisational forms, new approaches to management and leadership, and new tools
  • Intensifying competition which will continue to put downward pressure on costs, requiring companies to do more with less, faster
  • Bringing robots into ever more corners of the economy, especially services starting with low level skill replacement – e.g. self-ordering/ paying via screen in shops or restaurants and automated distribution and warehousing using robots and drones, through to ever more sophisticated roles, and soon self-driving cars
  • Creating an open-sourced, networked economy by enhancing our capacity to collaborate within and between companies and countries blurring boundaries and even borders, with growing numbers of self-employed people creating a DIY economy (Do It Yourself) of sharing, creating and employment
  • Enabling the personalisation of and remote access to everything from MOOCS (Massively Open Online Courses) providing access to self-managed skill development to mobile devices for managing our personal and work lives
  • Driving the ‘optimisation of humans’ as wearable technologies enhance capabilities, initially externally e.g. Google Glass and the like.


We may be emerging from the recent economic and financial crisis see ‘Return of the Good Times’ (23rd October 2013) but that does not mean we are entering calmer waters. Turbulence ahead is the key message as a raft of new technologies changes the shape of the economy, the workforce, and organisations. Companies need to plan ahead as never before: to track the wider changes affecting their business and understand the new skills and job loss implications they could face, and so reduce the disruption ahead.

Collectively, the emerging technologies will put increasing pressures on organisations in every sector, requiring new ways of working, and new forms of leadership. They will also decimate swathes of current jobs – according to one estimate 45% of US jobs could go by 2020; but also create many others. The question will be which jobs and where, and how should organisations respond now. HR managers will need to learn better medium-term forecasting skills and prepare early plans for upskilling, downskilling, soft landings, new talent identification and retention over extended time horizons.

Innovation will go up several gears to become hyper-innovation. The cumulative effects of new technologies, cost reduction pressures, and new forms of competition from ever wider sources will intensify the need to innovate. Hyper-innovation in products but also management processes, customer segmentation and engagement, or sales will all require forward-looking strategies, collaboration on many fronts, greater willingness to experiment, learn fast and try again. Be one of the innovators – or die.

New business models will continue to challenge the cost base and dominance of leading providers, the structures of organisations and the employment patterns of many sectors.

New pressures need a new purpose. An open-sourced world will put pressure on organisations to find new approaches to engage with prospective ‘employees’, to balance the need for low cost and maximum flexibility with the values and ethics needed to attract, develop, and retain the talent they need. The more collaborative responses seen during the recession of reduced hours and pay, rather than redundancies are an early indicator of ‘new purpose’, which leading organisations such as Virgin, GE and Wal-Mart are developing.

Collaboration will create new leaders and fewer hierarchies. As we move to an ever more technology enabled, remote-working, collaborative world, the need for leaders who understand the power of collaboration and openness will grow. They will also need to have enhanced communication and social skills to be able to operate effectively virtually as well as face to face. The levels of collaboration will challenge organisational structures, creating bottom-up, self-organising systems, which will reduce hierarchy and centralisation, and challenge existing routes of communication.

We will see the emergence of radically different types of organisations not just in business but also in politics and protest. They will be able to outmanoeuvre existing organisations but could also create deadlock and chaos. We discussed the impact of bottom up, new political movements in Politics in Crisis? earlier in 2013, and the growing power of new forms of protest in The harsh realities of hacktivism in 2011.

The DIY economy may increase income opportunities but also income inequalities. Individuals will increasingly by choice and necessity become part of the DIY, anywhere, anytime economy. Those able to do so will integrate a variety of roles, income streams and options in the sharing economy or the creator producer economy or the contract economy. They will use the growing access to educational content via MOOCS to develop skills, and access to social media and other tools to develop income. However, many will not be able to self-manage and will need new forms of support, contribution and engagement if we are not to face ever widening inequalities.

The dual challenge of job losses and skills shortages will grow. Organisations say one of their major challenges is skills shortages. At the same time, many sectors are facing jobs losses on unprecedented scales – as lower skilled jobs fall to new forms of automation.

Be prepared. Planning for change now is both ethical and critical to avoid business disruption as these changes gather pace. This includes early forecasting of how these combined effects will change the future of your organisation, which jobs are likely to go when, but what new ones may emerge. Suggest which jobs will disappear and which will emerge, and we will share the results in a further trend alert.

Contact us today to get a customised workshop, detailed briefing or forecast on how your own workforce may look in 2020.


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