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Jasmine Gartner

Jasmine Gartner Consulting

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Digital transformation: the future of work in the emerging digital ecosystem

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Jasmine Gartner was at the HR Directors Business Summit, reporting for HRZone. In this article she reflects on what Siemens' HR Director, Toby Peyton-Jones, had to say about surviving and thriving in the emerging digital ecosystem that is coming to define the business world.

“Change is not neat – it’s complex”

The world is changing fast, says Siemens’ HR Director Toby Peyton-Jones. And, he continues, only the companies that adapt will survive.

Peyton-Jones, who originally trained as a zoologist, describes surviving in the world of work almost as a conscious attempt to engineer natural selection.

However, companies looking to adapt to the future workplace are caught up in a paradox: they must start with the end in mind, even though they cannot possibly know what that end will look like.

However, it is still a necessary discussion. “If we don’t have those conversations today,” Peyton-Jones explains, “we might be gone tomorrow.”

With this in mind, he goes on to explain his strategy for squaring the horns of the dilemma.

Trends and disruptors

Essentially, his strategy is to identify dependable trends and disruptors and through analysis, to understand which will drive success.

Sometimes trends and disruptors are the same thing.

Another disruptor is a paradigmatic change in how we think: the move from the physical world to the virtual world.

For example, climate change, digitalisation and demographics (the aging workforce) are all dependable trends, and therefore provide opportunities to get a foothold.

For Siemens, at this point, digitalisation is that opportunity.

One disruptor that Siemens has been thinking about for several years now is the possibility (probability?) of EU fragmentation, which would potentially bring with it reverse migration and “deglobalisation” which can be seen as a form of nationalism.

This would have a huge impact on who makes up the workforce.

Another disruptor is a paradigmatic change in how we think: the move from the physical world to the virtual world.

The idea of an “asset” is very different in each of these worlds. In the physical world, the asset for a company like Siemens is the energy itself that might, for example, power homes.

People need to think about learning like children – make it less about rote, and more about exploration.

However, the asset in the virtual world is data. And that data is ultimately much more valuable than the physical asset it describes.

The last disruptor that Peyton-Jones talked about was the way in which it is difficult for people to keep up with the rate at which digitalisation is changing our world. Computers, he explained, learn like children, not like adults.

Therefore, in order to adapt, people have to come up with ways to innovate that will allow us to find the opportunities that this disruptor provides.

Getting a foothold in an unknowable future

Learning itself needs a paradigm shift, and people too need to think about learning like children – make it less about rote, and more about exploration.

“Weird is wonderful,” he says; “different is good.” But they’re not values we necessarily promote at work, even though it’s imperative that we do so.

If companies don’t adapt to this new world, they run the risk of sleep-walking to their own extinction.

Coming back to his zoologist roots, Peyton-Jones said that a homogenous gene pool is a ticking time bomb for extinction, and the only way to counter it is through diversity of thought.

He sums up by saying that leadership itself needs to change from the old strict command-and-control hierarchies to a more diffuse and organic structure that is built upon co-creation and the experimental mind-set.

If companies don’t adapt to this new world, they run the risk of sleep-walking to their own extinction.

Luckily, companies have at least one dependable killer app at their disposal to help them through this: HR can be the function to deliver this message.

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Jasmine Gartner

Training consultant

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