The more digital we become, the more human we have to be
bpost is a company undergoing a digital transformation. The letter makes way for online services. Artificial intelligence, robots and analytics seem to be fundamentally changing one of the oldest and most recognizable services in the world. Is there still a future for people at bpost?
For 40 years, management gurus have been predicting the end of the organization and the career as we know it. But nobody can predict the future. And researchers Osborne and Frey, who made world headlines in 2013 with their research stating that 47 percent of all jobs were threatened, now indicate that they were misunderstood. More recent research by Frey confirms that technology also creates new and different jobs.
This is the essence: what future jobs will look like is difficult to predict, but services will always be a people business. After all, jobs change as new technology presents itself. That change is continuous. We may be talking about AI, robots and analytics with awe today, but 30 years from now we might very well be looking back on it with a smile.
Because whoever believes that we are now experiencing a profound revolution, should imagine how people felt when they sent letters with the first ships to the new world in America or Australia. How world leaders gave a message to humanity on a silicon disc when landing on the moon. How a postal war between West and East Berlin made sending letters impossible during the Cold War.
We do not live in a unique time of major transformation. That would imply that after this time of major change there will once again be a moment of calm, of business as usual. That will not happen. Because each of us can only participate in a limited part of history, it always seems like we are living in the most unique of times. Because technological changes seem to be succeeding each other faster today, the biggest challenge is to ensure that people keep on learning.
How do you organize work so people can keep on learning? The recipe is the same recipe that you use to organize motivational work, namely the three C’s: Career, Connection and Cause.
Career means that you design careers in which people have a long-term perspective, in which they feel they are making progress and they are getting somewhere. People need psychological safety before they take risks to experiment and learn. They must be given the opportunity to build an identity; if you do not know who you can be in the future, you will not be willing to invest in learning.
Connection means that learning is not an individual process, but is embedded in the environment and driven by others. Man is a social animal. Therefore, as an organization, you have to invest in a rich feedback environment, where not only managers give feedback. People need to be encouraged to reach beyond the limits of their position, their team and their company to develop social networks. Leaders challenge people by making a real connection, by listening, asking questions and coaching. Learning is only possible in a team where people feel psychologically safe to experiment with new ways of working, where they can discuss matters and where they can occasionally fail.
Cause means that people know why they learn, how they can transcend themselves. How does their job make a difference for others? That does not have to be a higher purpose, set by the organization.
People can find meaning in their work in all sorts of ways. But without meaning and the chance to determine for themselves how they contribute to this world, there is little motivation to keep on learning.
Whoever believes that we are now experiencing a revolution, should imagine how people felt when they sent letters with the first ships to the new world in America.
There is no simple formula for lifelong learning. It requires an organization that focuses on people with their own identity, wishes and dreams. That means that the more digital the company becomes, the more human we have to be.
Since November 2019, Frederik Anseel has been Professor of Management & Associate Dean Research at the University of New South Wales Sidney (Australia).