The Future of Work: A View From the Top

By Stan Aronow | March 05, 2021 | 0 Comments

Supply ChainBeyond Supply Chain

I was excited to rejoin our fantastic community of COOs and global chief supply chain officers a few weeks ago to discuss the future of work. As part of a two-hour roundtable discussion, we explored the following topics with two dozen of these leaders:

  • Where and how will we work once the pandemic subsides? What are the opportunities and risks of hybrid office/home working in terms of organizational design, talent, innovation and governance?
  • How have the mix and profiles of future-fit digital talent evolved in line with pandemic-driven business and supply chain transformations?
  • What leadership and management approaches are supply chains undertaking to foster greater workforce diversity, equity and inclusion?

I opened the session with a short poll to gauge when and how these large companies plan to shift their ways of working once the pandemic is sufficiently contained.

The response was that a quarter of companies plan to reopen offices this summer and another half are targeting autumn/winter 2021. Roughly two-thirds plan some form of hybrid office-remote working arrangement, most often based on employee role, and another quarter are still unsure of their approach. What was clear is that no one plans to mandate all employees return to working full-time in a physical office.

What Did We Learn?

Here are some key takeaways from the group sharing and discussion at this roundtable event:

On future of work strategy…
  • Many companies rethought their annual “ranking and rating” performance systems in the last cycle. Some scrapped them entirely, others opted for more generous bell curves. Merit and bonus compensation were still differentiated across the workforce, independent of the evaluation approach.
  • One company experimented by rotating leadership roles from headquarters to remote sites, collocated with frontline workers. The approach was successful, and the company learned that people can both work and manage their longer-term careers, remotely.
  • A new leader at an industrial company has found success running the organization despite not meeting anyone in person yet. Prior to the pandemic, all business was conducted in person and no one used video during meetings involving more than one site.
  • A retail company, planning for a hybrid office-remote approach, has built more collaboration and meeting spaces within its offices and will discourage people from joining meetings from their office desks, as they did pre-pandemic.
  • Another company is using creative calendar management to reserve common times for faster group decision making and undisturbed, individual work time.
On “future-fit” talent…
  • Prior to the pandemic, the pace of digital supply chain transformation was moving somewhat faster than the ability of organizations to absorb it. In 2020, most companies accelerated their digital capability roadmaps out of necessity. Crisis management and common purpose rallied people to support these changes. The challenge will be how to truly absorb them once the adrenaline rush of the crisis fully wanes.
  • Several leaders noted that mid-career employees are a key focus group when it comes to digital skills training and solution adoption. One sees the need to proactively seek out “blockers” and to encourage engagement through various incentives and disincentives.
  • An apparel supply chain leader noted that softer skills, such as high change agility, communication/collaboration and project management rose in importance during the pandemic.
  • One COO uses outside partners, such as consultancies and universities, to transition the company’s workforce from slower, linear development to faster, more iterative design thinking.
  • In 2020, a life sciences company saw digital customer needs accelerate at a pace of two to three typical years, requiring new ways of working for its supply chain employees and closer collaboration with internal commercial partners.
On Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)…
  • Several apparel companies’ COOs and global CSCOs now have DEI as an ongoing topic with their executive committees. Some have brought in external experts to learn best practices for governance and fostering inclusive cultures.
  • Most companies greatly expanded their supplier diversity programs in terms of spending and number of diverse suppliers included in their sourcing strategies.
  • There is not a common definition of diversity across geographies, industries or companies. The most common definitions per a recent Gartner survey are ethnicity/race and gender, but others include age, military service, sexual orientation, nationality, and physical and cognitive abilities.
  • An industrial company has over-indexed the percentage of co-op program participants from underrepresented minority groups. It has seen a boost in both employee engagement and the diversity of its broader employee pipeline.
  • A life sciences company has four DEI pillars that ladder up to its corporate strategy: recruitment, talent development, inclusion and supplier diversity. All have roadmaps to ensure progress toward quantified goals.
  • An industrial and high-tech company each have employee bonus compensation tied to progress against DEI goals.

We look forward to the next gathering of this esteemed group, in mid-April. Marc Engel, CSCO for Unilever, will share the company’s “Race to Zero” agenda, providing actionable insights and solutions to help businesses on the path to greater sustainability.

Stan Aronow
VP Distinguished Advisor
Gartner Supply Chain

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