Is your people strategy today fit for tomorrow’s workforce? - Part 1

By Cranfield Executive Development
A powerful tide of workplace change is shaping the demands, needs and expectations of the modern workforce. A cross-discipline panel of experts from Cranfield School of Management asks: is your people strategy up to the challenge?


The past year has seen dramatic advances in new, digitally-enhanced ways of working. Indeed, the world of work was already undergoing great change in this area pre- pandemic—and these trends are only accelerating.

Multiple currents—from societal trends, to changing employee expectations, and moves to less formal organisational structures—all contribute to a changing tide in today’s workplace, that is shaping the way we will all work in the next ten to twenty years.

In a live online panel hosted by IEDP, three leading experts from Cranfield School of Management, Professor Emma Parry, Associate Professor Ruth Massie and Professor Michael Dickmann, shared their insights into the evolving workplace—from AI technologies, to new career trajectories, flexible working, new hard and soft skillsets, sustainability, cyber challenges, global diversity and more—and reflected on the people management strategies needed by organisations of the future.

In this first part, we take a look at the changing societal context and some considerations when going global.

A changing societal context

Professor Emma Parry identifies three primary sets of ongoing trends behind the changes afoot in the workplace today, alongside the recent disruption of COVID-19:

  1. Demographic trends—“The ageing workforce, increased diversity in the workplace, migration, health trends.”
  2. Environmental trends—“Climate change and the push towards net-zero carbon.”
  3. Technological advances—“Emerging technologies such as AI.”

Parry offers a prime example of how these contextual trends are affecting our new world of work, in the way that technology is driving the need for new skills—and not only digital skills. “We are seeing increased automation and augmentation of people. Certain skills are becoming obsolete, and individuals are needing to upskill throughout their careers. We also see an impact on the types of skills that organisations are looking for—with much more emphasis on soft skills.”

At an individual level too attitudes and expectations are having an impact on the workplace. “Younger people coming into the workforce want to make a difference to the world. For them it's not just about salary and career progression. There is also an expectation to do meaningful work,” observes Parry. Along with this comes another important expectation: due to the rise of social media and changes in parenting style, “individuals expect to have a voice in the workplace.”

Broader societal trends also impact the way organisations' structures work. The most obvious is flexible working—allowing people to work remotely, at least part of the time. Flexible contracting, using apps for contracting through the gig economy, and other new ways of working with organisations are also emerging.

“All of these things have an impact for the way that we manage people in organisations,” surmises Parry. “We're seeing a real move away from thinking about recruiting fixed skillsets, to thinking about recruiting people that have learning potential, with perhaps softer skills, with the capacity to change their skillsets throughout their careers.”

For Parry, crucial to any people strategy fit for tomorrow’s workforce, is a new emphasis on job and organisation design—to allow the meaningful work that people seek, to allow for effective flexible and hybrid working, and to engage with employees and ensure they have a voice in decision making. Furthermore, as Parry reminds us, “One of the most important things is to think about how we can promote inclusion and belonging in organisations,”—especially in relation to hybrid ways of working. “How can we design an organisation that's inclusive, moving forward?”

There is no set rule for the future workforce. Parry is insistent that “no one size fits all.” Some companies will follow the Morgan Stanley example and expect everyone back in the office when the COVID crisis subsides, many others will see the advantage of moving to hybrid approaches.

Going global

For many global organisations leading remote workforces is not new, but the drivers of global work are certainly changing. Michael Dickmann explains what the key drivers are here for managers: “How can the organisation enhance knowledge transfer and innovation within its global operations? How can it establish control and coordination to create an integrated culture? And how can it fill local capability gaps rapidly—something that has traditionally led to a lot of global mobility?”

Dickmann reports that, “Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen talent led drivers becoming more and more important—how to strengthen the global leadership pipeline, how to support global business acumen through talent development.”

On top of this, organisations are increasingly responding to personal requests based on accepting ‘virtual global mobility’. For example, “During the pandemic, people have been asking to work from the country they happen to be in, or once they can travel again, to travel and stay on in that country after their vacation—to work remotely for several weeks abroad as if I'm working from home.”

In a survey, sponsored by EY and published by The RES Forum, Dickmann found that people leading global mobility functions in large organisations, “believe that assigned expatriation will decline moderately in the future. Whereas virtual global mobility, boosted during the pandemic, will continue to grow dramatically—with many more people working virtually across borders.” Survey respondents believed business travel will decline substantially, with some companies aiming to bring it down to zero.

Dickmann doubts the zero aspiration but suggests “there will be substantial travel decline, especially those travelling on business for a day or two.”
As a result of these ongoing developments, organisations will need to support the development of new global leadership skills and to rethink their strategies to achieve their goals with different global mobility patterns. There will need to be a smarter approach to innovation and knowledge transfer—some knowledge can be transferred well virtually, but knowledge around experience is much harder to transfer.

Organisations will also need to understand how to move work to people, not just move people to work. Communication will be more critical than ever, says Dickmann, “to create a common culture and a common understanding.” There will also, he hopes “be a real chance for organisations to become more globally inclusive and responsible, as there is a transfer of some power and responsibility from the head office to the local operating units, and with more staff working from home requiring a more sophisticated engagement approach.”


In Part 2 of this article, we will consider the workplace consequences of the cyber age and enduring leadership qualities in the future workplace.


Did you miss the live webinar? To watch the recording please use the link below and benefit from the full, in-depth discussions between Emma, Ruth and Michael.




About the Authors

Professor Emma Parry is Professor of Human Resource Management and Head of Changing World of Work Group at Cranfield School of Management. She is a recognised expert in Human Resource Management (HRM) and plays a leading role in a number of global research projects in this area. These include Cranet, a worldwide network of over 40 business schools that conducts comparative HRM research, and 5C, a global research project involving around 30 academic institutions, examining cultural and age differences in attitudes towards careers; and acting as Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Human Resource Management (IJHRM).

Dr Ruth Massie is a Senior Lecturer in Cyber Resilience Leadership at Cranfield School of Management. Ruth’s research area is organisational resilience with a primary research focuses on understanding how Board level Directors engage with information, contextualise it, and incorporate it into their decision making. This is particularly in the context of cyber and how Board’s view the complexity, and risk, in relation to their organisations. Her secondary research focus is on tertiary education as a profession. Ruth’s teaching focuses on both Cyber Leadership and Business Continuity.

Professor Michael Dickmann has several years of work experience with major consultancies and companies. He has a first class honours degree in Economics from London University and an MSc in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from LSE. Michael has conducted a variety of consulting and research assignments with cutting edge multinational organisations mostly from the financial, automotive, telecommunications, chemical, electrical engineering and electronics industries. He has also consulted humanitarian agencies, government and the United Nations.

Tags: article, changing world of work

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