The road ahead in 2022: Digital strategy and talent are key

16 December 2021 Consultancy.com.au 4 min. read

After the great reopening, a lack of vision will lead to a great talent exodus, writes Christian Lucarelli, Vice President Sales for Asia Pacific at Nintex.

As traditional end-of-year gatherings make a return, and the CEO or managing director is called on to say a few words, there are some words – more than others – that employees may be waiting to hear. They pertain to the immediate future and a vision for what the digital road ahead looks like.

Many of the companies I speak to haven’t formally or properly communicated their flexible working models for 2022 and beyond or plans to accelerate their digital transformation. And that’s a problem.

Christian Lucarelli, Vice President Sales Asia Pacific, Nintex

In my mind, employers are still asking employees to accept and shoulder too much uncertainty in the way they work. McKinsey & Company outlined in July that “those who are no longer working remotely must accept that they are returning to the office without clear, solid answers” to many questions about how things will function.

The consulting firm also advised employers to “be clear that fixing the next operating model will take years and is a separate effort from the near-term return to the office”.

So, the uncertainty could last several more years. Whether employees are willing to sit through an extended period of “test-and-learn” experimentation before a clear path or vision is an open question.

There’s a real risk of a significant talent exodus before companies can sort out and communicate a vision. Some observers see a potential expansion of ‘the great resignation’. Originally a labour-led backlash to poor pay and conditions in the US hospitality and retail sectors, there are fears more sectors will be drawn into it, as employees redefine their relationship with work and seek to influence or subvert the legacy dynamic between themselves and their employers.

Further reading: The Great Resignation: what is it and how can employers avoid it.

Sectors that make or work with digital technology will not be immune. They’ve had the resources – financial or otherwise – to make it this far into the pandemic and keep their teams largely intact.

But workers of all types are now treating the past two years as a reset. The great resignation will come for technology-oriented workers if organisational leaders are unable to successfully offer a cohesive vision for the digital road ahead.

On that point: I’m big on defining how organisations plan to win upfront. The organisations that succeed are going to spend time to identify the challenges and opportunities, and then create a vision for it. They’ll also have the technical answers for setting expectations around how that vision works and operates within their organisations.

A lot of organisations will need help to reach this point, to lay out a coherent vision and communicate it to their people. Consultancies and process strategists will be key collaboration partners and subject matter experts for many.

It’s time to set clear expectations of employees

Once organisations lay out a vision and provide people a baseline for how they’re going to work, they must also set expectations around the important – and often digital and automated – ways of working and collaborating.

For managers, that means defining tolerances for variation in the way a process is going to work, such that employees – particularly those working from remote locations – have appropriate psychological safety that things they do or actions they take are allowable and not going to cause resentment or other issues among staff.

For example, organisations may set expectations that if colleagues do not hear from a remote worker for 20 minutes or more, that this is acceptable, and that staff do not need to have their unified communications presence status constantly set ‘available’ unless formally attending a meeting.

Whether in an office or outside of it, people need to feel they can accomplish their goals and that it is culturally acceptable to block out time to do so. And so organisational leaders need to set and communicate expectations for how work gets done.

Doing so will reduce the risk of avoidable interpersonal conflict both within and between teams. It could also reduce turnover. People will resign if they feel they can no longer safely execute on tasks in the current operational structure.

Organisations will be in a much better position of retaining talent if they confront the challenge and set clear expectations now, even if these expectations need to be modified down the road.

The call-to-action is evident. Organisations that understand their business processes, involve people in the process, and hold everyone accountable for process improvements – including ways to go digital – will be positioned to compete and thrive in our increasingly automated world.