Guest blog: Are boards ready for the future of work?

4 Apr 2019
Rob Campbell is the chair of SKYCITY, Summerset Holdings, thl, and WEL Networks.

Rob Campbell is the chair of SKYCITY, Summerset Holdings, thl, and WEL Networks.

Where boards need to start on the future of work, is by looking at themselves.

Thank you to SBC for hosting the Future of Work breakfast event for CEOs and Directors on 1 April, and I was pleased to see some of my board colleagues in the room. It’s encouraging that company boards are starting to discuss the future of work.

The employment issues that usually make it to the board table are around management pay and incentive arrangements, fairly broad brush “human resource” policies for the rest of the staff, restructuring costs, and possible union activity.

More recently in Aotearoa, we have also seen skill shortages crop up, accompanied by suggestions for more immigration, better delivery of “job ready” workers from the education system, and where there is a brave CEO and/or HR executive, a proposal for investment in training.

By and large our boards are not steeped in people skills or concerns. And we are often more inclined to take a risk-based approach, and look backwards at performance and compliance rather than forwards at strategy and implications for finding, motivating and rewarding staff. This is reinforced by the static outlooks of major employment and remuneration advisors and their reports.

Even so, most directors today will be aware that technology advances, shifting demographics and social attitudes are radically changing the workplace. Do we know enough about both the risks and opportunities these changes represent? As for what to do about them…

One suggestion I have is that we look at ourselves. We need to ask ourselves whether we and our fellow directors are really the right people to deal with this. Can we acquire the new skills and mindset of lifetime learning required? If not, we must be prepared to move and allow others who are the right people for the new market to take up the reins.

We should also look at our processes. We are used to signing off on projects to reorganise the jobs of others, but the board processes (even if delivered in digital form) are pretty much unchanged. Most of the reporting, compliance and monitoring function could readily be generated directly from a modern data management system armed with some fairly simple algorithms.

There could be real savings in management time, and more accuracy and unmediated connection to the business. We could all develop much more efficient meeting and decision structures using modern technology. Nothing like starting the future of work at the top.

A wide-awake board like this could then turn its attention to the people we are already relying on and will rely on in the future. They are, to put it kindly, “way younger” than us and they have different cultures, education and expectations. These are often not easy to understand from the board table where we resort to tales about the baffling skills and attitudes of our children and mokopuna.

We simply have to find a path through this, to the opportunities presented by new ways of working. We must try younger directors, young advisory groups, reverse mentoring. And we must press our leaders to look again at our job structures, our reward systems and our workplace cultures to make them new generation ready - not hope in vain that they will fit the old mould. They won’t.

Only by doing these things can we really contribute to a positive future of work where we can all thrive.

SBC is looking at how businesses can prepare for the Future of Work and are looking for businesses to collaborate with. I encourage you to get in touch with them if you want to be involved.