Covid-19 has had a transformative effect on the world of work. Enterprises must now prepare to navigate a period of sustained unpredictability.
Over the past year, a new work ecosystem has emerged, placing greater demands on our ability to think creatively, act with agility and respond quickly to change and crisis. While this ecosystem has been evolving for some time, the full-spectrum disarray caused by the pandemic has accelerated the need for many organisations to develop resilience and a culture of excellence that will ensure their future relevance.
Take the media sector as an example. Well before the pandemic, the industry was hit by substantial shifts in the way we consume news, access video content and more, with legacy outlets forced to compete with more dynamic social media platforms. The need for agility was already apparent. Those that survived understood two things early on: preparation for sharp and unexpected deviations from the usual path is key to survival, and companies who want to retain a driven workforce must ensure the work is meaningful. Enterprises that embedded this understanding and created a culture of excellence are those that have been able to excel during the pandemic.
We have long operated in a world of rapid change defined as “VUCA” – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – but those times have passed. Three new characteristics and qualities have come to embody the modern era for business: shock, sensing and speed. As such, we have seen the evolution of what we at Project Management Institute (PMI) call gymnastic enterprises.
Crisis management had once been rooted in reactiveness – what an enterprise could do to limit the damage after a crisis hit. Gymnastic enterprises, however, do things differently. They know they cannot plan for every eventuality, and that waiting until the storm has passed before executing a clean-up operation is risky and costly. Rather, they are nimble from the outset and skilled in a range of approaches that can be deployed depending on the size and shape of the problem they are addressing.
Central to the success of gymnastic enterprises is their ability to empower changemakers to bring about this necessary evolution, as explored in our 2021 Pulse of the Profession® report. As such, employees are trained and upskilled to master different ways of working and evolve their persona to demonstrate their power skills – collaborative leadership, emotional intelligence, an innovative mindset and empathy for both employees and customers. Airbnb’s Employee Experience department has made strides in this area, offering employees input into the design of its offices, breaking them up into small teams that foreground commercial agility and flexibility, all in line with its core values of benevolence, transparency and optimism.
These qualities are essential to build a culture of excellence in the new work ecosystem, and it will take strategic transformation of many enterprises to embed these practices and mindsets. Enterprises that can execute such transformations are twice as likely to invest in developing internal talent and equip these individuals with the resources they need in a rapidly changing work environment.
Driving the emergence of The Project Economy
The future of work will increasingly centre on executing projects. Meanwhile, careers will revolve around a portfolio of projects rather than a bulleted list of static job responsibilities. The global economy needs 25 million new project professionals by 2030, according to PMI’s Talent Gap report.
After months of upgrading and modernising our foundations – including our Organizational Transformation Series, new agile certifications with Disciplined Agile, PMI Citizen Developer and Wicked Problem Solving – PMI is well positioned to serve changemakers as the global “go-to” place for all things project related. If enterprises are to undergo the transformation necessary to ensure they turn crises into opportunities, they must:
- Understand that strategic transformation is not about small changes, but a quantum leap in operational and/or cultural evolution
- Develop gymnastic operating models that ensure they can respond effectively to uncertainty
- Upskill and reskill changemakers with the right tools and technologies so they can drive transformation efforts from within the enterprise
These are the results of PMI’s unique insight into the new work ecosystem, and our conviction – born from years of studying how upheaval impacts business operations – is that, if approached carefully, crises provide opportunities for those willing to undergo transformation.
Sunil Prashara is president and CEO of Project Management Institute