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Be prepared, not scared — staying relevant through change

Last Friday, The Hon Chris Bowen, Shadow Treasurer delivered an important address to the wider innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem at Fintech Hub Stone and Chalk as a guest of the community’s Spark Festival. Many of the critical elements of the speech were reported in the AFR and SmartCompany.

Bowen’s speech was followed by a Q&A session, and I was asked to share my thoughts based on first hand enterprise experience, of the fear that employees exhibit when confronted with change and in particular my take on the crisis at Fairfax last week.

Monica Wulff, the CEO of StartupMuster, who was moderating the session asked the all important question – ‘What do you think we’re getting wrong?’

I focused on 3 key points.

1. Change is inevitable and irreversible

Naturally people fear what they don’t understand, what they are not prepared for and what they can’t control.

It behoves industry, government and individuals to take steps necessary to address these fears and concerns and ensure we are all prepared with skills and mindset for our new world of work. This includes the skills of leadership in the private sector and for government to create appropriate policy and deliver it. For individuals, it means taking responsibility for that which is in their control. Sounds simple. Hard to do.

2. Management’s will and skill is needed to address the new world order

If we take the recent Fairfax example, 125 roles are about to be lost in this latest tranche of job cuts.

It’s a function of management’s will and skill to address the new world as a serious threat/opportunity. Much of it is complacency or a case of sticking one’s head in the sand, or both. The belief that what has worked for us until now will work in the future is simply wrong. Evolution not revolution is equally wrong and dangerous because it fosters the idea we have plenty of time. We don’t.

The Media industry has had more than 20 years’ notice of the impact of digital disruption.

Instead, the new media barons are Facebook and Google. In stark contrast to Fairfax last week, Facebook announced 3000 new editing roles to combat the scourge of fake news. Could Google or Facebook take the next obvious step and become news originators? There are at least 125 good journalists about to flood the market!

We can now see that in recent times quality journalism, so important to our democratic process, has been thwarted by ill considered management decisions by Fairfax.

Management simply underestimated and/or was incapable of competing with digital disrupters and so lost the lucrative classifieds ‘rivers of gold’ – property, jobs and auto to seek.com, realestate.com and carsales.com.

What’s worse, for those who remained, Fairfax appeared to do little to prepare for further competition and disruption. It seems that management didn’t invest in re-skilling or encourage the need for career ownership and autonomy.

In a pre-digital world, not so long ago, where individuals could have been encouraged to be self directed, self motivated and self disciplined, enterprise could easily have run the risk of losing skills and resources on a premature and inconvenient timetable. And so, the real conversations about career ownership, skills building and transition have been avoided and ignored.

Here lies the universal and long standing approach to career management – the false belief that the organisation will look after me and my interests. In a slower paced, more stable world this was of less consequence.

Individuals have co-operated in that belief as the awkward conversations are pushed further down the road for another day. That day is now for many of us, and tomorrow, for the rest.

Governments during this period were also caught napping. Where were the industry transformation or transition programs? Why was it good enough for the Mitsubishi workers to go through programs to prepare for life after the factory closure, but no visible effort put in by Fairfax to prepare their workers for transition?

The government, now more than ever, has a responsibility to develop policy around inclusion, skills and education that will support enduring social and economic change.

3. Every business is an IT business

Innovation and entrepreneurship are no longer the domain of the ‘outliers’ to be ignored by conventional business.

Every business in the new world is a digital business and every business, in some way needs to transform itself to survive and thrive, for the benefit of its employees, customers and shareholders.

To transform, leaders will need to redesign their structures, their cultures and their capability.

While we mostly understand the ‘why’ we now need to embrace the ‘how’ and get on with it.

Each of us needs to ensure we’re prepared to take on new skills, new roles and new modes of working.

Bowen cited Abbott’s observation that “It is good we’re no longer talking about innovation and agility” so that the focus can be moved to basic issues.

I argue there is no more basic issue than one’s livelihood and the skills required to sustain it.

Recent global political events indicate that poor economic conditions exacerbate concerns of national security, thereby making the latter more expensive. It simply doesn’t make sense.

Anne Moore is the Founder of PlanDo, a career management platform that gives individuals control of their careers. She is an expert in the Future of Work and has had a long and distinguished career leading the HR functions of large multinational companies.

This article was first published on LinkedIn and has been republished with permission.

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