Megatrends: part 3 of 3 – working methods and management models must evolve to keep abreast of technological developments that are radically changing the working environment, says Lubna Haq

In the first two articles of the series, I introduced the notion of what leadership will look like in 2030 and how the way we currently work will need a radical rethink if we are to remain competitive in a global economy and be able to recruit and retain the best talent.

The future of Leadership in the NHS

HSJ will be leading a LinkedIn debate on clinical leadership and innovation through technology on Monday 25 February from 1pm. Post your questions or views on the discussion thread.

The nature of leadership will have to change dramatically if organisations are to harness the benefits and counter the negative effects of the six megatrends that have been identified as likely to have the greatest effect on organisations and their leaders over the coming decade.

The six megatrends that emerged are:

  • Accelerating globalisation
  • Climate change, its environmental impact and scarcity of resources
  • Demographic change
  • Individualisation and value pluralism
  • Increasingly digital lifestyles
  • Technology convergence

In this article we will look at megatrends four, five and six in further detail.

Megatrend 4: individualisation and the “me” generation

Individualisation is the growing freedom of choice expected by, and granted to, people within societies and communities. It is a global phenomenon. Careers play an increasingly important role in the quest for self-fulfilment and self-expression, a shift that is driving a greater convergence between private and working lives.

Traditional concepts of loyalty are being challenged. The trend is reinforced by the changing nature of these working relationship networks. People have fewer strong connections and a greater number of loose ones.

Individualisation has an enormous impact on employees’ loyalty and motivation to perform, with “soft factors” such as recognition, self-development, self-direction, values-driven engagement and work-life balance often taking precedence over traditional factors like pay and promotion.

We have tended to take the NHS constitution for granted, but never has communicating the meaning and intent been more important to remind people why working for the NHS is a worthwhile and fulfilling career.

Organisational implications

Highly individual, and increasingly heterogeneous, teams want to be able to organise themselves, so redesigning work processes to better suit individuals rather than the organisation is increasingly becoming the norm.

‘Breakthroughs will require new organisational structures and speedy adaptation to take advantage of new technology’

This involves establishing conditions that promote independent work and time management, thereby allowing employees to make time for their personal projects. What’s more, with creative output recognised as a main driver for economic success, a new “creative class” is springing up and, with longer education, career breaks, frequent job changes and even periods of unemployment, these people do not necessarily fit into the conventional leadership mould.

Individualisation leads to decentralised workplaces, characterised by flatter, more flexible, structures, cross-functional project teams and higher turnover. Some people may argue the NHS has an advantage here, as shift work and multiple career paths are already in place.

The post-heroic leader will need to balance the roles of boss, mediator and coach, giving teams more freedom and autonomy while securing their commitment and keeping them focused on team and corporate objectives.

Rethinking leadership

These leaders will need to integrate flexible rules into formal structures to provide a framework for pluralism. How will the current structural changes impact on a young GP’s view of continuing a career in health? Will they aspire to leadership roles that need such dedication?

‘Junior doctors may feel the years of study do not allow for a work-life balance and the opportunity for self-actualisation’

There is a real possibility this will affect people’s choices about undertaking long specialist clinical training without the opportunity for flexibility. Junior doctors may feel the years of study do not allow for a work-life balance and the opportunity for self-actualisation.

Team leaders have to be highly skilled in conflict prevention and resolution, as well as being able to rapidly reorganise teams and offer them temporary stability, given the likelihood that key members will leave at some point. However, those leaders will also have to recalibrate their criteria for leadership and rethink their approach to loyalty and retention.

Leaders will need to foster good individual relationships with current and former team members to avoid domino-style disintegration, should one person leave. They will have to work harder at generating personal loyalty, by accommodating employees’ requirements, enabling self-directed ways of working and individualised leadership, and developing relationships beyond the direct work environment to reflect the continuing value to the organisation of those who leave its formal employ. Departure no longer equates to disloyalty.

Megatrend 5: technology convergence

Breakthroughs will require new organisational structures and speedy adaptation to take advantage of new technology. Partnerships across local government, technology firms and the NHS will help drive change and make the system more efficient.

But this will require a readiness to integrate other players in corporate endeavours and will lead to more open structures and decompartmentalised organisations. The implications for the delivery of healthcare could be profound.

‘People will be able to access health information – be it good or misleading – wherever they are’

In order to harness the potential of converging technologies, leaders, despite their lack of detailed knowledge, must be open to – and advocates of – visionary ideas, they must encourage innovation and collaboration, and act as orchestrators of expertise from within and outside the organisation. They must be open to value-adding partnerships on all levels, and the decision to build or buy expertise will become a key issue in research and development management.

Leaders may not be experts themselves, but they must know enough to be able to recognise and evaluate the potential of any new technology, to act as mediators between collaborating institutions and scientific fields, to keep projects focused and to hold the ring between the competing views of different team members.

Blurring the boundaries

In doing so, they will have to work through informal influence across functional and organisational boundaries. This requires them to collaborate, to welcome different points of view, to tolerate ambiguity and to create and role-model trust and openness.

It is also crucial that they help to counter concern and anxiety among both the public and employees because their acceptance will increasingly determine the success or failure of innovations and new products – whether nanotechnology will replace MRIs, for example.

New media will continue to blur the boundaries between private and working lives. Individuals are “always on”, more and more business is conducted virtually and power is shifting to employees. This is particularly the case for the rising class of knowledge workers, who can work anywhere and forge large numbers of loose digital connections with both personal and business contacts.

People will be able to access health information – be it good or misleading – wherever they are. They will be able to go to their healthcare provider armed with a set of (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. How can leaders help them stay abreast of what’s out there in order to be effective?

Megatrend 6: digital lifestyle and work

Knowledge is fast becoming the powerhouse of the global economy, its instantaneous exchange facilitated by the internet. Digital tools offer cheap, easy and fast communication, cooperation, organisation and production. Workplaces are no longer tied to bricks and mortar locations.

In this climate, lifelong learning and networking are essential and will become ingrained, as organisations will no longer be able to rely on traditional hierarchies and career paths.

Leaders must embrace the creativity, curiosity and open minds of those who are comfortable with technology; while harnessing their skills, they must also set guidelines and frameworks for new ways of working to ensure organisational objectives are achieved.

‘Leaders must provide digital wisdom – clear, transparent and practical guidance to using new technologies’

To bridge the information gap, they must also foster collaboration and knowledge exchange between those who are embracing technology and those who are not. At first glance, the formers’ mastery of technology might appear to better qualify them to lead than their seniors.

However, while technological prowess can aid innovation, over-reliance on technology and a potential future lack of social skills, serve to poorly equip such individuals for leadership roles – they have much to learn from their older colleagues.

Leaders will have to learn to lead remotely or from a matrix structure, but must guard against relying on purely virtual communication. Combining virtual and face-to-face contact is important for effective decision making and in terms of fostering motivation and loyalty.

Start planning now

The digitally savvy hold power to share information instantly, both positive and negative, with a global audience. As a result, integrity and sincerity are of paramount importance within organisations.

Leaders must provide digital wisdom – clear, transparent and practical guidance to using new digital technologies – as well as role-modelling and fostering high levels of openness, integrity and sincerity to preserve corporate reputation in a more transparent world.

In this changing world, the megatrends will combine in ways we can’t quite predict. What we do know is that leaders and organisations will need to look forward and adapt the best they can at a pace that will, at times, be uncomfortable.

Starting to plan now, to anticipate the need for adaptability and use the diversity of the organisation to help the NHS grow, will be key to survival.

Human resource functions that focus on the human rather than the resource will be most effective in meeting those challenges. Leaders who are inclusive, rather than exclusive, and organisations that are open systems, rather than closed processes, stand the best chance of being seen to demonstrate best practice in 2030.

Lubna Haq is director of healthcare consulting at Hay Group

Future leaders will have to be tech-literate