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Top 7 organizational change trends in 2020 and beyond

By Ilkka Mäkitalo on Jan 7, 2020 11:03:45 AM

In my work, I have the pleasure of meeting hundreds of representatives of various companies from around the world every year, and these meetings challenge and shape my thinking. Having worked around twenty years as a consultant, I’m quite sensitive to tacit signals and trends.

In the beginning of the new year, my mind flies to thinking about the future of the consulting business. Thinking back to my amazing trips to the US last year and planning the next ones, I get inspired to list some top trends in organizational change and structure in 2020 and beyond.

In brief, there are 7 key organizational trends that will be explored below: learning in a business context, the emergence of AI, sensemaking as an organizational affair, purpose-based employee involvement, the growing prevalence of continuous development, the facilitator's role in implementing change and the transformational nature of digitization. These seven trends all play a part in helping organizations stay at the top of their game and ensuring change is in a meaningful direction. 

1. Learning in the core business

The value of every organization is increasingly based on the ability to learn quickly. Learning is not only a department, but it’s also a crucial part of the work in every unit. According to Deloitte’s 2019 Human Capital Trends, 86% of organizations recognize changing the way people learn at work as their biggest organizational development challenge in 2019 and beyond.

As we are moving towards a world of more uncertainty and less predictability, there is no time to produce formal learning programs and courses for the new emerging topics and challenges. Learning has to happen in the flow of work.

2. The breakthrough of AI

Practical applications of machine learning and AI are finally entering the market in many different fields. Within organizational learning and change, their power is in helping people connect with topics and each other based on their needs and interests.

AI is not something only IT professionals have access to, it can be utilized by everyone. Read about the practical use cases of AI in organizational development from this post.

3. Sensemaking

The world is changing so rapidly that we need everyone to be able to participate in making sense of it. That’s why in the future, the ability to quickly adapt and apply new information, will become more important than any number of hard skills. Sense-making, amongst others like team-building, coaching and learning, can be seen as an enduring capability, and they are much more transferable to different roles and situations than skills.

Good facilitation practices are required to support learning on individual, team and organizational levels.

4. Purpose-based employee involvement

Purpose is built with participatory ways of working. It is really difficult to communicate purpose with traditional one-way messages. Everybody needs to participate in the dialogue where the purpose is understood. Millennials are especially demanding new ways of working. 

Social media already plays a significant role in our lives. However, little use is made of our social media experience, expertise and insight in the realm of work. Our interactions in our personal networks differ dramatically from our interaction in work-related contexts. This is evident in terms of transparency, for example. Continuous communication and sharing are key to building trust in workplace communities. They prevent disconnects based on assumptions and interpretations.

A transparent work culture makes structures and reporting less complex, as everything is visible. It also means that we need to replace traditional management approaches with coordination and connection. Organizational structures become obstacles to smart ways of working if they do not adapt to people’s ability to work together in a self-guided manner.

The good news is that people can further develop their interaction skills if the organization has the willingness and the necessary tools. Better and more multifaceted ways of interaction mean better business and operations for everyone.

5. From change processes to continuous development 

Particularly in the United States, organizational change is seen as a process with a beginning, a midpoint and an end when the goals have been achieved. This approach is being replaced by transformation—that is, continuous organizational development.

Instead of purchasing the perfect plan, companies want genuine changes, where the general direction is known, but the workplace community finds its way to the final destination together. Transformation is not about having a set goal; rather, the result is created and shaped through learning. I wrote about transformation in an earlier article.

6. Implementing change is about facilitation

In order to enable learning, sensemaking and engagement the facilitator mindset and facilitation skills are becoming highly appreciated. Facilitation is not only focusing on one-off meetings and workshops, it’s the way of co-creating transformation.

It means that valuing your own expertise is no longer enough. Effective facilitators go deeper than just methods. They know how to inspire and involve people in processes and how to handle the process respectfully. Fundamentally, they create favorable conditions for people to become motivated and commit to their work.

7. Digitalization is transforming even the late-blooming organizations

Digitalization can hardly be seen as a trend no more. But the harsh reality is that we’re in the stages where organizations unable to transform and develop are actually going out of business. At the same time, it is true that different countries and continents are simultaneously at very different stages of digital maturity and nevertheless doing business together.  

In the best of cases, digital ways of working give people real opportunities to participate, and decisions are made collectively. Digitalization enables transparent, real-time processes.

Digitalization is progressing more rapidly in countries with an existing analogue foundation, such as the Nordic countries. Change is digitally driven in countries where traditional hierarchies endure. This was the case when developing countries transferred directly to mobile networks and took the leap onto the Internet, for example. The same will happen with corporate cultures. Communities will be built on real-time technologies and new types of communication practices. 

With these observations, I'm eager to hear your thoughts: how are you seeing organization's change in the 2020s?

If you’d also like to learn about the 8 trends that are shaping the organizational learning landscape, you can now download your free copy of our brand new ebook “8 ways to Rethink Organizational Learning”.

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