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Top 7 organizational trends that are changing the way we work

By Ilkka Mäkitalo on Jan 7, 2020 11:03:45 AM , updated on Jul 06, 2021

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

In brief, these are the seven key organizational trends I will highlight below: 

These seven trends all play a part in helping organizations stay at the top of their game and ensuring change progresses in a meaningful direction. 

1. Learning in the flow of work

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 business unit. By focusing on learning instead of efficiency, organizations are expected to increase their resilience on teams to drive growth and navigate uncertainty, according to Deloitte’s 2021 Human Capital Trends.

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

It’s important to note that learning in the flow of work doesn’t just happen organically—it needs to be supported and resourced for. L&D professionals can do so by designing virtual learning environments where people can learn and reflect together. 

2. The impact of AI on organizational learning

Practical applications of machine learning and AI are 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 used by everyone. Two concrete ways companies use AI in organizational development include:

  • Make sense of large amounts of insights in real-time: Organizational development projects involve huge amounts of qualitative data that can be overwhelming to make sense of and impossible to sift through. Before AI, facilitators would have to rely on their own judgement to make sense of participants’ inputs. But now with AI, everyone’s voice can be taken into account and you won’t cloud the analysis with your own bias. 

  • From traditional reporting to agile decision-making: Traditionally, facilitators had to spend time reporting on the success of past change initiatives. Now organizational change and development processes are seen as ongoing processes rather than one-offs. This represents a shift towards real-time decision-making. And AI supports this shift by allowing facilitators to make sense of large amounts of dialogue in real time. So detailed reports after change initiatives are no longer needed. 

3. Collective sense-making

The world is changing so rapidly that we need everyone 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 can be seen as an enduring capability. Deloitte defines enduring capabilities as “observable human attributes that are demonstrated independent of context. These human capabilities can be thought of as universally applicable and timeless.” Other examples of enduring capabilities include team-building, coaching, and learning. Compared with skills, they’re more transferable to different roles and situations. 

Collective sense-making helps you create meaning from shared experiences. In the context of organizational change, it takes all perspectives into account to figure out what is changing and what actions are needed next.

No one person can possibly have the collective intelligence of a large organization. But by listening to different perspectives, you should be able to harness the skills, knowledge, and opinions of everyone in the organization, and that way reach your combined potential. 

4. Engaging employees in your company purpose

Millennials and Gen-Z especially want to work for companies that have a purpose beyond profit. Over the past two years, 44% of millennials and 49% of Gen Zs said they have made choices over the type of work they are prepared to do and the organizations for which they are willing to work based on their personal ethics, according to Deloitte’s Global 2021 millenial and Gen Z survey. And Gen Z is the first generation to prioritize purpose over salary. 

A purpose-driven company can only be built with participatory ways of working. It’s difficult to communicate purpose with traditional one-way messages—everybody needs to participate in the dialogue where purpose is discussed. 

While social media plays a huge role in many of our lives, the interactions in our personal networks differ dramatically from interactions in work-related contexts. This is evident in terms of transparency, for example. By taking the social and community aspects from social media to work-related contexts, we can build a culture of continuous communication and sharing, which is key to building trust. Open collaboration and transparency helps prevent disconnects based on wrong assumptions and interpretations. This is important as millennials are also demanding increased transparency from companies.

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 don’t adapt to people’s ability to work together in a self-guided manner.

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 one-off 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. But this approach is being replaced by transformation—that is, continuous organizational development.

Instead of having the perfect ready-made plan for change, 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. 

6. Implementing change is about facilitation

To enable learning, sense-making, and engagement, the facilitator mindset and facilitation skills are becoming highly appreciated. Facilitation is not only about one-off meetings and workshops—it’s the way of co-creating transformation.

It means that valuing only 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 anymore. But the harsh reality is that we’re in the stages where organizations unable to transform and develop are actually going out of business. 

In the best of cases, digital ways of working give people real opportunities to participate, and decisions are made collectively. It enables transparent, real-time processes. Digitalization is progressing more rapidly in countries with an existing analogue foundation, such as the Nordics.

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. 

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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