2017: Year in Review

 Jan 16, 2018 11:00 AM

2017: Year Round Up

December 17, 2017 
by Lisa Taylor  |  Add Comment



What a year it has been! At the beginning of 2017, the Challenge Factory team set out to answer 10 ambitious questions. We decided that it would be a year when we would be curious about why myths related to the future of work seemed to have more sway than facts.

Sixteen days after we published our list of mythbusting questions, Kellyanne Conway introduced the world to the concept of “alternative facts” and the movement to value myth more than data caught on like wild fire.

2017 has been a year filled with assaults on truth. In today’s times, truth has become subjective. In a recent public address, Canadian journalist Steve Paikin commented on this phenomenon. He said that as a current events journalist, nothing is more infuriating than a guest who makes statements such as, “I don’t know the facts, but here’s what I think…” Somehow, we’ve gotten ourselves into a period when strong opinions or feelings trump facts.

Challenge Factory is focused on the Future of Work – a topic where emotion, feeling and perception often gets more airtime than fact, trend and data. People’s jobs are personal. How we relate to the work that we do and the company, industry or sector we support is personal. This year has taught us that when things get personal, sometimes facts are forgotten.

We were prescient last year in declaring that we would spend 2017 asking questions and getting more data. We were also ambitious. Ten questions are a lot to focus on. Business growth gurus might suggest that ten is too many. Nonetheless, we’ve emerged with a deep understanding of the emerging world of work – with facts, new models and tested tools to support our work in 2018.

Here’s what we learned.

How can small- and mid-sized businesses use career management tools to attract and retain talent?

Retain and Gain: Career Management for Small Business was published by CERIC last January and since that time we have worked with small business owners, industry association leaders and post-secondary institutions across the country to address the needs of this important sector. Small businesses gained new visibility and prominence in the Canadian economic landscape as new legislation was introduced both federally and provincially. Many of the discussions focused on the costs of labour. After attending one of the webinars focused on the books, we were told that it would be used to advance better discussions between government and small business. The book has been downloaded or purchased by more than 2,400 career practitioners, small business owners and consultants. As a resource for small businesses that provides more than 80 low-cost or no-cost activities to better engage and retain talent, this publication proved to be timely.

What has replaced the traditional employee life-cycle and what metrics now apply for priority setting?

It used to be that HR rolled programs out based on standard stages and phases in the employee life-cycle: new hires needed onboarding, high potentials needed leadership development, older workers needed succession planning. Retirees needed invitations to annual holiday parties.

No longer. Today’s employee lifecycle begins before an prospective employee ever signs a contract with you. They have influence over and are influenced by your employer brand as their friends and colleagues share information about your organization on sites such as glassdoor. And long after employees have left your company, their LinkedIn profile still carries your brand, presenting opportunities for these Alumni – former employees of all ages – to be ambassadors, champions, resources and supporters.

Established career paths within organizations are shifting and being challenged as the workforce operates differently than it has in the past. With these shifts come new relationships between employers and employees that are not based on a corporate lifecycle for staff. Instead, they are focused on an evolutionary relationship between a workforce that is evolving its skills and workplaces that are shifting their business models. With everything in flux, new models, such as our recent thinking on chronic vs acute workforce planning become more relevant than outdated career models.

What can the military teach us about talent and leadership pipeline innovation?

The answer to this question is easy. A lot. From our work with former members of Canada’s Special Operations Forces to the country’s enthusiasm for last September’s Invictus Games, military talent in the civilian workforce has been a hot topic this year. We are thrilled to have conducted an important research study that quantifies the specific skills, workstyles, motivators and leadership acumen that Canadians with previous military service bring to the civilian world. We are also excited to have been able to capture and quantify where employers misunderstand this hidden talent pool. Over the next few weeks, new tools emerging from this work will be released, including a self-assessment tool for career practitioners to identify hidden bias and misconceptions. On this topic we were able to get beyond “alternative facts” and find hidden nuggets of truth – that this workforce, who starts to retire from service in their mid-30s, is capable, aligned and ready to help fill some of Canada’s impending leadership and skill based labour gaps.

How can your own in-house Centre for Career Innovation supercharge the value of your workforce?

We’ve been piloting the Centre for Career Innovation through 2017, adding new courses and new partnerships as we learned first-hand how to implement a brand new, platform-based business model. Platforms are not just for Uber or AirBnB. Every organization has platforms they offer for clients, employees, partners or new stakeholder groups. But the business model for your platforms are not the same as product or service based businesses. In a platform based model relationships are currency and the goal is to amplify what others are able to bring to market.

Our platform, The Centre, amplifies the courses of leaders from a variety of disciplines and sectors – all focused on helping individuals, managers and leaders to navigate the changing world of work. Integrated learning paths combine the value of the providers so learners can access what they need when they need it as a one-stop-shop. From micro-learning opportunities of 15 minutes or less to full programs with experiential on-the-job learning to transform skills and performance over time, the Centre’s pilot has been a success. In 2018 we will be working with industry associations across the country to augment member education programs to include Future of Work curriculum and tools.

Why should you consider your employees as equity, not assets?

Across the country, I’ve spoken at conferences about the value of taking a Talent Equity approach to your workforce. Recognizing that assets are things that are owned, used over time and written off for nothing at the end of their useful life, we’ve challenged leaders to stop seeing their employees as their “greatest assets” and instead, rebalance the equation to focus on employees as long-term equity building relationships. In today’s world of work when there are many discussions about the future of jobs this long-term relationship view can seem counter-intuitive. But, as the employee life-cycle continues to be disrupted, establishing new metrics for how to measure the relationship employers have with their workers, beyond traditional engagement metrics can be a differentiator. New tools that leverage AI, such as receptiviti.ai, monitor these new relationships and help employers gain competitive workforce advantage.

In our next newsletter, I’ll share what we learned from questions 5-10 – and let you know what we are focusing on in 2018. I use the word focusing quite intentionally. 2017 has been a great year of broad and deep learning and next year will be applying what we now know to the areas with the most immediate potential for individuals, employers and our country’s well being as we navigate the world of work as Talent Revolutionaries.

PS. In case you are curious, the questions I am leaving until next time are:

1. How can you change careers at any age without risking it all?

2. Can science help control and predict what's next in our careers?

3. What's next in the "freelance economy" and how will it reduce precarious employment?

4. What is the Talent Revolution and who will be its winners and losers?

5. What is the Future of Work?


Planning for the Future of Work: Lessons from the Chronic to Acute and Back again

 Jan 16, 2018 10:00 AM

Last March, my work was interrupted by a health issue. I often describe what happened to friends as a chronic underlying condition that had suddenly become acute.

But that’s not really true.

I do have a chronic health condition that is as much a part of me as my red hair. Used to navigating complications, I allowed worrying symptoms to continue as my doctor slowly searched for underlying causes. Then, a fresh set of eyes on my data sparked swift and immediate action. In less than 20 minutes what had been a slow, persistent exploration became a comprehensive disruption. All attention shifted to what was suddenly understood to be acute and urgent.

I am happy to report that the issues have shifted back from being acute to chronic. I am grateful to the doctors who took swift action and collaborated to find immediate urgent solutions. I am just as grateful to those same doctors for knowing when and how to let go, allow other specialists to step forward and implement plans that can be sustained over the long term for a situation that is no longer urgent – but is persistent, long-lasting and important.

Are your workforce challenges chronic or acute?

Sometimes it feels like change is coming at us too quickly. Other times, we can see trends looming over the horizon and if feels like it is taking forever for them to finally, actually arrive. Organizations can benefit from a deeper understanding of how health care approaches uncertainty.  As we look ahead at what’s to come in 2018, 2020 and, indeed, 2030, we have found that taking a chronic versus acute approach helps to set priorities, and make sense of a changing world.

Challenge Factory’s 5 Drivers Shaping the Future of Work focuses on the specific business impact of (1) shifting demographics, (2) career ownership, (3) the freelance economy, (4) new platform-based business models and (5) AI, robotics and jobs of the future. I’ve presented this model more than a dozen times to leaders in different sectors from electricity distribution to financial services to social workers. What unites each of the diverse industries we work with is a clear need for a map to help make sense of the shifts and changes impacting the world of work. Between now and 2030 there are a lot of changes coming that will impact individual career paths and potential, workforce strategy, industry dynamics and social expectations of work and life. Some are acute and urgent, putting your business at risk today. Others are chronic and important, threatening future sustainability and needing longer term solutions.

Treating acute or chronic issues with the wrong type of solution can be disastrous. Survival and sustainability can be put at risk:

Your organization is facing both acute and chronic workforce related issues.

Recently, one of our clients had key member of their leadership team suddenly announce his retirement. His knowledge and networks are foundational to how the company operates and its culture, client projects and operational efficiencies were immediately at risk. The retirement announcement presented an urgent, acute threat. We are assisting with specific, targeted knowledge translation and workplace culture services to address the immediate problem. The company is also looking at how they can implement sustainable, comprehensive and persistent new approaches to how they prepare and address impending retirements. Together, we are addressing the underlying chronic condition to minimize the occurrence of future acute events.

Preparing for the workforce of 2020 and beyond requires accurate monitors, clear baselines and the ability to shift approaches and priorities without losing site of the overall goal: a supercharged workforce that will be your competitive advantage.

Three steps to diagnose your workforce issues

Separate perception from reality. Common wisdom in sales and communications circles is that perception is reality – that what people perceive to be true is true. However, when setting workforce strategies that will take you to 2020 and beyond you need to be focused on actual projections for your industry, adjacent sectors and geography. Often, topics that get the most attention in mainstream media feel like they are the most urgent. But this perception is based on editorial perspective, not your business’ truth.

Ask yourself: Does it feel like new workforce related initiatives are “flavour of the month” – high priority and topical for a short period of time without every completely fulfilling the initial promises made? If so, you may be addressing important, persistent issues (chronic) with an acute communications strategy.

Let the data share its secrets. We know that predicting the future is not like completing a puzzle. We will never have all the pieces in front of us to work with and the frame or border pieces will never remain static. So, instead, we approach every organization and challenge as scientists, looking for clues to solve the Future of Work mysteries as they unfold. We start with the data and facts on hand. We integrate our broad understanding of the world of work, across sectors, geographies and cultures. We look for the clues that will unlock potential within your organization and supercharge your workforce programs.

Ask yourself: Are you using the data available to you to guide your strategy and priority programs? There are techniques for organizations of all sizes to use data to make better decisions. Without the facts, there is a dangerous tendency to over- or under-estimate impact and urgency.

Value the balance between specialists and generalists. Challenge Factory is not like other consulting firms: our central purpose and expertise is tied to one question: What is the Future of Work? We take a 360°, multidisciplinary approach to this issue with teams of specialists from the fields of strategy development, HR, talent management, demographics, neuroscience, workforce planning, learning and development, adult learning and education, analytics, design thinking, agile program management and research.

Ask us: which of your issues are urgent and need specific, immediate attention led by the right expert? Which symptoms and issues are actually more persistent, requiring efficient collaboration between specialists to identify and implement a plan that introduces change in healthy and sustainable ways?

Navigating the Future of Work requires both urgent and persistent interventions. Capitalizing on its potential requires that leaders know the difference. Change is a chronic condition and needs to be managed with a goal focused on sustainability. Fatigue sets in when change is treated as if it is endlessly acute – always urgent and with survival seemingly always at risk.  

Challenge Factory understands the Future of Work. It supercharges your workforce strategy and programs, addressing the acute and chronic dynamics of shifting demographics, career ownership, the freelance economy, new business models and preparing for the jobs of the future.


Lifelong Learning: The Art and Science of Career Reinvention “Iteration”

 Jan 16, 2018 9:00 AM

We had a fantastic conversation at April's Coffee and Careers that was focused on Lifelong Learning. It's a conversation that fits in perfectly with the idea of “Reinventing Yourself.”  Lifelong learning keeps us engaged, curious and relevant. And it takes many forms.
There is informal learning which is really about paying attention to life and learning from our experiences, rather than just going through the motions. Then there is formal learning - specific courses offered for specific purposes.
Our conversation steered more towards the formal.
All too often, when we think of career iteration and redirection, we jump to the conclusion that what we need is one more course (or one more degree). Part of what came out of our conversation at Coffee and Careers was the importance of recognizing why we're taking a course. Is it to build confidence and credibility? Is it to stay current with trends and skills? Is it to gain knowledge and if so, why is that new knowledge necessary? Or is to explore general interests?
We broke Lifelong Learning strategies into 4 categories:

To stay current.  This is more general knowledge that's necessary to function in our current work environments. Be it hard skills like keeping up with LinkedIn or the latest software or resume formats or softer skills like intergenerational communication or the importance of resilience. But be aware... just because everyone on Facebook is saying "This is the next great thing that you HAVE to know"... doesn't make it so.

To maintain industry knowledge.  These are the things we need to know specific to our business environments, be it to maintain a certification or to remain relevant in our respective industries. There are many courses and webinars offered as part of professional certification...which ones will you actually learn from while maintaining your certification?  Which will help propel you forward while fulfilling basic requirements?

To change careers or alter our career paths.  Sometimes we do need to take formal courses to either explore new areas of knowledge or to introduce ourselves to the new environments of our choosing. And sometimes we just think we need to take a course because, fundamentally, we're insecure about the change. Ask for credible help to identify the difference.
Personal Learning.  There are so many exciting things to know and so many exciting ways to learn them. Medieval Art? "There's an online course for that... taught by Stanford University!"  It's fantastic to keep curiosity alive and so important to our well-being...but we sometimes justify the learning time to ourselves as "professional development" (after all it's offered by Stanford!). Always invest in personal development...but recognize when it's not "professional development" no matter who is teaching it.

Be honest with yourself which course is in what category and what you want to learn versus what you need to learn.
Our goal with the Centre for Career Innovation is to offer Professional Development courses that speak to what you need to know as part of the Future of Work.
Learning is a beautiful thing.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
― Henry Ford



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