We are living and working in a world with constant change and continuous disruption. In order for businesses to keep up, they must be more agile than ever. While adopting new technology solutions can seem overwhelming, time-consuming, and expensive, it is one of the most important levers operational leaders have not only to drive efficiencies, but also to be prepared for the unknown changes that will come in the future. But tech alone is never enough – leaders must also build and retain an agile workforce that is relentlessly focused on delivering exceptional client experiences.
In our research report, Future of Operations, we surveyed 750 business operations (ops) leaders from across 10 different countries to uncover insights into the most important skills, strategies, and tools needed to succeed and grow in today’s tech-driven world. Among other things, these research findings identified three areas of disruption that will transform operations teams over the next three to five years: automation, sustainability, and diversity.
By automating tedious work, specialized operations roles can flourish and thrive
71% of surveyed ops leaders agree that, in the next three to five years, automating routine admin and IT tasks will have big or transformational business impacts.
Established companies that have been around for many years can be challenged by the complex web of systems and processes that have been built over time, along with employee resistance to change. However, it’s no longer an option to automate; businesses must adapt to stay competitive with newer, digital native entrants to the market who are unencumbered by this legacy patchwork and are able to deploy the latest tech without the added expense of integrating into existing processes or systems.
And in the age where consumers expect to receive the products and services they request at the touch of a finger on their mobile phone, the stakes have never been higher for companies to adopt a “digital-first” approach, centered around delivering unified customer experiences. This isn’t just about enhancing a digital portal or allowing for digital communications. Delivering a seamless client experience requires better integration of front-office (customer-facing) and back-office (non-customer-facing) processes via workflow automation in order to truly deliver the right information at the right time to customers across the various channels (mobile, web, chat, phone, etc.) and at the speed that they demand.
As operational leaders look to implement the workflow and AI-powered decisioning technologies that can deliver these capabilities, they must not overlook change management activities that are key to achieving the outcomes of any transformation project. It is critical that these projects are driven from the top with highly engaged business leaders who are continually reinforcing the objectives and impacts of the initiative. Leaders must work with impacted ops team members to understand the “why” behind the changes and are given opportunities to share feedback during the design and implementation process. Ultimately these individuals will need to be upskilled or reskilled for the new roles they will play once automation is introduced, as they will have more time to perform higher value work that’s too complex to automate or requires a human touch.
The result of this will be an increase in specialization across ops teams. In fact, 48% of surveyed ops leaders reported that they will need to hire more specialists for work that can’t be automated or digitized and 36% planned on reducing the number of generalists doing manual work. Retaining and recruiting top talent to perform these high value activities will be critical for success.
How to successfully navigate the future of operations
In our survey, we asked 750 operations leaders across 10 countries what they’re doing now to build greater resiliency for an increasingly disruptive future.
Organizations are prioritizing diversity and sustainability to ensure success and growth
Traditional approaches that operational leaders use to attract and retain talent will need to evolve as the criteria that employees use to select their employer is changing. Employees increasingly want to be part of organizations who are purpose-led and have a focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices. They are expecting companies to help protect the environment while also using technology solutions (such as predictive risk modeling) to anticipate and prepare for disruptive environmental conditions like climate change and extreme weather events.
68% of surveyed ops leaders agree that, in the next three to five years, sustainability and corporate responsibility will have big impacts on the ops function.
In addition, a recent Forrester report noted that within the Fortune Global 200, 58% have a named sustainability lead – an assigned role to drive focus around this important priority. Operations leaders will need to understand how emerging ESG standards can be integrated into their existing workflows and processes and utilize ESG practices to differentiate in a competitive talent market.
Another critical area of focus is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Leaders recognize that by bringing together diverse perspectives, experiences, and ideas, businesses can be more agile, adaptable, and innovative.
61% of surveyed ops leaders agree that diversity, inclusion, and accessibility are top or high priority initiatives for future of operating models.
And while DEI has been a focus for many companies for some time, there is still structural challenges that require continued and increased focus from operational leaders. In fact, less than 5% of the Fortune Global 500 companies are led by women, and in 2021 just one woman of color ran a Global 500 business.
Building an inclusive and diverse workforce requires changes in recruitment, onboarding, training, and company culture. These are not “quick fixes” and require commitment from executive leadership to identify the key areas of focus and supporting programs and initiatives to address. For example, a recent study by McKinsey and Girls in Tech identified enablers that help companies who are looking to advance women in technical roles. The 3 areas highlighted are providing equitable access to skill building, implementing a structured process that seeks to debias promotions, and building a strong culture of support for women via mentors and sponsors. Regardless of the specific DEI goals operational leaders outlines, it’s clear that enablement and culture need to be front and center.
Humanizing the future of operations
Everything we’ve talked about leads back to people through executive support of diversity, inclusion, and sustainability across their organizations and operations teams implementing automation solutions to improve working conditions for their employees. If people are happy and supported, companies can continue to innovate and thrive. By focusing on automation, sustainability, and diversity, companies across all industries are investing in their people and their future.