While our world continues to change at an unprecedented rate, so too do the expectations of consumers. During their discussion at the 2019 Women in Focus Conference, Jessica Mizrahi, Associate Director at Deloitte Access Economics, and Gail Williamson, Chief Growth Officer at WiseTech Global, shared their insights into creating a work environment that will attract the skills in greatest demand and inspire innovation at an ever-increasing pace.
Soft skills, not just technical
Jobs are changing, and for Jessica Mizrahi, fear around job security is not a new issue. Instead of worrying about robots, she advocates for changing the way Australians think about their roles, “Let’s forget about job titles. Let’s talk about skills. Skills are transferrable, you can take them with you no matter what your job title is.”
“What will differentiate you in your career are your soft skills – communication, collaboration, people, teamwork, analytics and problem-solving,” said Jessica. “All these things come from the heart and they are more important today than ever before.”
Deloitte Access Economics analysed nine million job ads and graphed supply and demand of skills across the Australian economy. They found that customer service is the number one demanded skill in the Australian economy “It’s a requirement in 97% of jobs. Every person has a customer, not just retail.” Jess said.
Gail recommended that generating innovation is reliant on employing more people with questioning minds, a desire to make things better, the grit and resilience to push through difficulties, and in creating the workplace in which they can thrive. She discussed how too often labour is wasted on repetitive tasks, “People are designed to do higher order relationship and collaboration activities.”
Aligning technology and cultural DNA
In addition to giving people a “broader, higher order goal”, high-performing organisations provide an environment that fuels their people and provides access to technology that will sustain high impact workflows.
“You have to have the belief that it’s worth doing”, Gail said. “It’s important to look beyond market benchmarks and ‘challenge and change the status quo’, not hive off innovation into side hubs. Innovation should be seeded across every single person in the organisation and supported with two things – the culture and technology architecture.”
Gail noted the importance of diversity in engineering and technology fields – diversity of thought, experience and education. “Of course, technology creates high demand for IT and engineering skills, yet only 25% of enrolments are female. Collectively, we have to do more to encourage young women to embrace STEM education and generally, for workplaces to embrace diversity and foster ‘human’ skills more fully.”
In its Australian headquarters, WiseTech Global employs people from over 50 different nationalities and ages ranging from 18 to 75, demonstrating that diversity enriches global operations. Gail explained, “You look for people who are genuinely different, diverse in background, culture, and experience. Diversity is the secret to innovation because within small teams, innovation requires challengers to interrogate each other’s thinking, to pursue a better solution. That is critical,” said Gail. “You never want to shut that down.”
This challenge of ideas or ‘creative abrasion’ is at the core of WiseTech Global operations. Businesses must:
- Foster an environment that enables innovation.
- Protect and build a culture that celebrates performance
- Support failure as a precursor to success and limit inaction
- Encourage cross-functional and cross-industry skills
“High levels of diverse education and experience within an individual means they are more likely to work as lynchpins impacting a larger sphere of influence and performance,” Gail said. WiseTech Global is a company of engineers “yet we hire people for their creativity and curiosity.”
Autonomy and transparency: Innovation isn’t just about disruption
Businesses succeed when technology is used to create autonomy in teams. At WiseTech Global technology is used to manage, buffer and coordinate workflow, utilising teams sustainably while ensuring critical transparency. “When you have transparency, you encourage collaboration and responsibility and avoid silo building and information hoarding” said Gail. “We back up a culture of innovation with technology that provides extraordinary transparency across development teams to share information and understand the key workflows of the business.”
In addition, “Innovation requires the openness to ideate and create new solutions and objectives on an iterative basis,” Gail said, “It can be counter-productive to micro-manage your teams to a rigid and static criteria set at the start of the period. Goals should evolve otherwise you may be in danger of limiting belief in what they will deliver, don’t stop them from doing amazing things that you couldn’t predict at the start of the journey when your information set was smaller.”
Future-proofing your business involves rethinking team structures, diversity and technology architectures. Gail emphasised “Technology is the enabler to advancing human potential, not replacing it.”
Here are a few key takeaways from the discussion:
- Soft skills (communication, collaboration, people, teamwork, analytics and problem-solving) are transferrable to any role. Don’t just rely on technical ability.
- Provide a safe space for collaboration and encourage cross-functional and cross-industry individuals to work together.
- You’re not iterating or pushing boundaries if you’re inactive. Consider trying new ideas or ways of working to inspire creativity and innovation in your teams.
- Have a culture where failure is expected. Remove the fear of failure from your teams and allow them the opportunity to create their own path to achieve wider business goals.
- Don’t just tick boxes, integrate technology, collaboration, critical discussions, and an innovative culture into the everyday.