Article: Korn Ferry’s Gareth McIlroy on jobs, skills, and changing workplace dynamics

C-Suite

Korn Ferry’s Gareth McIlroy on jobs, skills, and changing workplace dynamics

For years organizations have been talking about digital transformation, but the pandemic has grabbed the concept and made it an absolute imperative for survival, says Gareth McIlroy, Managing Director, Korn Ferry, Singapore, in an interaction with People Matters.
Korn Ferry’s Gareth McIlroy on jobs, skills, and changing workplace dynamics

McIlroy has built an impressive track record supporting clients spanning a broad range of industries and has coached and developed senior executives from major multinationals, family-owned enterprises, and governmental agencies in a variety of countries around the world. His work with senior executives includes supporting leadership teams in leading mergers, acquisitions, and preparation for an IPO. McIlroy has also played a leading role in the CEO Succession and Transition at a variety of firms.

McIlroy's key area of expertise is in designing and implementing initiatives for senior leaders to drive executive team effectiveness and internal development needs. Prior to joining Korn Ferry, McIlroy was Regional Managing Partner for APAC and M.E. for another Leadership Consulting firm based in Singapore.

Here are the excerpts of the interview:

How do you see the current business landscape amid this COVID-19 outbreak and their readiness to come through stronger on the other side?

In my view, the impact of COVID-19 will be much broader, deeper, and enduring than many realize. The knock-on effect of the circuit breaker, social distancing, travel bans, etc., will have a long-lasting impact on the business environment. Even though many firms understand the change in the landscape conceptually, many are still in denial about the fact that life after COVID-19 will look and feel much different to how it was as we entered 2020.

Also Read: Companies that succeed amid COVID-19 will be those that prioritize people: Walmart’s Donna Morris  

It will not be the same for all: some businesses will rebound sharply, some will recover at a much more gradual pace, and some will not rebound at all. Many organizations are currently taking a long hard look at their organization structure to ensure that they are set up to enable more agile decision making and faster implementation of ideas. They have realized that they are going to require a very different operating model to achieve the required speed, but also to ensure that they can keep their own workforces engaged and effective. Historically, organizational redesigns have been more focused on creating efficiencies, but now the focus needs to be much more on creating structures that allow for greater agility so that they can course-correct quickly when required. 

The impact of the pandemic will not be the same for all: some businesses will rebound sharply, some will recover at a much more gradual pace, and some will not rebound at all.

The latest data on the labor market impact of the COVID-19 tell us the disturbing effect on workers and millions of enterprises worldwide. What's the need of the hour given this never-before situation?

While the number of opportunities in the labor market has significantly contracted, the pandemic has created opportunities within sectors like healthcare, logistics, e-commerce, and technology. The real pressing need, however, is more acute when it comes to the softer skills required within the workforce such as the need for greater adaptability, more creativity, stronger leadership skills, and a heightened sense of emotional intelligence. Leaders need to find different ways to engage a remote workforce, while members of the workforce need to be able to operate effectively without the need for constant supervision. Personal ownership for the job that you are carrying out has become increasingly more important.

In the post-pandemic days, there may be jobs that get lost forever, and then there may be jobs that can become more important than ever. How do you see the job landscape five years down the line?

For years organizations have been talking about digital transformation, but the pandemic has grabbed the concept and made it an absolute imperative for survival. The “new normal” post-pandemic world will never be the same as it was before. 

Cybersecurity was important in pre-COVID-19 times, but this importance has been significantly magnified as the reality for digitalized operations has made organizations much more vulnerable to potential attacks. The opportunities in this area will continue to expand. 

E-commerce will be another area of significant job expansion and opportunities, and the way that payments/banking is carried out will continue to transform. Cloud technology will continue to accelerate the disruption of banking as we know it, and the job landscape within financial services will be fundamentally changed as a result. Artificial Intelligence and the diverse range of uses that it brings will be at the heart of this transformation. 

In addition to the financial aspect of E-commerce, the whole approach to supply chain and logistics will also be very different in the post-COVID-19 world. The potential problem caused by globalized single source dependencies has been magnified, and we will move towards a much more flexible model, with multiple sources to fulfill demand. I would expect that regional logistics hubs will re-emerge, and there will be substantial job opportunities created as a result. 

Historically, organizational redesigns have been more focused on creating efficiencies, but now the focus needs to be much more on creating structures that allow for greater agility so that they can course-correct quickly when required.

Do you think the new work from home phenomenon can transform the job market? How do you see the overall impact of this new form of WFH?

Working from home (WFH) has moved from being a COVID-19 phenomenon to a new business reality for many, and organizations are seeing this new reality as an opportunity rather than a risk. This will have significant implications for the job market. Whilst there has been global competition for talent with some of the most strategic jobs, historically most jobs were limited to a much smaller local talent pool. With WFH, the talent pool for most roles can potentially be much broader with competition not being geographically constrained.

Salaries that companies are willing to pay for certain roles will no longer be based on the cost of living in the location of the office. There will be less requirement globally for people to be based in the more expensive metropolitan areas, so the potential to live in much more cost-effective areas will be greatly enhanced.

While the number of opportunities in the labor market has significantly contracted, the pandemic has created opportunities within sectors like healthcare, logistics, e-commerce, and technology.

Do you think organizations need to invest in effective long-term remote-working foundations and revamp their upskilling approaches by embracing an agile approach to strategic workforce planning?

To be effective in the post-COVID-19 world, organizations are going to have to invest not only in their operating model, and also in their people. Remote working requires an enhanced level of technical skills, but also it requires a different type of emotional support, as without the face-to-face interactions, there is a danger that team members may feel isolated and the overall morale may suffer. Leaders and managers will need to be more proactive and disciplined in ensuring that they are having regular one-on-one catch-ups, and increased levels of communication are required to make sure that the workforce is kept motivated and engaged. People must be allowed more autonomy to make decisions, and a clear decision-making structure must be set up to enable this.  

Significant upskilling will be required from a technical perspective, and this will need to include training around cybersecurity. 

COVID-19 has exposed the inequalities of our societies. So, how do we build better normal that supports the most vulnerable first?

The impact of the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the increasing inequalities within societies around the world. In Singapore, by far the greatest number of cases of the virus has spread through the workers' dormitories, where living conditions are in sharp contrast to the widely admired HDB flats where 80 percent of Singaporeans live. Fundamental to reducing inequality is the approach that respective governments take to the way that they apply their tax and benefits regulations. More subsidies can, and should, be given to the most vulnerable, and in certain cases, this will require a higher level of taxation for those who are further up the financial food chain, either through increased income taxes, or additional taxation on luxury items.    

Remote working requires an enhanced level of technical skills, but also it requires a different type of emotional support, as without the face-to-face interactions, there is a danger that team members may feel isolated and the overall morale may suffer.

How do you see the overall role of HR and people managers evolving amid this pandemic and what’s the way forward for people and talent managers to make the most of this situation?

The role of HR is evolving rapidly as a result of COVID-19. A lot has happened over the last few years to position HR as having a “seat at the table” and this will continue to evolve. The pandemic, however, has significantly increased the importance of what HR can do with this “seat”. HR and people managers now play a critical role in ensuring that the purpose and values of an organization fully connect with the employees and that their voices are listened to and considered in the decisions made by the company. In addition, the need for employee engagement has been magnified, especially with so many people now working remotely. As such, HR also plays a key role in making sure that team members are communicated regularly and consistently.

What's your advice to the millions of workers who are now jobless? How can we help ease off the greater burden of the out-of-the-work community?

Being jobless can be stressful at any time, but this stress can be multiplied during uncertain times like what we are currently experiencing. It is critical for people seeking employment that they keep an open mind and be willing to explore alternative solutions. If you are fixed on an opportunity having to look exactly like what you were used to before, then you will severely limit your options. Be open to career switches, and while searching for a job you can also use some of the time to seek to develop additional skills through any available learning programs.

In addition to driving your own personal development, it is also important that you look beyond traditional job portals. Make sure your online profile (e.g. LinkedIn) makes it very clear that you are in the market and looking for opportunities. This is not a time to be worried about how people will perceive you being out of work, be transparent and direct in your communication, and help the people with opportunities to find you.                   

Read more such stories from the September issue of our e-magazine on 'Jobs: Now & Beyond’

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Topics: C-Suite, #JobsNowAndBeyond

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