Peter is responsible for developing and managing a regional workplace strategies team and driving market-recognized thought leadership, product development, standards of excellence, and quality control across practice areas. He has more than 20 years of experience and is a specialist in design strategy, strategic briefing, tenant research, building appraisal, space planning, and programming. Prior to this, Peter was with DEGW for eleven years and its Managing Director in Singapore from 2007 to 2010.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges that organizations, specifically in the APAC region, face?
I think the first challenge pertains to the recognition of the transformation. There is a huge urgency around responding to the digital transformation we are in the midst of. I have seen some of the most progressive leaders reacting to these disruptions in the most agile manner by moving from traditional technologies and adopting new-age ones with the lightning speed to avoid being outdated or being beaten by faster competition. Challenge number 2 is talent – attracting and retaining the top talent. Recent research by Oxford University and McKinsey & Company talks about how jobs are getting automated and those that exist today will not exist tomorrow. What companies need to look for is new talent that has new perspectives and new kinds of jobs that they may not even know exist. And there will be a shift from the concept of middle management to middle mentorship, one where middle mentors understand the customers, identify problems, and then collect talent around those problems to solve them. With the advent of gig economy and the strong penetration of technology, a team of 5-10 employees leveraging technology can make a small organization look like one with 500 employees.
What is your thought on organizations preparing themselves to embrace these trends, because these trends are inevitable?
I think that’s really mixed. Majority of the leaders focus on incremental performance on business performance numbers, which can make them risk-averse and hence change-resistant. This systemic structural problem in big corporations is going to make it very hard for them to tackle change. On the other hand, the small and medium companies are super hyped-up on technology, are super agile and are ready to jump into this disruptive world. So, I do have a theory that corporations may react too late, and then they will look at buying these skills through acquisition or they may not survive.
How do you think the large multinational corporations, start-ups, and MSMEs are playing in the context of digital disruption?
Big companies have advantages of brand, geographic coverage, scale, and assets, and today, they are trying to replicate start-up fluidity within traditional structures. Organizations globally are moving quickly towards an agile way of working. The speed of this change in the past year is extraordinary and will have an impact on the work environment. Large organizations that continue to grow in headcount need to consider two lines on a graph – one is ongoing offshoring of business process outsourcing to lower cost markets, and the other is this colliding with the exponential growth of Artificial Intelligence. At some point, those lines will intersect and those jobs may just disappear. Predicting that intersection is difficult – but the impact could be explosive. Another interesting observation a colleague shared with me recently is that the millennial generation has grown up with a different attitude to sharing things be it music, media etc. And hence they appear to be more open to sharing their ideas when they work in incubator spaces unlike the approach of large organizations that take all ideas and lock them up. Clearly, those with a more open flow of ideas will generally come up with better and faster ideas through rapid feedback; the value for these people isn’t so much in the idea but the execution — taking it to market quickly. While on one hand digitization is the challenge, the other side is of the out-of-box thinking that countries such as India and China bring in innovating and taking cost-effective products to the market quickly. I also see that Asia doesn’t accept anymore that the “west is best” and this shift is very important as they have the capability to find solutions to their own problems.
Amidst the desire to excel and the awareness of disruption, what do you see as hindrances that are keeping the organizations in Asia from changing themselves?
A very interesting analogy can be shared here — if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out; but if you put a frog in water and heat it gradually, you will cook the frog. Similar is the case with organizations — incremental change isn’t that significant for them to react, and by the time reaction comes, it may just be too late. Only leaders who have a burning drive to make a change will shake up the organization. Otherwise, organizations will just incrementally improve until the next big thing washes them completely. Specifically, in the context of Asia, I think one of the hindrances I see is the cultural structure where it is difficult to supersede the leader. This cultural change will have to happen and interestingly has started to happen in pockets as well. In China, a few of the leaders I speak with talk about a double generation handover to the younger business leaders as there is high-level of awareness that the in-between generation of the cultural revolution may not have the breadth of skills to stride through these disruptive times. The younger generation in Asia is educated, intelligent, and articulate.
L&D has to play a role in the kind of cultural evolution that is needed to drive digital dexterity and sustain disruption
What question do you think corporations and startups should be asking themselves today in order to be prepared for the future?
I think it will be, “What the customers really want?” and really go beyond the superficial expectation and extrapolate it to understand what the customers really want in future. Its equivalent to Henry Ford’s analogy when he says that “If you asked people what they wanted, they would say faster horses”; but he built cars. And this question is universal to all organizations irrespective of the size and age.