Pivotal people

Discerning who drives disproportionate value will be a top task for companies transforming for the future, says Korn Ferry’s Stu Crandell. Fifth in a series.

Stu Crandell is senior vice president of the Korn Ferry Institute.

Technology is positioned to reshape the future of work. But without a critical component—acceptance and adoption by people—it can never achieve its full impact. Who are the pivotal people who create disproportionate value for their firms?

There’s a new war on for talent, and it’s driven by digitization. Scared of being left behind, or eager to disrupt, firms pursuing digital strategies are scouring the landscape for onetime leaders at Google and Facebook, hoping these shining lights can replicate their successes in different environments. Companies hope to find talent that can deliver outsized value to their organizations and customers in this new environment.

It’s a smart move; companies seeking to create superior performance need to focus on their people. As new and unimagined innovations hit the market in the future, firms will recognize that the people who can embrace change, see around the corners, and outmaneuver the competition are critical to success. The sharing economy, as exemplified by high-value giants like Airbnb and WeWork, continues to grow, and because it prizes access over ownership, we expect to see such traditional assets as real estate decline in worth. Instead, people, and their potential to create economic and intangible capital, will become a firm’s highest-value assets.

Fifth in a series.

The Future of Work: To work is human

Read the full series. >

But some people will contribute more than others. For example, a Korn Ferry client has set up research and development “innovation centers” around the world. Although they are small, they create a disproportionately high impact . Another client pursuing a digital strategy is experimenting with online business models to develop new revenue streams. Although they deliver modest returns now, these models are seen as key to growth. The people running these R&D centers and creating online business models are responsible for driving their firms’ future success.

Who are the people driving growth for your organization, where are they, and where should they be deployed? Firms should beware of a one-size-fits-all approach. The pivotal roles and people in them differ not only industry by industry but also company by company. That’s why connecting people to the firm’s future strategy is critical. Before planning roles, organizations must be clear about the skills and capabilities needed to create success in their chosen models. If external partners deliver an integral part of the value chain, the business needs strong collaborative skills. If everything is being done in-house, perhaps driving process execution is the number one desired capability.

The World’s Most Admired Companies (WMACs) are already proactively developing their people in line with future needs. In Korn Ferry Hay Group’s 2016 research with Fortune, three-quarters of WMACs stated that identifying the capabilities they would need 10 years from now and determining the composition of their future workforce were top priorities. Finding and enabling the people who will create superior performance is how WMACs intend to succeed in the future.

To connect people to a firm’s future strategy, leaders must examine the business and ask some tough questions. Where in the organization will the most value be created, given the new strategies in these changing environments? What are the roles that will be critical in making this happen (bearing in mind they may not be the traditional ones or even formal ones)? What unique people capabilities will be required in these roles? Who already has the right skill set? Who can be developed, and to what extent? What should be done with those who cannot move with the times? And how can leaders keep those remaining engaged so the organization doesn’t lose its heritage?