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How 2020 has Accelerated the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Beth Clutterbuck, Chief Human Resources Officer - Relativity

As we approached the end of 2020, a global pandemic and social and racial injustice movement put a microscope on the glaring need for complex transformation. With our world rapidly evolving around us, our workplaces must do the same. The “this is how we’ve always done things” mentality became obsolete in 2020. For organizations with more traditional business models to endure this time of transformation, they must take a page out of the start-up playbook by embracing constant change and providing an employee experience that encompasses mobility, inclusion, development and connection.

Responding to the Revolution
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a new era that builds and extends the impact of digitization, will transform the future of work. The 4IR is about more than just technology-driven change; it’s an opportunity to help everyone harness converging technologies in order to create an inclusive, human-centered future.

Many organizations, particularly those that lean traditional and corporate-centric, have been pushed to totally restructure their culture and processes to quickly acclimate to be more flexible and employee-centric. With the recent widespread move to a remote work structure, an increased demand for companies to take a strong stance against injustice, and emphasis on open communication, it has never been a more crucial time for companies to accelerate into the 4IR of work.

A lot of start-ups, companies in hypergrowth and the tech industry as a whole are already at the forefront of this movement. Below are three tangible ways organizations—regardless of size and history—can pivot to a 4IR, employee-first mindset:

1. Information, transparency and community rule over hierarchy.
In 4IR companies, work does not follow a chain of command. In an environment where things are changing rapidly, work must follow the people with the information and skillset to solve the problem at hand as opposed to who has the highest-ranking title. When employers show that they value input from skilled employees and empower them to make important decisions, it ultimately cultivates connectedness and a sense of purpose—core values to a positive employee experience.

Also, there’s an added layer of transparency at 4IR companies. In Third Industrial Revolution companies most CEOs and leaders were never expected to stand up in front of employees and explain and justify decisions made at the C-suite level. Now however, CEOs and leadership are expected to be approachable and held accountable. Employees should have the opportunity and comfortability to ask questions, voice their opinions and know that their feedback is being considered in the decision-making process.

Without the long-established hierarchy and infrastructure that characterize many older organizations, 4IR companies have the freedom to support a fast-paced, collaborative environment where employees feel motivated to learn, grow and take ownership.

2. Act with agility and adaptability.
Companies at a 3% yearly growth rate, probably have a year or so to make important companywide decisions. Conversely, at a scaling-up company where growth may be at 100%+, that lead time is around 2-3 weeks; everything happens rapid-fire, from business reorganizations to strategy pivots.

In 2020, all organizations have had to expedite their decision-making processes in response to crises. Acting under pressure and with agility and adaptability is the norm for organizations in hypergrowth. Because they’re working so quickly, mistakes are inevitable — and that’s ok. At 4IR companies, people try things, learn from mistakes and constantly iterate. Most employees enjoy the flexibility and productivity of a fast-paced, high-stakes environment even though they’re working harder than they ever have before.

Now more than ever, more mature organizations have experienced that fast decision-making and strategic pivots, when required, is possible; opening a whole new world with much less hierarchy and long decision consultation cycles.

3. Loosen rules and constrictions and embrace employee experience and expansion.
2020 has demonstrated that great talent can do great work from anywhere. While more traditional organizations cultivate a company-first work culture, start-ups focus on the employee, providing the tools and environment to nurture career growth. Employees—especially younger generations—expect certain characteristics when it comes to learning and career development including:

Tools that are mobile and personalized.
Microlearning delivered in bite-size chunks through user-friendly interfaces.
Real-time feedback.
An environment that fosters inclusion and belonging.
A connected experience.

Times of great challenge bring times of great change. Organizations have a unique opportunity to take the power of the lessons learned in 2020 and enact real transformation in their typical processes and company culture in 2021 and beyond. The employee experience is one of the fundamental differences between mature and hypergrowth organizations, but it doesn’t have to be. An employee-centric, 4IR approach can be embedded in any company regardless of its history. Moving forward, I hope companies will embrace an ever-evolving, employee-first culture and never be able to use the “this is how we’ve always done things” excuse again.

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