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Industry 4.0 is Upon Us. Are Your People Ready?

There is talk, out there, of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. What does that mean, and how will it impact us?

To help us understand, here is the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) brief, chronological list of industrial revolutions:

1. Steam, water, mechanical production equipment. Year 1784

2. Division of labour, electricity, mass production. Year1870

3. Electronics, information technology, automated production. Year 1969

4. Cyber-physical systems. Year – imminent future.

If we aren’t already experiencing the fourth industrial revolution, we will be soon. It is characterized by the blending of the real world with technology. We already have examples of this floating on the fringes (and, in some cases, in the midst) of our work environments. Think Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR). We have printers that can build three dimensional objects and devices that can program our homes. We can practice complex operations in an artificial environment before taking the risk in the real world. And we can learn in environments that simulate those we will have to work and help customers in.

With technology invading every part of our personal and professional lives, there is bound to be an impact. This crash of technology into our real world means change—a lot of it. In the midst of all this semi-controlled chaos and rapid change, people are expected to not only flex and adapt, but be productive in the process. Pretty much every business is being disrupted, affecting entire systems of production, management, and governance.

According to WEF, this revolution means those in leadership and management positions need to “upgrade” their competencies to keep up with technological changes. Business is demanding a Management 4.0 mindset, which most companies, and their leadership, are not ready to implement.

  • Workers will be profoundly affected as increased automation and artificial intelligence causes many jobs to disappear, and entirely new ones to come into existence. Managers will have to prepare their people by putting a focus on continual learning and diversity in teams, as well as developmental pathways to new jobs.

  • The cost of replacing workers with new employees who already possess desired digital skills will be too great. The competition in recruiting and hiring will mean many employers won’t get enough of the highly skilled people they seek.

  • Existing employees possess company knowledge that is very valuable. It makes sense to retain them, so training them for new jobs becomes a business imperative.

  • With all this focus on digital, it’s easy to forget about “soft skills”. In the Industry 4.0 environment, however, these skills (which I call “Power Skills”) are crucial. There is an increased need for emotional intelligence (EQ), critical thinking, creativity, and communication.

If you ask executives whether they think their people are ready for Industry 4.0, very few feel confident they are. In spite of that, people related topics remain a low priority. This has to change!

It’s wise to develop people, allowing them to build on their strengths and encouraging them to grow and adapt while taking advantage of technology for greater innovation. This means an emphasis on learning and development, and communication—key to retaining talent.

Humans crave connection. This applies to the workplace too. Full-time employees spend the majority of their waking lives at work. For this reason, workplace relationships can have a profound effect—positive or negative—on an employee’s stress level, effectiveness, and productivity. In times of great change and uncertainly, these relationships become even more important.

Perhaps the most influential relationship in the workplace is that between the manager and reports. According to Gallup, 50% of people have quit a job to get away from their bosses. This is happening already, and could get even worse as digitization drastically changes the work environment. It’s up to the manager to create those connections in order to keep people from leaving. Communication is key.

This doesn’t mean sending task-focused emails and Slack messages. Of course, those things are important, but they don’t generate the sense of connection employees crave. What does work is regular, frequent, and consistent one-on-one conversations. During these conversation, attention can be given to existing work, and to what will be required in the future. Plans can be made to develop employees to meet the demands created by digitization and the new economy.

Managers, help your people, and yourselves, take on the challenges of Industry 4.0. Hold regular and frequent one-on-one conversations with them to understand what they face and what they need from you to handle what’s coming.

(photo courtesy of macrovector <a href="">Technology vector created by macrovector -</a>)

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