Certainty Has Never Been in Shorter Supply

June 29, 2023

Picturing the future is never easy, but I’m not sure it’s ever been harder than it is today. It feels as if any number of global factors — from the ongoing war in Ukraine to China’s looming population crisis to the rapid emergence of machine learning and AI technology — could seismically impact how everything else shakes out.

It also feels that for every force pushing society one way, an equal and opposite force pulls the other direction.

While tech layoffs mount, other sectors still struggle to fill key roles, and the U.S. unemployment rate remains near a half-century low. While fears of a global energy crisis remain, companies undertake ESG commitments of unprecedented scope. And just while the speculative bubble of major tech stocks gradually began to pop, OpenAI raised capital on a record-setting, bubble-esque $29-billion valuation.

What we are looking at is neither a thriving economy nor a recessionary one (at least in the traditional sense). It’s an economy that, much like our world, is changing and growing in complexity so rapidly that we can no longer observe it as a monolith. Parts of it are thriving while others are withering. Jobs appear plentiful in many areas, but people are hardly filling them.

As we know, organizations that succeed over longer timelines balance the present with the future, and it is still our imperative as leaders to anticipate what’s coming. The disruptions and challenges of the past few years have made everything but the here-and-now feel unknowable at times, but this only makes it more essential that we protect space to analyze, prepare and imagine a better future.

And so against that backdrop, Gagen MacDonald’s latest white paper, 5 Priorities in 2023 for Future-Forward, People-Focused Leadersis our latest attempt at separating the signals from the noise.

In December 2019, we forecasted five trends we believed would shape employee experiences in the 2020s. Here they are, as described in the white paper:

  1. Money Isn’t Everything
    Employees are looking for meaning and fulfillment at work and will sacrifice money to find it.
  2. The Loneliness Epidemic
    Loneliness has become a very real epidemic, leaving employees feeling isolated, distrustful and alone.
  3. Remote Teams on the Rise
    More organizations are relying on geographically dispersed teams and more employees expect or want to work from home, resulting in challenges for collaboration, innovation and strategy execution.
  4. The Automation Reckoning
    Emerging technologies will reshape how large segments of work are performed, resulting in significant job changes and many displacements.
  5. Maximizing the Gig Economy
    Due to platform technologies like Uber and lean business models that rely greatly on freelancers, a growing percentage of large companies’ workers will not be permanent employees.

Not to toot our own horn, but looking back, I’m amazed at just how true these predictions have turned out to be. Loneliness, remote collaboration, meaning and purpose, the gig economy and automation have all become far more powerful societal currents in the years since we forecasted them. Despite everything we couldn’t see coming in 2019 and the fact that we’re only in the early 2020s, these themes have already come to bear in tangible, powerful ways. Recognizing this helps put COVID-19’s effect in perspective. For as much as it was the most massive disruption to work ever, in many ways, the pandemic’s effect on the business world has been less like a major swerve and more like an acceleration on the path we were already heading down.

At Gagen, we continue to monitor all these trends closely, and in the years since we published the 2020s paper, we’ve continued to make predictions in the form of yearly priorities for leaders. If the decade trends we predicted are like currents — large, sweeping forces fundamentally reshaping work — the yearly priorities cover what future-forward, people-focused leaders can do this year to swim with these currents. Each stems from at least one of the broader decade themes we noted above.

It’s never easy to proactively change a business, but it’s usually better than waiting for circumstances to force your hand.

I’m confident that leaders who truly prioritize these actions will make a real difference for their businesses, this year and in many years to come.

From all of us at Gagen, good luck — we’re rooting for you!

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