The accountants attending our annual user conference earlier this year paused for thought about how to navigate the rapidly changing workplace as we move into the fourth industrial revolution. And, they asked some insightful questions about what it means to be a valuable employee today.
Sameer Rawjee, the founder of Google’s Life Design Lab, and currently working with companies and schools to tackle continuous learning and purpose at work, sparked a lively audience discussion during his keynote address. This was when one of the attendees asked: “Am I an asset to my company? Or am I just OpEx?”
Only an accountant could have summed up today’s workplace existential crisis in this way. And it neatly frames the conversation about how to ensure we stay relevant in our own roles, plus how we can help our people stay valuable in our companies.
My view is that on day one of our jobs, we are all assets to our company. But that we run the risk of depreciating every single day, unless we actively work to ensure our own growth, and the growth of the people around us, in order to stay relevant and valuable in an ever-changing world.
And don’t think that as accountants we are exempt from this tidal wave of change. Previously we may have had a predictable career path where hard work and experience progressed us along the ranks. Sure, we got better at what we did, we might specialise in a certain area, or we might encounter unusual jobs that gave us unique experience, but, fundamentally our core skills remained relevant.
Today, this is being entirely destabilised, with AI and automation promising to take over more of our roles. This is a double-edged sword: we’ll be saved a lot of the repetitive mundane work, but will have to find ways to replace the experience gained from some of the basic work machines can now do, as well as constantly reinvent ourselves, learn continuously and move fast to stay ahead of the machines, always adding value by doing what they can’t.
It is essential that these new skills and capabilities align with the goals of the company. For this to happen, companies need to ensure that everyone is very clear about the business’s vision, goals and plans. Just like my advice to canvass the grassroots of your organisation during the budget process, it’s the people on the ground who know what they need to learn to remain relevant, and happy, in their roles.
Get this right, and then, there will be no doubt that you, and your people, are true assets, constantly appreciating, and continuously adding value in ever-changing times. And never becoming expenses, or worse, liabilities.
Invest in learning
Companies will need to spend some of the gains achieved by digitalisation’s greater efficiencies and productivity on helping their people learn. In the same way that businesses have an imperative to digitalise in order to survive, they have a moral obligation to their people to help them adapt to these changes. During a recession mindset, business leaders might be tempted to save by not investing in ongoing learning. But retraining your people makes good business sense as well. For AI to be effective, it needs to work well with people who can keep shifting to the next area of competency that AI has not yet reached.
As published in ASA Magazine – 21st May 2019