Investment will move from software to wetware as leaders realise that their people are their most powerful drivers of change.

AI, AR, big data, smart speakers, chatbots… New Year industry predictions are usually heavy on the tech buzzwords. And sure, there’ll be a lot of (often very exciting) disruption coming our way in 2019. But approaching it by asking ‘how can we update our systems to exploit such-and-such trend or technology’ is no longer good enough. It’s no longer fast enough. Instead, the organisations that stay ahead of the game will be the ones that invest in nimble, targeted, iterative digital upgrades – but which also invest in helping their people becoming agile, empowered innovation experts.

The thing is, human beings are really good at change. Much better than computers (isn’t your smartphone already looking a little, well, out of date?) An ability to evolve is programmed deep into our DNA. Unfortunately, many leaders focus on changing their processes and systems when they should start off by asking: ‘how can we ensure our people have really powerful growth mindsets? How can we give our people the skills to rise to unpredictable situations, and the freedom and confidence to adapt to what our customers need, right now?’

Because change no longer happens in decades or years, or even weeks. If they are to keep up with the political, cultural and technological changes hurtling our way, organisations need to evolve how they operate and communicate every day. And they can only achieve that sort of responsiveness by
fully utilising their most valuable asset: the human brain.

The press is obsessed with machine learning, but even the most sophisticated AI still can’t emulate a fraction of human learning’s complexity, flexibility and speed. In the future, your people will need to both sell and serve across multiple touchpoints, digitally and face-to-face. They’ll need sophisticated
conversation skills that allow them to keep customers on board during long, siloed journeys involving numerous teams and contractors. They’ll need to become fluent in the psychology of interaction, creating added value by paying attention to smart linking and cognitive biases and the peak end rule. No software is going to achieve that.

What does this mean for leaders? Creating a permission culture where their people know what to do, know what the business stands for, and are empowered to do what’s right in the moment even when the process dictates something otherwise. Using blended learning solutions, maximising lots of
different learning platforms to create truly capable people who feel confident before they even have their first customer interaction. Thinking not just about how to keep itinerant, super-social, purpose-driven Millennials inspired, but how to get the best out of a generally more diverse and ageing

Above all, it means remembering that if your people aren’t agile and engaged, none of the big digital transformations you’re trying to push through in your business will stick.

As Korn Ferry discovered in a landmark study on the future of work, 67% of CEOs believe technology will create greater value in the future than people – while economic data shows that human capital (people, skills, knowledge) is in fact worth 2.33x more. The organisations that are going to thrive over the next decade are the ones that start realigning their priorities now.