The Future of Work: Frameworks for Leading Through Change

A new MBA course aims to provide students with the essential tools they need to manage and lead in 21st century organizations.

Doing business in the 21st century requires new approaches, such as upskilling workforces and workplaces.
Doing business in the 21st century requires new approaches, such as upskilling existing workforces and workplaces.
Data & Business Analytics, The Workplace
Laurie B. Davis

Technological innovations rush into the world as attitudes shift and society responds and adapts to uncontrollable events. With these events, a new, dynamic era of the future of work has transpired, marking rapid changes in business tools, talent markets, career models, and modes of work.

“What’s happened in the first couple of years in this decade is that we have fast-forwarded on all of these,” says Jeffrey L. Schwartz, adjunct assistant professor of business at Columbia Business School. Schwartz also co-teaches Future of Work: Strategy & Leadership with Stephan Meier, the James P. Gorman Professor of Business and chair of the management division at Columbia Business School. “The pandemic created the environment in which we had to fast-forward,” he says.

As technical innovations continue to fuel this accelerated pace, the evolution of the workforce, workplaces, and careers also will progress. “This generation of MBAs is not going to be leading and managing in the age of the experimental future of work. It’s going to be leading and managing at hyperspeed and hyperscale,” says Schwartz.

He says a decade of experimentation with technologies—human-machine collaborations, robotics, and artificial intelligence, as well as talent ecosystems, the internal talent marketplace, and remote and hybrid work—has set dynamic changes in motion that require leaders to develop and implement the most relevant models for businesses.

“Companies in every industry, large and small, around the world are moving from experimenting with these dimensions of the future of work, workforces, and workplaces to thinking about them in a more strategic, leadership, and holistic framework,” Schwartz says.

The Future of Work: Strategy and Leadership course is anchored to that framework, with Schwartz and Meier leading MBA and executive education students through their exploration. “Can we provide some frameworks that combine strategy and leadership with the elements of the future of work, so that when people are out there solving business problems, they can make the connection between strategy and management and work, workforce, and workplace?” says Schwartz, who also is the author of Work Disrupted: Opportunity, Resilience, and Growth in the Accelerated Future of Work and founding partner of Deloitte’s Future of Work practice.

Meier, an expert on business strategy, says, “A big part of our class is not just what is technically possible; it’s how you actually implement it.” He notes that the use of case studies in the course lays out the steps companies take to change strategies. For example, Unilever, a global consumer goods company, decided to sell more brands with purpose, incorporating environmentally friendly and social good values that drive sales of direct-to-consumer brands.

“Unilever took this issue that the world is changing and turned it around into potentially one of the more holistic approaches to the future of work,” says Meier. Focused on a strategy of aligning its operations with purpose, Unilever addressed the challenges of needing different types of talent and skills on a rapidly changing basis and an aging workforce that wasn’t yet at retirement age. “You can't have purpose and then lay off 30 percent of your workforce. That's not really purpose,” Meier says. The company invested in internal talent marketplace technology to offer workers options to upskill, reskill, and take advantage of different opportunities within the company, which gave Unilever agility to utilize all its workers and place them where the company needed them most.

Schwartz says his book emphasizes that 21st century business requires “21st century mental models and maps for work, workforces, and workplaces. It’s not good enough to use 20th century maps in order to educate, manage, and lead 21st century organizations.”

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