Deloitte’s 2019 Human Capital Trends survey found that 75 percent of public sector respondents believe leaders face new and unique business requirements, yet only 28 percent indicate their organizations are effective at identifying leaders to meet evolving challenges. In that same survey, 84 percent of public sector respondents rated learning as important or very important, making it the top-rated human capital challenge for government in 2019. For employees, learning outranks financial compensation, job security, and even the satisfaction they find in their day-to-day work.
To meet the challenges of 21st-century government, public sector leaders must learn the new skills required for the future of work and create a culture that provides meaningful learning and development for employees.
Creating this culture is a complex challenge since leaders must manage the deep disruptions that are happening as the pace of technology change continues to accelerate. With new technologies, citizens and the workforce have changing expectations about their experiences at work and with their government. In addition to a more complex operating environment, the problems public sector leaders must solve are increasingly ambiguous. For instance, the leader rarely has a direct reporting relationship with those required to accomplish the mission. Because work happens in teams and across distributed networks of people and resources, leaders must influence those outside their chain of command to make changes.
Faced with these complex challenges, what can public sector leaders do to solve important problems today and prepare for the future of work?
It starts with learning. Organizations’ needs are constantly changing, so leaders should create an environment where employees have continuous access to learning that is agile, experiential, and strategic. Take technology as an example—while 71 percent of public sector respondents believe leaders need to understand new technologies to be effective, it is strategically important to use learning to help people leverage and manage machines to achieve greater organizational performance. Developing the unique and irreplaceable value humans deliver makes it easier to deploy new technology. Leaders don’t need to master and implement all emerging technologies, but they do need to understand how technology can help people solve the complex problems they face.
If the future of work is characterized by rapid change, increased collaboration, and the need for constant learning, some keys to identifying and developing future leaders include to:
- Change how we define leadership.
- Transform the way we learn.
Effective leaders draw upon the collective knowledge of their organization, which means cultivating a sense of curiosity and creativity among the workforce and recognizing that everyone plays a leadership role in their work—whether leading themselves, leading their peers, or leading organizations. Agencies can activate the leader in each employee by providing collaboration ecosystems that enable peers to teach and coach one another and individuals to curate their own learning so they can obtain the knowledge and skills they need to perform in real-time. Learning will, in turn, become more mobile and accessible regardless of physical location, time, or device. Learning and development should not be viewed as an activity or a place where people are sent outside normal work routines. Instead, learning needs to happen in fast, iterative cycles that are fully integrated into the daily flow of work.
At Deloitte, we call this “learning in the flow of life.” Leaders who value such a practice seek opportunities to integrate real-time learning into their teams’ daily workflows. They enable workers to learn when and how they see fit and offer learning opportunities that support individuals. Learning in the flow of life can build needed skills, improve employee engagement, and help workers with short-term agility and career longevity.