I’ve learned to be comfortable with the uncomfortable

Posted by Emily Scott, on February 22, 2019.

Remember when “a disruption” was reserved for a game-changing technology, product, or business model? Things like 3D printing, smartphones, self-driving vehicles, on-demand media subscription services? These types of disruptions still exist, of course, but now the world talks about disruption more broadly—it’s everywhere and constant, affecting all industries and workplaces and the very nature of work itself. To survive in a world of always-on disruption, organizations need to be proactive, stop playing from behind, and always be ready to change course.

I’ve seen firsthand how quickly things can change. I was out on maternity leave last year when Deloitte went through an entire operating model shift. When I came back, I was having a conversation with a new-hire in the office and he was using all of the new acronyms and jargon—clearly very proud to have memorized it. I’ve been at Deloitte for 11 years and literally had no idea what he was talking about, which made me feel really uncomfortable. How did this happen so fast? Change like this is not an isolated event—markets are shifting, and many businesses are trying to respond with new services and new ways of working that enable us to be more nimble and work more fluidly across different silos. We all have to find ways to sense the environment and get new ideas to market faster than ever before.

Now, having been back at work (and getting comfortable with the new language myself) and watching my baby grow, I have noticed how adaptive she is to change. It made me realize that I need to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. For babies, rapid, and significant change is happening all the time. It is the most natural thing in the world and kids (mostly) embrace that feeling of constant change—with a little kicking and screaming. To do that, as grown-ups, we need the right tools to help keep us ahead and the right partners in an ecosystem around us to quickly respond to this constant change.

The traditional approach to problem solving is linear: identify a problem, come up with a solution, execute that solution, and move on to the next problem. But when business is constantly being disrupted, by the time you react to one problem, the solution is often outdated. Being reactionary only gets you further behind.

To stay ahead of disruption, be proactive!

  • Sense what’s happening, real-time, in your organization, your market, and the world around you.
  • Lead change by being willing to test solutions and fail fast so you can learn faster.
  • Extend capabilities by tapping into your external ecosystem to forge strategic partnerships.

Here’s what Sense-Lead-Extend should look like in practice.

Sensing is actively listening to stay ahead of potential problems and sense what issues are around the corner. There are tons of new technology tools that allow you to sense changes externally and gain insights into your workforce. But, organizations are drowning in data and don’t always know how to move forward.

Consider how the behavioral data from your employee portal could inform workforce decision-making. Do you know how often employees are using the portal, what they are looking for, if they are they finding what they need? What types of L&D offerings are most in demand? What rewards programs are most and least used? How can you act on this data?

External sensing is equally important. Your organization may understand how external events or forces impact your products and services, but the external impacts on your workforce are often overlooked. Do you understand how macro changes to workforce demographics are impacting your industry? Can you test your hypotheses with external experts and get feedback? Do you have a way to monitor what people are saying about your organization on career sites or social media? HR has the opportunity to actively bring insights on the workforce and the workplace to the business.

Leading is taking action from what your sensing reveals. Sensing without action can be detrimental, as comments on a recent Twitter poll we conducted confirm. Just as you’re actively listening, you also need to actively use what you hear to better manage your workforce. This includes coming to business leaders with solutions and equipping them with the tools to test new ideas, and to monitor and tweak those programs to meet the broader needs of the business. Just as constant change means we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, we also need to get comfortable with taking action and trying new ideas. Finally, you need to be your own internal PR agent. Make sure employees know that their feedback matters and that you are responding.

Extending is tapping into your ecosystem to create strategic partnerships so you can move quickly and tap into new skill sets and capabilities that may not exist within your organization. At Deloitte, we think organizations should develop an ecosystem of partners that allows them to extend in three categories—people, practices, and platforms.

Say your internal listening reveals gaps in your rewards programs that you want to fill. In terms of people, hiring a new person may not always be the right solution because it means you have to source, hire, onboard, train, and develop that person to do the job you need. Instead, you could leverage your ecosystem to access specialized skill sets or fractional resources that you don’t have in-house. You may tap an expert in employee benefits communications to help roll out a new pilot well-being program.

This also gives you access to leading practices and accelerators that you can tailor to fit your business, which saves times and saves you from having to reinvent the wheel.

Finally, you could access any of the fast-growing number of well-being technology platforms that can grow with your needs and give you access to new features and functionality to help your organization stay ahead.

Disruption isn’t stopping and neither should you.
Now that I’m back from maternity leave and engaging with our clients, I wanted to share my checklist that can help organizations stay ahead and manage disruptions


Would you rather be the disruptor or the disrupted? Always be changing!

Emily Scott is a senior manager in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice, focusing on helping organizations develop HR and talent strategies.


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