The Talent ShiftThe tech distraction

The technology distraction is most pronounced at pinnacle posts.

The Talent ShiftThe tech distraction

The technology distraction is most pronounced at pinnacle posts.

Leaders predict dramatically reshaped workforce

Korn Ferry research has identified that business leaders prioritize technology over talent, with 74% of executives saying by 2030 tech will overtake people as their biggest value creator.

Because of their belief in technology and its advances, business leaders also say they think an increasing number of jobs will no longer be necessary as the makeup of the workforce changes. Half of all business leaders expect 20% or more of their organization’s roles to be obsolete by 2030; 60% of leaders of high-growth companies believe this will be so. As a group, CEOs are particularly likely to think this change will occur, with 46% believing that a third or more of their workforce will no longer be needed in a little more than a decade.

Attitudes vary across regions: Half of US business leaders believe technology will make people largely irrelevant, while in China, only a quarter of executives hold this view. The UK falls in the middle but is more people-positive than the mean average, with 39% of all leaders taking this stance.

What’s clear is that without drastic changes to how businesses hire, promote, and retrain staff, large-scale workforce redundancies could be increasingly common in the years ahead. But while leaders may see this as an opportunity to strengthen the bottom line, widespread changes could reshape the business environment in negative ways.

But the extent to which technology actually can displace people may be much smaller than leaders think. In 2018, an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report found that just 14% of jobs in OECD countries are highly automatable, although another 32% of jobs could substantially change in response to technology. Further, even if workforces shrink, people will not become irrelevant to organizations; the highly skilled workers who remain will become even more valuable. A 2013 study by University of Oxford doctors Frey and Osborne found that certain tasks remain resistant to automation: tasks related to creativity and ideation, tasks related to social and emotional intelligence, and tasks related to perception and manipulation. People who can innovate, deploy, leverage, and create with technology—as well as those who can lead and inspire others—are unlikely to find themselves out of a job.

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The tech distraction: leaders consistently prioritize technology over people

The tech-people interface

Even as leaders bet on tech, they also recognize that its ability to drive business will rely on human skills, with 79% of them saying they believe technology’s growth will make companies value human skills more. High-growth company leaders are staggeringly clear about the shift: 91% say they will need more highly skilled workers as a percentage of their workforce. In China, the US, and Singapore, high-growth leaders are unequivocal: 100% state that they will need to employ a higher percentage of skilled workers in the future.

Especially in the UK and US, many leaders of high-growth companies see a tech-people partnership as the route to future success. In this group, 50% (UK) and 60% (US) recognize that a talent crunch will make it harder to transform their business using technology. This underscores that technology, while making some roles obsolete, will enhance the value of remaining highly skilled workers.

Companies will need to adopt a more agile approach to talent: Thinking laterally about how to develop people will help to fill vital highly skilled positions. There is strong recognition of the need to improve the skills of existing talent, with 85% of leaders saying they would put in place mass retraining and redeployment of their existing workforce if there were a talent shortage; more than half of leaders deemed this as a high priority.

Additional Korn Ferry research shows that retaining staff during times of lightning-fast change can be a challenge, and given the difficulties in attracting and keeping highly skilled talent, 82% of leaders say they hope to accelerate technology adoption in their organization to cut the demand for skilled workers.

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People strategy in the technological age

Despite a real need to focus on talent, business leaders admit their attentions shift elsewhere, with 55% saying they have been distracted from people strategy by the promises of transformative technology. The largest percentage of leaders (31%) ranked technology as their top priority to develop business strategy, followed by those focusing on research and development (17%). At pinnacle posts, where the thinking is the most strategic, the technology distraction is the most pronounced. The percentage of CEOs saying technology was their top priority hit 37%. Talent is rarely leaders’ top priority: The least frequent focus for them was their leadership team (11%), followed by people in general, who were the top priority for just 13% of business leaders.

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