Gartner Research

How to Prioritize Future of Work Trends

Published: 15 September 2021

Summary

Executive leaders face several future of work trends. This research offers different prioritization frameworks to shortlist trends for their organizations to invest in. It is also part of an in-depth research on crafting a future of work strategy.

Because of the growing volume of future of work trends, executive leaders need to shortlist the most important ones to concentrate on when developing strategies. This requires trends analysis, which involves three steps (see Figure 1):

Identification involves recognizing trends that could affect how, when and where work is done; who or what does work; or even what work means in the near future.

Interpretation involves understanding the relevance and implication of a future of work trend to the organization. Our research suggests determining a trend’s level of uncertainty and its influence on other trends helps interpret the trend’s overall relevance and implication for the organization.

This research focuses on prioritization: the final step to analyzing future of work trends for creating a future of work strategy.

Figure 1. Trends Analysis Phase of Crafting a Future of Work Strategy

While executive leaders recognize the importance of prioritizing trends, cognitive biases and difficulty in separating signal from noise make prioritization difficult. This increases the risk of missed opportunities and a lack of preparation to prioritize and respond to disruptive events. This research provides different methodologies to prioritize future of work trends and steps to understand the relevance of these trends to the organization before shortlisting them for planning or investments. Executive leaders can choose or devise methodologies suitable to their organization’s progress and prevent strategic drift.

Once executive leaders understand the relevance and implication of trends for their organization and move on to prioritizing them, they can adopt the elements from the successful trend prioritization approaches from John Deere and NASA. The common success factor in both these approaches is to involve diverse stakeholders for an inclusive process of parameter selection and improve buy-in to trends prioritized. Seeking inputs from a diverse set of stakeholders while assessing trends ensures an objective evaluation and a comprehensive trends analysis overall.

John Deere has a trend interpretation process embedded in its prioritization process that assesses the relationship of a trend with the business’s core capabilities and evaluates those fit for time and resource investment. NASA’s strategy, on the other hand, is wholly focused on prioritization using its overall vision. It evaluates and thematically groups trends based on longevity, alignment with employee needs and potential to offer competitive advantage.

John Deere’s strategy team applies three screens to filter megatrends. The first screen, known as the relevance screen, is a simple gut check by the strategy team to shortlist megatrends that represent plausible growth opportunities; i.e., trends that have solid implications on the organization. It does so with help from its external partners, including customers, dealers, strategic suppliers, advisory councils and innovation networks. John Deere also seeks input from an external global technology innovation council, which includes senior leaders from other R&D organizations (both retired and still in the CTO position).

The second is the Core Impact Assessment — an inside-out assessment by the strategy team that winnows megatrends into a meaningful group of impact trends by testing the relationship between the trend and the company’s core businesses and capabilities (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Core Impact Assessment

The last of the screens is the Megatrend Ranking Scorecard applied by the strategy team, which contains objective, opportunity-based criteria to rank megatrends and determine those fit for focused investment of time and resources (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Sample Trends Ranking Scorecard

Better understanding of megatrend relevance and impact enabled John Deere to significantly improve the quality of its growth opportunity pipeline.

Knowing which trends are most relevant and have the highest implication on the organization, John Deere doubled its rate of breakthrough innovation as it focused its capabilities to make the most of the trend occurrence. The process yielded a set of six innovation spheres that represent significant potential growth opportunities. Furthermore, the company also gained additional clarity on what capabilities will be necessary to sustain future growth.

Executive leaders can use elements from NASA’s approach to developing a future of work framework that functions as the organization’s vision for the future of work.

The Human Capital Team at NASA began by identifying a comprehensive list of future of work trends aligned with NASA’s vision, instead of simply seeking out general future of work trends. NASA then conducted a series of conversations within the team, enabling team members to leverage their own experiences to shape the vision of NASA’s future of work (see Figure 4). The evaluation criteria (and aligned discussion questions) used were:

  • Longevity — Will this trend last beyond the next one to two years?

  • Alignment — Is this trend important to our employees and/or talent pool?

  • Opportunity — Could this trend give us a talent advantage?

Figure 4. Three-Filter Approach to Narrow Trends

Once filtered, NASA grouped trends into themes based on end-state organizational goals (e.g., designing for sharing and security, prioritizing digital transformation and designing for agility while focusing on impact) to leave room for each theme to be achieved in a variety of ways. In practice, this exercise allows themes to be applied to many different talent strategies and programs.

Through this exercise, NASA prioritized eight themes that define the future of work vision specific to its organization. While the vision isn’t meant to be constantly adjusted, NASA plans to monitor the trends that make up the vision to determine if it needs to be updated.

Executive leaders must involve diverse stakeholders in an inclusive process for parameter selection to improve buy-in to trends prioritized. Seeking inputs from a diverse set of stakeholders when assessing trends against the prioritization parameters will ensure an objective evaluation and a comprehensive trends analysis overall.

Recommended by the Authors

Endnotes

Refer to our and research, both a part of our Crafting a Future of Work Strategy study, to learn more about trend identification and prioritization.

Analysts:

Human Resources Research Team

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