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Human Capital Consulting Blog


Is Labor Day Dead?


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Aug 31, 2017 | by Ken Oehler & Don MacPherson


It is the last hurrah. Across the United States, people will be celebrating the unofficial end of summer with picnics, college football, and the three days of vacation that is Labor Day Weekend. But what are we really celebrating? For more than 120 years, this federal holiday has honored the labor movement and the people who have contributed to the strength of the country through the power of their hands and backs.

At any given moment a newspaper or television station might run a story about the demise of labor. Jobs are vanishing. They are being replaced by robots, drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and a whole host of rapidly advancing and recombined technologies. Driverless cars are going to displace millions of people working in the global transportation sector. Sophisticated software that “learns” as it recognizes patterns in data is threatening the legal, accounting, and consulting industries. We know what robots have done and continue to do to manufacturing jobs. 

These stories might scare you to death. You might even think Labor Day is dead. It isn’t “to death” that you should be scared. You should be scared to action. The rate of change is only increasing. The winners will be the people and companies that remain agile, innovate, embrace change, and cultivate a resilient culture.

As our colleague Ernie Paskey likes to remind us:

Ernie Paskey Quote

People who are too rigid when it comes to unstoppable change will be left in the dust. The same is true for organizations with senior leadership convinced that what made them successful in the past will always be relevant.

When talking with clients and prospects, we are constantly asked how their organizations can become more innovative. They want to create the future rather than have the future happen to them. Let’s be very clear here. If you want innovation, you need to be ready to lead through change and ready employees for that change. Our research on change readiness indicates most organizations and people are not ready to change even when that change will benefit them. Many will even dig in their heels to resist the change even if the status quo will render them irrelevant.

Is your occupation dying? Maybe. Will you survive? Yes…if you are smart about it. Our advice:

Spend some time truly analyzing how you provide value to your organization and ask yourself how it can be threatened by innovative technology or changing market needs.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. “Agile” people don’t spend all their time doing things they know how to do. They test themselves with new experiences, by learning new things, meeting new people.

Truly assess your change-readiness. Do a self-assessment. The results will probably surprise you. We’ve found most people are absolutely ready for others to change, but we are just fine the way we are!

Is your organization dying? Every organization is subject to threat and disruption. To avoid obsolescence and survive or even thrive in a volatile world, organizations need to ensure they are ready to address four common employee responses during a transformation:

Understanding – Do employees understand the changes?

Emotion – Are employees emotionally ready for the changes?

Ability – Do employees have the ability to support the changes?

Intent – Do employees intend to embrace the changes in the future?

Not surprisingly, employees don’t get to the point of readiness in all four areas by themselves. An organization embarking on massive transformation needs to have an aligned and capable senior management team ready to lead the organization to the other side.

Is Labor Day dead? No way! The unemployment rate in the United States is 4.3%. In the last 10 years it’s never been lower. It’s only 2.4% for people over 25 with a college degree. Firms all over the world are trying to find great talent for positions they are unable to fill. The good news is that the U.S. will be able to celebrate the end of summer with a three day weekend for years to come.

To learn more about how you can lead through times of change, check out Aon’s white paper “Managing Engagement in Times of Change.”

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