Na Fu, Professor in Human Resources at Trinity Business School – visiting ESSEC Business School during the Science and Society Conference 2023 – provides us with the key ways to tackle changes in the future of work.
Green and Digital Transition: What can we expect? Answers with Prof. Na Fu. From an interview conducted by Antonin Gaveau.
Antonin Gaveau, Research Content Officer – CoBS: Your talk during the Science and Society event was on the role of the human in the green and digital transitions. Why did you choose this subject? And to what extent are you optimistic or not about the future of work?
Prof. Na Fu: The future work is already here because we’ve been affected by digital disruption, AI, and climate crisis. I think the future work is not just in the future, it’s here. In terms of my attitude, it is positive. I suppose my goal is to help organisations to achieve more sustainable development, not only in terms of their products and services, but through the angle of people. Only with motivated, engaged, and dedicated people can the outcome be better.
We can use this during crisis, see the opportunity and then use the opportunity to get the best talent, to retain them and to motivate them, and develop them. Once people are fulfilled, they can do their jobs better and as a result the future of work can be improved. That’s how I see it.
Motivation is the key
Antonin Gaveau: How can we motivate and engage skilled people in the current context when people have apprehensions about the future and jobs?
Prof. Na Fu: I think it’s mainly because of job losses and downsizing.
Antonin Gaveau: So, how could we get motivated people?
Prof. Na Fu: It’s very hard. In both good and bad times, it’s hard enough to motivate people and organisations. We try to develop different practices and provide leadership training and to motivate employees.
How? There are so many theories. Particularly given this uncertainty, I think are there a few things organisations should be thinking about. The first one is communication. Communication that is clear, transparent and timely. You see, organisations change, including layoffs. It’s not only about the layoffs or the action itself, it’s also how this message has been communicated with employees.
In addition, have the employees been consulted beforehand? For example, there are those who are shocked because they are laid off, and there are those who remain in their jobs but who also feel shocked by this. I think consultation could be better done if organisations can communicate with the employee’s family.
Antonin Gaveau: That’s responsible business, practice or responsible leadership.
Prof. Na Fu: Absolutely.
Antonin Gaveau: Why don’t companies do that though? Are there examples of this being put into practice?
Leadership skills towards organisational communication
Prof. Na Fu: I saw that during the COVID, when there were lots of examples of organisations. For instance, when we ran a staff survey in Trinity College during COVID, we found that communication has a key impact on employee well-being, and communication must come from different departments. Based on recommendations from staff members, we decided that we needed a one-stop shop. That’s why Trinity changed to one-stop shop communication with videos and multimedia rather than receive emails from different channels at different times with a weekly communication based on that.
I can see that change in terms of communication change, but because it’s also a question of having employees being heard, it’s also about raising suggestions and the organisation hearing employees’ concerns and then taking action. The following year we continued with that, also doing another survey – so it’s a continuous improvement. So why doesn’t every organisation do that? Companies are busy with all the priorities, projects and other things coming their way due to time resources, and you need a dedicated resource for this continuous improvement cycle process.
Second of all, it’s not traditional practice. If you look at organisations, management is a hierarchy. Even if some organisations try to be flat, there’s still hierarchy and there is a lot of top-down management in place. The other thing, I think, is that maybe psychologically, managers or senior leadership may not think employees can see the big picture. Actually, it’s because they haven’t been provided with the full picture, so their suggestions may go in different directions or it may be hard to have one. If you raise one question, maybe there are few others behind it. If you consult people, maybe you’ll get a lot of no answers, and employees may not be supportive of the idea. I think there is a psychological barrier that we do not need to address: just do it, and then see what happens.
In order to address this issue, companies need to set up dedicated resources, time, and let people talk, speak up, have a voice and then listen to them. And then take action. This is more time-consuming than just saying, “Okay, let’s do that.”
Green and Digital Transition: Ways to tackle upcoming changes
Antonin Gaveau: There’s change coming, that’s for sure. Or, as you say, it’s already here. What advice would you give to people like myself as an employee to deal with this change?
Prof. Na Fu: Are you talking about technological changes or any changes?
Antonin Gaveau: Technological change in a green and digital context.
Prof. Na Fu: So, in this context, it’s not only for behavioural change, we need to have a people change. For employees or for people, citizens, I think “be aware that the change is coming”. If the change is here, we need to be more involved in the green and digital twin transitions to make our life and work better. It’s not only for ourselves, it’s for future generations as well, so the first one is awareness.
The second one is that “get involved, be proactive” and I think people in general have difficulty in leaving their comfort zone with digital technologies. But don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just try out other things, new things. If it doesn’t work, it’s fine. It’s fine if it doesn’t work the first time. Just try again. Then, thirdly, I would say be committed because there are so many different resources, so many online debates, so many ways to express yourself.
There are also so many social media channels where we can voice our opinion to the government, to different regulation bodies, so I think that if you really want to be committed, there are a lot of ways to do that.
The awakening: Employees’ potential
Antonin Gaveau: What is your latest research about?
Prof. Na Fu: I have a few research themes going on at the moment and the coherent goal is to help employees to achieve their full potential for organisations. One is to get leaders to be ready, to be prepared for the changes, to be able to, as we said, communicate better with employees, and to implement different HR practices.
The second theme I’m working on is how HR digitalisation and AI can change people’s work and how we can leverage this opportunity to allow employees and managers to work better in these uncertain times.
The third piece of research explores a deep passion for equality and inclusion. Finally, I’m also working on a proposal we just submitted that looks at inequality during the green and digital transitions and how we can reduce that and build a more inclusive eco society.
Antonin Gaveau: What would be your final message to people?
Prof. Na Fu: Let me see. The final picture I’ll give to people who read this article is: “Don’t stop, but it’s your choice to pause. Don’t struggle because it’s your choice to embrace.”
This is probably because many people are afraid of change in general. But it’s okay to make mistakes and then learn from them, right? Don’t wait for the future to come because you are creating it. We are all creating it.
Let it come to you easily and it’s your choice to move forward, or it’s your choice to pause – because it’s here. If you don’t move, of course, it’s probably not the best option. Otherwise you won’t improve either.
- Link up with Na Fu on LinkedIn
- Read a related article: The oil industry and sustainable energies
- Explore the Science & Society conference web pages
- Discover Trinity Business School.
Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.
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- FGV-EAESP, Brazil
- School of Management Fudan University, China
- IE Business School, Spain
- Keio Business School, Japan
- Smith School of Business, Canada
- Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa
- Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.