• To compete in a digital, bold and increasingly competitive world, businesses need employees who are suited to their future goals.
  • Organisations can’t recruit everyone they need from outside; they must upskill their current staff.
  • Transforming a workforce can be done, but it isn’t as easy as simply reassigning roles.

The demand for a more talented workforce goes beyond adapting to the new digital world. CEOs of fast-moving organisations – enterprises with bold strategies, innovative cultures, inclusive workforces, and great expectations – need highly skilled people. 

Unfortunately, in nearly every industry, the best talent is in perilously short supply. Many business leaders realise that they can’t just hire the workforce they need. There aren’t enough prospective recruits, and the expense would be enormous. Instead, companies must upskill their existing employees or members of their communities. This means expanding people’s capabilities and employability to fulfill the talent needs of a rapidly changing economy.

These 10 principles can help you ready your company’s workforce for the future.

A guide to workforce transformation

Infographic: Opto Design/James Yang. ©2019 PwC. All rights reserved.


Energise the

1. Focus on a few concrete business outcomes

Before you can articulate how your people need to change, you must know the results you expect them to deliver. Are you using digital technologies to improve your basic business model? Are you seeking market growth through innovation? Do you want more profitability and productivity?

If you aim for too many goals, you’ll achieve none. Pick one or two to prioritise now. With that clarity and focus established, you can define how you want your workforce to change. Articulate your vision in bold, clear terms to all constituents: employees, shareholders, customers, regulators, and citizens. Give employees, in particular, insight into the initial steps that they can take.

2. Foster emotional commitment

To participate wholeheartedly in a transformation of this sort, employees need to be excited about the future and inspired to opt in. What excites and motivates your employees? Why, besides a paycheck, do they keep coming to work? 

Many business leaders and managers avoid addressing emotional commitment directly because it’s hard to know what people are feeling, and especially difficult to manage emotions at the scale of hundreds or thousands of people. But it is possible for any leader to foster positive emotions on an organisation-wide level. It’s also important to recognise how fear, anxiety, and fatigue can escalate when people don’t feel engaged. 

3. Design a compelling experience

Before you impose your workforce transformation plan on people, consider what it would feel like to be caught up in it. A good employee experience (EX) will make your company well liked, but that’s not the only benefit. It will also give people the cognitive support they need to conduct their jobs with confidence and excellence.

People regularly tell survey takers they would favour an employer who gave them a more intrinsically rewarding job, with greater control over how they work. Design your EX accordingly, especially for learning new skills. 

Invest in
your people

4. Start with the highest-impact roles

Although a workforce transformation will ultimately reach across the entire organisation, some people’s roles and skill sets are critical to achieving the highest-priority business outcomes right away. That’s the population to focus on first.

People with some immediately important skills may already be working in your organisation; you may need to find and reassign them. Other skills may be new and unfamiliar; you need to recruit for them or upskill your existing staff. Look for people whose temperament and training would lead them to succeed in the new organisation, even if their experience isn’t directly relevant in a traditional sense.

5. Change behaviour first

Workforce transformation efforts must explicitly design and instill new behaviours. The skills and knowledge will follow. It takes thought and time to create behaviour change; change doesn’t sink in when learning is confined to a training course. Try implementing virtual systems, such as virtual or augmented reality programs, which carry less risk and cost than changing real-world systems. 

Build repetition into the learning experience. Adults need periodic opportunities to practice and refine their techniques so that the learning sticks. You should also personalise learning. Adjust the pace of training, the interplay of practice and reflection, and the measurement of outcomes to account for different roles, experience levels, and personal preferences. 

6. Promote citizen-led innovation

When it comes to behaviour change, top-down mandates often fail. That’s especially likely with today’s employees, who want and expect to be active participants in any change that affects them. These individuals are the closest to your customers and to the day-to-day execution of the business; they know what needs fixing and how to change it. 

People on your staff will come up with insights and opportunities that you might never have thought of. But they need an invitation to do so, and a high level of support. Encourage grassroots efforts to help foster their investment in the change. Encourage them to experiment with their own ideas for innovations and new ways of working. 

Manage and sustain
the change

7. Plan and commit to a comprehensive journey

Workforce transformation does not just happen in a few pockets, but at scale throughout your enterprise. A full initiative might take three years or more, rolling out in stages, building the organisation’s capabilities along the way. The initiative should be planned, prepared for, and resourced accordingly. Though the time and expense may seem daunting, the payoff will be worth it, especially if you manage expectations appropriately.

Don’t try to anticipate everything that will happen. Any initiative of this sort is full of uncertainty. There will be quick wins along the way, and you will start seeing returns on investment rapidly. But be prepared from the start to invest in long-term success, and to let each stage of activity build on the success of the previous stage.

8. Engage with cultural influencers

Workforce transformation always involves cultural change. You can’t succeed if you ignore your organisation’s culture, and yet you can’t pin it down or shape it through the formal efforts of ordinary organisational change initiatives. You have to work with your culture as it is, not as you think it should be.

Perhaps the most important resource is the group of people who are most ready to change. These ‘authentic informal leaders,’ who can be found at any level of the hierarchy, are already acquiring new skills, using all the tools and opportunities available to them, and demonstrating the value of workforce transformation by example. They can help you understand how employees feel and how to reach them.

9. Include everyone but the unwilling

The willing and able are your allies; they will recognise the value of this effort and may influence others to join with them. The ‘unable’ employees — those who feel that they can’t learn the skills of a digital age — can be reached if you convince them to explore options they may not have considered.

It’s the unwilling employees — those who covertly or overtly resist change — who need the most attention. If they persist in their scepticism, be compassionate but firm — especially if they are middle or senior managers responsible for leading teams. Hear them out, but if they still aren’t convinced after you address their concerns, then they are dangerous. You may need to shift them out of a leadership position or even separate them from the company.

10. Track results and course-correct

Tracking results can be difficult in workforce transformation, because value is sometimes hard to quantify and the benefits can be intangible. Your measurements need to include actions as well as the results achieved through those actions. Put a skills inventory in place that can help you continually track and analyse your progress. Investment in skills monitoring can help you predict talent shortages and respond faster to changing business conditions.

If your measurement and tracking show that parts of the organisation are not adopting the transformation, you need to intervene. With the data in hand, engage with the business leaders: Ask what help they need, and provide it.

Taking the transformation
to heart

The winds of change are stronger than ever in enterprises today. It is a good bet that just about every organisation will need to transform its workforce during the next few years. This type of initiative is big, complex, and time consuming. And by no means is success guaranteed. You may experience the undertaking as a burden, not a choice.

But you can also see it as a chance to think differently about your aspirations as an employer. The people who work for your enterprise are there transactionally, to be sure; you are paying for their time. But your enterprise’s success depends on their investment of not only time but also creativity and interest. In return, you can give them the opportunity to become proficient — on your behalf and theirs. 

This is a condensed version of an article published on PwC’s strategy+business.


Digital Pulse contributor Deniz Caglar


Deniz Caglar

Deniz is a leading practitioner in strategic cost transformation for Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business.

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Carrie Duarte


Carrie Duarte

Carrie Duarte is a principal and Workforce of the Future Leader at PwC US.

More About Carrie Duarte