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Belgian companies focus on work practices in face of pandemic while their global counterparts build growth and resilience, Deloitte survey shows

Fundamentally reimagining work will avoid that the gap with global companies grows.

Brussels – 25 February 2021

Belgian executives respond differently to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic when compared to their peers in other countries, Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report shows. While their global counterparts strive to build an organisational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience, Belgian executives are focusing on establishing new work practices, policies, and incentives. The barriers to transform work outcomes are lack of readiness (not having the right skills, right experience, right culture) (41.60%) and having too many competing priorities (36.8%).

More than 3,600 executives in 96 countries contributed to Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends report "The social enterprise in a world disrupted", including 309 respondents in Belgium representing all business segments and industry sectors. In total 171 of those surveyed in Belgium were executive participants (senior manager, director, vice president, C-suite, board member).

Yves Van Durme, Global Human Capital partner and HC Trends co-author: “Our 2021 report examines how organisations and leaders can leverage the lessons of this pandemic to fundamentally reimagine work, shifting from a focus on surviving to the pursuit of thriving. If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us it is that we must make changes and prepare for the unexpected. Reimagining the workplace is not only essential to be ready for any future events, but to thrive internationally.”

Preparing for the unknown goes hand in hand with the need to fundamentally reimagine work

In the 2021 report, 16% of Belgian executives said that their organisations would focus on planning for unlikely, high-impact events moving forward, as opposed to only 5% before the pandemic. Forty percent of executives said that their organisations planned to focus on multiple scenarios, a significant increase coming from 24% pre-pandemic. Still almost half of the Belgian executives say they are only focusing on likely, incremental events or have no preparedness strategy moving forward (44%).

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting disruptions have underlined more than ever that point-in-time adjustments to business models and processes are not enough or viable. The last decade, organisations have had to deal with considerable economic and social disruptions and have had the tendency to resort to point-in-time responses to try to remain competitive in a quickly changing landscape. Belgian and global executives recognise that planning for expected and incremental events is not a solid foundation for thriving in multiple unknown futures and are shifting their approach to preparedness as a result: from a focus on the familiar to planning for the unknown.

Nathalie Vandaele, Deloitte Belgium Human Capital Lead: “Our clients tell us that where they thought they had years to rethink outdated views and establish new norms, they now needed to make changes in months, weeks and even days. If they want to keep up with competition on a global level, our companies need to embed that flexibility in how they prepare for the future.”

Human Capital Trends 2021

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What also became clear in light of the pandemic is that, to prepare for the unexpected, organisations need to reimagine work. They have to support their employees to enable them to rise to the challenges that disruption may bring. Readying workers for uncertain futures depends on building the human element into everything an organisation does, for example by giving workers more freedom to choose how they can best help tackle critical business problems. During the COVID-19 crisis, organisations did not have time to rewrite job descriptions or map skill requirements; they were forced to make real-time decisions and to redeploy workers to the areas were needed most, whether it was producing vaccines, face masks or shifting from high-touch sales to virtual selling. Organisations that provided employees the ability to explore their passion areas were able to make these shifts quicker.

Reimagining work means more than automating tasks and activities. It’s about configuring work to capitalise on what humans and technology can accomplish when work is designed around their strengths. The collaboration tools for instance that made remote and virtual work possible during COVID-19 also prompted some organisations to rethink how those technologies could be used to team up far more effectively across organisational and ecosystem boundaries. Pharmaceutical organisations use collaboration technologies to enable real-time partnerships and data-sharing that increase the speed and level of the teamwork necessary for rapid progress.

Belgian executives are on the right track as we see an increase of 20% in their focus on reimagining work in the next one to three years, from 29% pre-COVID to 49% amid the pandemic. Yet they are lagging behind their global counterparts, there we see 60% are planning to shift their focus to reimagining work.

Belgian companies rely on traditional practices, resort to adapting policies and procedures

Deloitte’s survey reveals a strong disparity between Belgian executives’ approach to transforming work and the priorities listed by their counterparts in other countries. For Belgian executives, the most important step to take in order to transform work is establishing new work practices, policies, and incentives (38.96%), while 44.91% of global executives feel that building an organisational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience is key. “Belgian companies are not making fundamental changes and reimaging work, instead they are relying on traditional practices and resorting to adapting policies and procedures,” said Van Durme.

In line with this, we also see that Belgian respondents are avoiding innovative moves such as driving the fusion between humans and technology. Only 8% of executives stated that they would focus on building portfolios of humans and machines working together, indicating that Belgian companies might not yet be ready to overcome the paradox of a distinctly human yet technology-driven workplace.

Focus on leadership, culture and rapid decision-making to move forward

According to Belgian executives, the barriers to transform work are lack of readiness (not having the right skills, right experience, right culture) (41.60%) and having too many competing priorities (36.8%). “This is not surprising because Belgian companies are not yet focusing on the aspects of transforming work such as ‘building an organisational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience’ and ‘building workforce capability through upskilling, reskilling and mobility’. There is still a huge opportunity for change in Belgium,” explained Van Durme.

Leadership behaviour (49%) and culture (42%) were identified by Belgian executives as the two top drivers for change in order to achieve the organisation’s vision of preparedness moving forward. Leadership becomes increasingly important at all levels of the organisation and the full C-suite should be involved. The survey also revealed that the ability to organise and manage work in a way that facilitates rapid decision-making is an essential part of reimagining work, with 40% of respondents indicating it as one of the most important factors to navigate future disruptions.

Mixed views on the outcomes of transforming work

Investing in work transformation is expected to impact a wide array of domains. For Belgian executives, improving quality (36%) and improving the customer experience (31%) are the two most important outcomes of work transformation efforts. Non-executives agree that improving quality is a top outcome (45%), but next in line are increasing innovation and improving worker wellbeing. “Executives and non-executives have differing views on the most important outcomes to be achieved by transforming work. They must get on the same page to ensure that their organisations can thrive,” concluded Van Durme.

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