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Eva Sage-Gavin: A day in the life of a leader—circa 2030

By: | March 12, 2020 • 6 min read
HR Leadership columnist Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than three decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. She currently serves as the senior managing director for Accenture’s global talent & organization consulting practice and as a technology Board Director. She can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

In last month’s column, I talked about the DNA of responsible leadership. And I ended with: “Who better to help us navigate the next generation of work than those born to work within it—and someday to lead it?”

This month, I want you to time travel with me. Let’s leap forward to 2030 and visit a fictional future HR leader, Zoe. Zoe works for Acme, a large multinational, as its chief human resources officer. At just 40 years of age, she is almost 20 years into the career portion of her life journey—one that will likely last another 30 to 40 years.

Let’s follow Zoe throughout her day, to get a glimpse into what the future of HR looks like. She wears many hats:

7:30 a.m. Employee Journey Curator. After a virtual-reality yoga class (today, Zoe’s digital twin performed pigeon pose on a beach in the West Indies), Zoe zooms into the city via the hyperloop to meet with her company’s latest recruits. They’re here today thanks to a sophisticated mutual-matching system, involving AI algorithms identifying the characteristics of her company’s most successful candidates, and human judgment based on face-to-face interviews. Candidates’ motivation and behavior maps, values and mission were matched with the company and available roles. Today, Zoe and her team will not only be immersing the candidates in the company’s culture, values and mission but also gleaning more about their continuous-learning preferences and desired career journeys. They’ll finish their day with a virtual tour of the company’s offices and plants in major markets around the world, meeting in a virtual “safe space” with their global colleagues. And they’ll leave with a map that delineates first steps on their Acme employee journey. Zoe’s No. 1 priority is to help employees co-create a tailored employee experience, one that helps them achieve their goals as they help the company achieve its objectives. Since better linking the two, the company has been able to meet or exceed its revenue goals more consistently. Zoe and her team have KPIs that factor into the company’s financial health, as attracting and retaining top talent have been shown to contribute significantly to company growth.

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10 a.m. Empathy & Intuition Experience Designer. Zoe checks on her team’s latest pulse survey to see how each of them is feeling. Using the psychographic analysis provided from the questions her team answered yesterday (everything from weekend plans to stress levels), she realizes she has quite a few people planning on putting in weekend hours—and they sound a little down about it. Comparing their feedback to the stress levels their digital wearables are indicating, she realizes it’s time to help them switch gears. Zoe schedules an impromptu team lunch, gathering the team for their favorite Thai takeout in the solarium. She coaches them on ways to streamline the workflow for the looming deadline, asking for areas where they see the team could be more efficient. The resulting ideas—which include bringing in their top gig-economy workers to help them with the workload–mean that if they work late the last couple of nights of the week, they can likely all have a work-free weekend. She promises to suit up for a Friday late-afternoon celebration on the volleyball court if they make deadline by end of week. This was not just a feel-good exercise; Acme’s analysis of data from its employees shows that top-performing teams are those that step away from day-to-day demands for extended periods such as weekends and vacations. Zoe’s job as a leader is to tune into her team’s needs and help craft that positive experience, aided by data insights and basic emotional intelligence.

12 p.m. Balance Orchestrator. Lunch is a quick power snooze in Acme’s infrared-light nap pods, followed by a salad in the courtyard listening to the soothing sounds of a cool jazz trio. Zoe’s wearable reminds her she needs to move more and drink water this afternoon to reach her optimum health goals today. She also receives a reminder from her AI-powered career coach that she has two weeks to complete a portion of her own career-development plan, and that she can download a course, Advanced Collaboration Techniques for the Post-Digital Age—taught by a professor at the nearby Ivy League college—for viewing at her own convenience.

1 p.m. Insights Translator. Acme’s latest product launch requires a team with top skills in customer design, user analytics, creative visualization and market intelligence. Zoe meets with the product-launch team leads to run them through the latest AI matching system, introducing them to employee profiles that are a good fit for what they need—covering full-time and variable workforce options. They then cross-match these profiles with human feedback on each of the potential team members, watching short videos of these potential team members talking about their passions and the skills they’d like to acquire. The group has already been vetted to ensure the most balanced diversity metrics, as company research shows diverse teams lead to the most successful launches. Last, she helps the team sort through available AI robot teammates based on the skills they most need to reach their goals. She leaves the team to discuss the possibilities, promising to help facilitate the process when they’ve narrowed down their list.

3 p.m. First-Class Follower. Zoe and her fellow senior leaders attend a visioning session, led by the company’s most junior managers. The managers are teaching senior leaders how to better use the latest in virtual reality and AI to help the creative process. Senior staff are asked to come with “beginner’s mind,” erasing preconceptions and allowing themselves to experiment, ask questions and even fail in the group exercises, without worrying about how it will impact their perception. They ask wonderfully curious questions, leaving with a renewed excitement for helping their teams envision what doesn’t exist yet.

4 p.m. Mission Maven. Heading to City Hall, Zoe and several dozen employees are excited to participate in an urban-planning session with their HQ city’s citizens and planning officials. One of Acme’s major corporate values is green spaces in urban environments. The team has pitched an idea for urban gardens in underserved communities, and they’re ready to talk to residents about the practicalities of the plan. Zoe has lent the city several Acme employees who are taking on the project as part of their mini-sabbaticals, particularly because it gives them some of the life experience they indicated they wanted in their career/life integration sessions. Zoe’s company takes a “choose-your-own-adventure” approach to help employees mold a life that integrates their work and other desired experiences, finding it essential to attracting and retaining key talent. Self-agency is a given among top talent at leading companies—they won’t settle for anything less. Zoe sees herself as a partner with talent, an enabler of, rather than a gatekeeper to, these experiences.

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5:30 p.m. Zen Master. Back in the office, digital wellness tones sound over the speaker system, reminding all who are still immersed in the digital world to take a break, have some dinner, stretch or otherwise re-enter the physical world. Judging from the sounds in the hallway, the 6 p.m. meditation class will be fairly full tonight. She considers the virtual version, but can’t resist the solarium at dusk and the sound of colleagues’ laughter. As she packs up to head out, her real and virtual assistants wish her a good evening.

Zoe has a pretty full life, right? But also an immensely exciting one, tailored for her desired journey. So many of these technologies and opportunities exist today—from AI-fueled hiring to a mission-based culture. But they tend to exist in pockets, rather than on a large scale. Leaders of the future will not only bridge the human/digital divide, they’ll master their own work/life integration and digital wellness, they’ll collaborate and connect colleagues, they’ll nail “followership” because they know lifelong learning is the path of a true leader, and they’ll keep it all balanced with a focus on the higher goal—shared mission and purpose. While financial performance is no longer the sole goal, it is still the one that keeps a company competitive. HR leaders of the future do all of the above while tied into profitability far more closely than they are today—of that I’m sure.

It’s a tall order, but the future is on its way faster than you think. And I’m having fascinating conversations with senior human resources leaders who are already embracing some of the skill sets we’ve painted here.

Fasten your seatbelts. As power continues to shift from financial capital to human, intellectual and social capital, HR’s role will become even more pivotal. Our job as true architects of our future companies is coming of age. The question is: Are we ready?

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