Every HR Leader Needs a VR Mindset

To lead in the new “imagination economy,” HR leaders have new ways to perceive–and steer–our organizations for agility and reinvention.

As HR leaders, we have unprecedented new opportunities to reimagine and transform our competitive and workplace realities. There are new ways of viewing our ecosystems to gain breakthrough insights and ideas from “peripheral vision” that extends outside the boundaries of our organizations. We are able to create a virtual version and expanded scenarios of future possibilities to allow us to easily test and experiment with new ideas before we pilot them in physical reality. We can move from conventional HR roles to predictive-workforce experts, deeply steeped in organization agility and innovation.

What if we could all be equipped with a virtual-reality headset? One that layers digital information on top of the real world or replaces it entirely with a computer-generated 3D alternative? Armed with this new, more robust way of experiencing the world, we’d have an unprecedented opportunity to radically reinvent our roles beyond serving as CHROs and transform into chief agility officers for our teams and organizations.

Maybe it sounds far-fetched, but it shouldn’t be. After all, the digital economy is now the “imagination economy,” personified by immersive, imaginative experiences, where creative thinking, innovation and organizational agility lead to new sources of economic value.

Moving from a 1D to a 3D mindset means a shift from supporting the workforce through traditional HR responsibilities of delivering employee services, overseeing employee engagement and managing compensation and benefits, to redesigning new possibilities that can reimagine our workforces and new inter-connected ecosystems of liquid talent pools. We have an extraordinary opportunity to unleash new value and to harness expanded levels of innovation, agility and productivity.

We can reimagine new ways of working and redesign the very nature of work itself, leveraging human and machine connections. We have the invitation to shape new ways of working and create new roles, identifying needed capabilities that are uniquely human (i.e., lead, judge, improvise) and those that are best performed by machines (i.e., transact, predict, iterate). We can be the architects of new organization ecosystems and roles where advanced digital tools can enhance and complement human capability, giving organizations leapfrog competitive advantages and creating better and new opportunities for individuals.

VR environments also allow us to quickly evaluate multiple diverse scenarios without the limitations of investing in real-world pilot projects first. Actions in the virtual world can be less costly, more flexible and can happen much more quickly than in the real world. They can uncover potential new markets, identify disruptive contenders and predict the needed capability shifts that these new scenarios would require.

Imagine anticipating individual and team impacts of various scenarios and investing in comprehensive training needs before a single change is announced. Consider also being able to rapidly assess our current talent pools, build predictive training simulations and propose creative development strategies that tap into previously under-leveraged talent pools. We’ve seen how VR is used today in many industries to shorten time-to-market, enable enhanced creativity and deliver better products through rapid prototyping and experimentation.

If engineers can use a CAD rendering to bring products to life in a VR environment and instantly make changes without a physical model, why can’t HR organization engineers do the same with sophisticated scenario-planning and modelling?

We don’t necessarily need to wear headsets to leverage AI, of course. Companies are mining it to find hidden talent pools in unexpected places. Clustree is one example. This new digital-born company states its mission “is to build a technology solution that delivers fact-based and proactive decision-making for career development and recruitment.” And it does that by looking at public data and internal sources to recommend candidates, and even suggest transfers–i.e. identifying new opportunities for existing employees that may be outside their current line of sight.

Volometrix (now) analyzes email data to identify potential “hidden leaders” inside organizational talent pools. Another company identifies leaders in part based on their social skills. How? Badges track an employee’s engagement with colleagues within an organization, and tag high performers.

Today new technologies can provide information on an organization’s leaders–their strengths, skills and networks. This technology can identify potential leadership candidates for critical roles using criteria that can be adjusted instantly–not only by flagging who is the right person for the job, but also by identifying the implications of that decision and the potential impact on the rest of the organization.

There are a host of new solutions emerging that enable us to rapidly prototype, experiment and play with different organizational designs–modelling with data how different designs will impact organizations’ agility. The same is true for workforce design–intelligent advisors are emerging that can enable us to visually experiment with automating tasks, augmenting them or sourcing them with external talent–and show how changing organization designs will unlock agility. This will allow us to make informed decisions before a single real-world change is made.

Imagine this new world and our potential new roles–emboldened and VR-augmented with new 3D vision and the ability to easily test new ideas in a virtual-reality world before implementing them. Armed with this new capability, we could have an unprecedented opportunity to radically transform our roles. We can reimagine competitive landscapes, redesign new human and machine collaborations and deliver on the promise of digital transformation to become ever more agile in the hyper-fast world of work, today and tomorrow.

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Eva Sage-Gavin
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.