A New Era for HR

HRE’s new HR Leadership columnist is here to de-mystify what’s behind some of the more significant trends impacting the state and future of work.

Be caring. Curious. Courageous. Competent.

As I reflect on these parting words of advice from my wise friend Sue Meisinger in her final HR Leadership column, it strikes me that we, as HR leaders, must not only embody these qualities now more than ever, but that only by helping our employees develop these very same qualities will we arm them with the tools to navigate the sweeping tides of disruption coming their way.

In a world in which digital is radically reinventing work as we know it, all of us–regardless of level or title–need to be courageous in the face of radical change, curious enough to continually learn to stay competent and relevant, and caring enough to navigate the new ethical and social dilemmas we face as smart machines join the workforce.

I will be filling some big shoes (metaphorically) by taking over from Sue, who helmed this column for the past seven years. As someone who’s witnessed the seismic changes in Fortune 500 companies over the past three decades, my aim is to lend you my own experience in dealing with the constantly shifting waves without getting pulled under: to de-mystify what’s behind some of the bigger trends impacting your work and the workforce in general, and to help you stay curious and courageous.

So, what do I think is ahead? A tidal wave of disruption as the marketplace deals with unparalleled velocity and the effect of nimbler, more digitally savvy companies that are unencumbered by legacy processes and technology quickly dominating established players.

What does this mean for leaders like you and me? For starters, we need to harness the power of new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence to amplify and extend our human abilities, both for us as individuals and as leaders seeking to get the best out of our employees.

It’s something that was on the agenda in a big way at the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos this year. By now, the video of Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, saying that education itself needs to transform has gone viral. According to Ma, anything that’s routine will be automated. The emphasis on education needs to be on the qualities that are the most human at their essence. Things like caring, empathy, and collaboration, creativity and curiosity.

This gets to the very heart of HR, because finding the right skills to meet future needs is getting harder by the day. It is projected that nearly half of the top skills we’re in pursuit of today will change drastically by as soon as 2020 thanks to automation. As leaders we’ll need to tap into innovations emerging from HR tech start-ups. This could mean leveraging AI-based algorithms to predict the skills we’ll need and screen for them (even skills like learning agility), or smart digital “coaches” to give our employees real-time, data-based feedback to help them learn and grow.  We’ll also need to leverage talent sources “on demand,” assembling teams fluidly based on fluctuating needs.

Another trend reshaping work as we know it today: the ability of digital to finally deliver more flexible and personalized employment experiences. The rise of digital talent exchanges has enabled a growing cadre of highly skilled freelance workers the ability to create “portfolio” careers across multiple companies. Interestingly, a growing number of companies are using similar platforms to meet the demand of gig-like experiences for their own employees.

Digital technologies–such as smart sensors and powerful analytics engines–are reaching the point where organizations will soon be able to decode the “employee genome.” By codifying “the algorithm of you,” organizations will be far better positioned to tailor everything from learning to rewards to job activities.

Getting back to those nimbler digitally savvy disruptors, there’s work to do for traditional players when it comes to gaining speed–table stakes in today’s competitive game. This involves building a culture that embraces constant change and an agile operating model. There’s a lot to learn from start-ups’ flexibility and willingness to embrace risk (and failure) by experimenting, iterating and always learning.

We enter 2018 on the brink of a brave new world. Digital, AI and other advanced technologies have already impacted the outer layers of business. Now they’re penetrating its very core. I am excited to explore my insights with you in future columns to help us, as a community of HR leaders, cut new ground in reshaping work, our workforces and our organizations for the future.

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.