An Ideas-Based Online Magazine of the Global Network for Advanced Management

Why It Is Important for HR to Get Out In Front of Workplace Disruption

Artificial intelligence, automation and machine-operated systems are already changing workplaces around the world – bringing fresh challenges and opportunities for many professions – and Human Resources need to lead the change.

Some experts believe that 35% of jobs in South Africa are at risk of being lost due to digitisation and computer technology replacing human employees. This equates to about 5.7 million jobs that could be cut. A World Economic Forum (WEF) report meanwhile predicts that by 2020 – in only two years’ time – more than a third of the skills employers seek today – will have fallen by the wayside.


What does this mean for HR professionals? How is it possible to manage a workforce that is potentially out-dated every two years or so?


Along with everyone in the world of work, HR professionals are going to have to adapt to get ahead of these challenges, finding ways to work with uncertainty to ensure that their organisations harness the best talent to succeed in the long term. Technology is already making administrative tasks easier; from managing payrolls and employee details to keeping track of contracts. HR can harness these advances to innovate what they do from recruitment through to assessment and reward, creating a more compelling and fulfilling employee experience.


New ways of hiring, working and evaluation


Future workplaces are likely to look different and they will be operated differently too. More and more companies are hiring freelancers and remote work among full-time employees is also become the new normal. It is expected that this trend will increase in future, bringing with it more consequences for HR, like how to measure performance, structure packages and offer incentives. Monitoring teams and keeping up to date with projects can be done via a number of platforms and more electronic solutions will become available over time. Already, companies are making use of cloud-based solutions, voice technology and machine learning to manage their people.


According to HR Technologist, more efficient and streamlined data processes like these will in future make gathering employee data more efficient. It will speed up tasks like identifying suitable job candidates based on key characteristics, educational qualifications and professional work history, for instance. 


Unilever, for one, is already taking advantage of this, launching a pioneering digital recruitmentprocess this year that has shortened their hiring cycle from four months to just two weeks saving 50,000 hours of candidate time while reducing recruiter screening time by a massive 75%. More than that, the process is fun and rewarding for candidates and they get better feedback about their participation regardless of whether they are successful or not.


New ways of rewarding and incentivising


This type of approach appeals especially to Millennials and the Generation Zs – young people who are tech savvy and used to interacting on multiple platforms, and who will dominate workspaces of the future. Research shows Millennials are keen too on experiential rewards as opposed to financial incentives. This means they place a high premium on things like travel opportunities, discounted tickets and vouchers to sports or music events rather than on pension benefits and more traditional incentives.


Millennials are also quicker than previous generations to leave jobs where they are not happy and expect regular affirmation in the workplace.


Companies can respond by putting into place automated feedback systems to provide continuous assessment rather than a lumbering annual performance appraisal. Startups like LatticeTinyPulse, and Zugata have taken this concept to the extreme with short weekly reviews that are fun for employees to complete. Other organisations have launched collaborative initiatives that help to motivate and engage millennials. Accenture Digital, for example, offers secondments for junior staff to lead hackathons and develop prototypes and take part in an Innovation Hub, giving them an opportunity to learn more skills and work with others in a virtual space.


New ways of learning


According to the Accenture Strategy report: Harnessing Revolution: Creating the future workforce,employees are hungry for these kind of opportunities and are positive about the change technology is bringing to their jobs with 87% thinking it will improve matters at work. A telling 85% said they were willing to learn new skills at work.


It is now widely accepted that the kind of skills employees will need are changing. While technical skills are high on the list, there will also be a need for enhanced interpersonal skills, resilience and adaptability that will help people to build and maintain relationships, communicate effectively and resolve conflicts and disputes. Collectively called emotional intelligence (EQ), research shows that those with high EQ have the ability to control themselves as well as others, better lead teams and steer projects. They are resilient when faced with challenges or failures and able to think out-of-the-box to solve problems.


In line with these shifts, executive education is shifting too. While in the past it was dominated by business acumen and financial expertise – there is now a growing focus on leadership, relationship building, self-awareness, empathy and communication skills. How these courses are delivered is also shifting with face-to-face and full-time learning being augmented with online courses, flexible timetables and adjustable structures offering HR more avenues than ever before to train and develop their employees. 


In addition to new ways of formal learning, HR has access to a range of innovative software and electronic tools to enable informal learning in the workplace. New technology and apps, like for instance MyGrow, can help to develop emotional intelligence in the workplace at scale while also assisting with managing employees, keeping track of their time at work and on projects.


Human rights activist Malcolm X said the future belongs to those who prepare for it today. Far from being a threat, the future is bright and filled with opportunity for those HR professionals who are able to shift gears quickly and think afresh about how they add value. In many respects, as the profession that looks after all others in the workplace, they have an obligation to make sure that the changes ahead are, on balance, good for their people.