Why HR needs to embrace the work revolution

When I first entered the human resources tech world in 2011, I discovered the previous decade had been about designing HR for HR.

This last decade, many professionals have worked hard to build a function for both employee and business. Analytics, culture, wellbeing and engagement have all wrestled for their place.

Over the next decade of predicted exponential change, people experience and work revolution will become a way of life. I believe HR will discover its defining discourse lies in the areas of learning, performance and productivity.

Since 2011, productivity has continued to lag. Why? Because across the world, employees are overwhelmed, unable to cope with the explosion in information. We must recognise, in an era promoting work-life balance, we are working harder than ever on our top problems as people. Firstly, managing the now and, secondly, trying to find a sense of purpose from our work.

Despite resources spent, employee engagement has only increased by 2 to 3 per cent, 70 per cent of all workers don’t like their jobs and it’s been estimated that actively disengaged employees cost the United States $500 billion to $600 billion each year in lost productivity. Some company’s employee engagement scores are as high as 90 per cent disengaged.

In my view, what is needed to overcome this disengagement disease is a focus by HR on maximising value across the business from strategy, people experience to engagement. This will allow for stronger profitability, performance, culture, and engagement; versus our current trap of enforcing rigid single-dose, one-size-fits-all processes for expediency.

How tech can change HR

Technology has brought us closer together, but our working world has become much, much bigger.

Recently, I caught up with some successful enterprise leaders about their experience with HR. One of the overarching experiences when discussing business performance and profitability is that the HR function puts processes before value. When a people process is set, it becomes “law” and a standardised approach ensues.

The second major business challenge for organisations this year is increasing agility, and the most considerable problem, from UNLEASH Insights, is improving performance and profitability. There is an evident lack of alignment between HR priorities and business priorities, which are critical drivers to overcoming those challenges.

Overcoming these fundamental, yet foundational, challenges will allow HR to march into the next decade with real immediacy and excitement as the work revolution gains momentum. It will enable us to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) and its roots in performance, organisational design and psychology. In addition to this trend, there is an explosion in micro-learning. A war for skills, both soft and technical.

We are seeing a radical change in employee expectations and experience across all demographics.

In five years, robots and machines will displace or transform 75 million jobs, algorithms will create 133 million new roles, 42 per cent of companies believe AI will be deployed inside their businesses, and only 15 per cent of companies have plans to deal with that change.

What to expect for the 2020s

Surprisingly, it is just over 12 years ago since I wrote my first blog post on appraisals, Another Ten Years of the Annual Performance Appraisal? 

A single version of the truth is a great debate once a year, but not achievable or desirable in today’s world; that once-a-year annual performance review “because this is what we do”. The refusal by many firms to use an HR tech solution that enables continuous feedback and better engages the workforce suggests the work revolution is only getting started.

As we enter the 2020s, HR leaders who aim to blaze a trail and disrupt need to step back and look at the bigger picture. What does ownership of employee engagement look like in your organisation? Ask yourself, your team, your employees, and especially your managers and leaders? Do you own the elements that lead to increased engagement?

The best way to create the future is to predict it.