In the age of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), analytics and robotics, it has become difficult to imagine the world prior to our current technology, and even more difficult to foresee what the future will bring. Perhaps the most daunting image of all is humanoids – robots that use AI to learn from human behaviour, mimic it, and even use it to react and innovate through ML. In fact, the future of technology’s intervention in the workplace is closer than one would assume. Sophia, a humanoid who can express feelings and compose facial expressions, was the first robot to become a citizen by order of the United Nations and to be granted citizenship by a country – Saudi Arabia. The notion of a robot workforce, therefore, is not far from possible.
Where does the human workforce fit in at a time of AI- and robotics-dominance?
There are a couple of points to keep in mind when it comes to automation, though. The term automation does not merely refer to robots taking people’s jobs. The term entails all the aforementioned technologies that have become available for integration in present and future workplaces. Consequently, what would normally be considered mundane tasks will be assigned to machines as the human workforce shifts to tasks that rely more on the human element. The part organisations can play in this world, a world of machines and automation, therefore, will be to empower their workforce with the tools and job design that eases this skill transition. Hot Spots Movement’s research on automation presents insights into how organisations can prepare for a seamless transition into this new world. It also introduces organisations to the kind of training needed to empower workers in a manner that improves their chances of thriving in an automated environment. Therefore, aside from the aforementioned soft skills, technical skills can and will be attained, but that will require the human skills of perseverance and dedication.
Hot Spots Movement’s reports on digital transformation and shifting cultures delve deeper into the world of work as innovative technology becomes an inescapable part of how the workplace operates. The world is heading to a point where the niche skill of the human workforce will be our ability to be human. The skills that make us human, particularly skills such as emotional intelligence, empathy, listening, and judgment, will play a key role in giving us a competitive advantage. These skills, the key ingredients in defining our interpersonal skills as human beings, will be our most employable asset. This development means a shift in the mindset governing our perception of how human beings contribute to the workforce. It entails upskilling and reskilling. Employers will have to rethink their training strategies to incorporate automation, diversify learning opportunities for knowledge employees and lower-skilled workers, and guarantee a learning curve that allows all workers to attain their goals in alignment with the goals of the organisation as a whole. Employees, on the other hand, will have to leverage the skills that make them human; they will have to be, in some sense, ultra-human. Thus, the true competitive advantage of the human workforce will be in utilising as much of those capacities that differentiate human beings from machines as possible.
A note of caution
People will need to ask the right people for assistance in making these transitions and empowering the workforce where needed. The Netflix fans out there may remember the ‘Love, Death and Robots’ episode, ‘When the Yoghurt Took Over’. To those of you who don’t, the animated episode witnesses a genetically enhanced yoghurt discovering the solutions to all the problems in our world. In a meeting with a world leader, the yoghurt offers solutions which would eradicate all economic burdens in a year if followed precisely and bring chaos if they’re not. Unsurprisingly, the world leaders’ closeness to the problem leads to their failure in following the yoghurt’s formula, which brings the world to chaos. Similarly, change, when introduced from within, could struggle with the inherent biases that limit an organisation’s capacity to effectively move forward with the change. In those cases, all those organisations need, really, is their own yoghurt.
If reading this has given you some thought on how your organisation could – or should – be preparing for the world of work, Hot Spots Movement could be the “yoghurt” you’re looking for. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in discussing how you can adapt digital developments to your people strategy in support of your corporate identity.
 Dang, Sanjit Singh (Feb 25, 2019). Artificial Intelligence in Humanoid Robots. Forbes.
 Gratton, Lynda (Fall 2019). Pioneering Approaches to Re-skilling and Upskilling. MIT Sloan Management Review, Fall 2019 Edition
Guest blog by Siobhan McHale, CHRO at Dulux Group
“Anne Lewis” mulled over a problem she was having with a staff member as she queued for her morning coffee at the city’s popular Hole In The Wall Café. She was the executive in charge of a retail loans department at “BlueStoneBank (BSB)” and she had an issue with one of the employees in her team. Jack had been working at the bank for 6 years but had seemed quite disengaged recently. He was bright and others in the team liked working with him but he had been in the same position for over 3 years now. He seemed stuck in a rut. Indeed, over the past few months she noticed that Jack had been so leisurely in his ways that others in the team had to wade in to help him get through his workload.
Anne was meeting with her boss Lee later that afternoon and she knew he would be demanding more from her team. The recent performance stats were not looking good and she needed everyone in the Department, including Jack, to pull their weight. If they didn’t all lift their game Lee would start micromanaging her again!
The Chevy Corvette Sting Ray
As Anne stood in line she wondered whether Jack was simply bored with work or just disinterested in life in general. She remembered a recent work social event when he had spoken animatedly about his passion for antique cars. He seemed to spend every waking hour, when he wasn’t at work, tinkering with that Chevy Corvette Sting Ray sitting in his garage. She wished Jack had the same level of enthusiasm for his job as he had for his beloved collectible car.
Jack seemed much more engaged in working on his Chevy Corvette Sting Ray than he was in his role at BSB
Anne’s mind went back again to the meeting with her boss Lee later that afternoon. She knew that her Department was coming under scrutiny and Jack’s recent listless manner wasn’t helping one bit! She wondered if she should take a different approach to unleashing some of his discretionary effort at work.
The coffee catch-up
Anne ordered her usual cappuccino and decided to get Jack a latte which was his favourite morning brew. Five minutes later she bounded into his office and, as she handed him his coffee, she asked “Jack how do you see your role, you know your job here at BBS?” He took a long sip of the latte, leaned back in his chair and responded “Hey, thanks for the coffee! Well my role, as I see it, is to help our customers complete their loan applications and then submit them to the Risk department for approval. As you know it’s all about driving the revenue line I suppose.”
Anne enquired “What loans do you have on your ‘to do’ list for today?” Jack stretched his arms out above his head and responded “One couple, the Mendozas, want to try and buy their first home in a cool suburb near the bay. Another loan is for a recent graduate Sofia who has just gotten her driving license and wants to purchase her first car. The last high priority one for today is for this guy Liam who is a fanatical sailor and wants to buy a boat so that he can try his hand at fulfilling his dream of sailing around the world!”
“That’s a pretty interesting and diverse group” Anne responded. “And it seems to me from those stories that you’re actually helping to make these peoples’ dreams come true in your role, eh?’ Jack looked at her over the rim of his coffee cup. He raised his eyebrow and nodded slowly. “Yes I suppose you could say that.”
Over the next few week Anne noticed a spring in Jack’s step. He was getting to work on time, she was finding fewer mistakes in his applications and he just seemed, well, happier. He was also a lot more productive and even made time to help out others in the Department. All of this had led to an increase in the team’s productivity which has not gone un-noticed by the boss Lee, who was once again singing Anne’s praises.
The power of reframing
When I caught up with Anne at The Hole In The Wall Café later that month she talked about the shift in Jack’s attitude. “What’s changed to create a happier and more engaged employee? I asked. Anne explained the work that she had been doing over the past few months to reframe the role of her team and to connect them more closely to the difference their work was making in the lives of customers. She went on to say “I reframed Jack’s role from ‘form filler’ to ‘dream maker’ and that, I believe, has made all the difference.”
Reframing verb (transitive) 1. to support or enclose (a picture, photograph, etc) in a new or different frame. 2. to change the plans or basic details of (a policy, idea, etc)
Reframing is about looking at the world through a different lens and is a powerful way to transform our thinking by giving a different meaning to our experience. Reframing the role of employees can lead to higher levels of engagement especially if connected to the difference that your company makes in the lives of others.
How are your employees framing their role at work? Is there an opportunity to reframe how they see the part they are playing in meeting the needs of customers?
Jack had reframed his role from ‘form filler’ to ‘dream maker’ and that had made all the difference
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Last week my colleague Emma and I gave an interview on the theme of ‘motivating tomorrow’s workforce’. It reminded me that there are several important questions about the relationship between tomorrow’s talent and organisations, which we haven’t yet fully addressed – and that the answers may be simpler than we think.
- Are our organisations ready to embrace an adult-to-adult relationship between organisations and talent?
- How will it change the role of HR professionals?
Are we ready for the adult-to-adult relationship between organisations and talent?
In my view, one of the key elements of this changing relationship is that it’s no longer the sole responsibility of the company to understand what kind of working arrangement will attract talent and enable people to perform at their very best. This is good news, for two reasons. Firstly, because we can expect our talent to be increasingly comfortable bringing their ‘wholes selves’ to work, meaning working arrangements will need to become highly individualised. Secondly, with longer working lives becoming a reality, the strong link between ‘age and stage’ is weakening, making age a much less reliable indicator of expectations and aspirations.
In this new reality of multi-faceted diversity, it would seem unrealistic to expect HR to propose work arrangements that work for every individual. And why should we? I’m of the belief that adults know what’s right for them and are fundamentally keen to do the right thing by the organisations. As we start considering the relationship an adult-to-adult one, there’s no reason they wouldn’t deliver on these expectations.
What does this mean for HR? It means we need to change our organisations’ narratives to make clear that empowerment is a two-way deal. It is a constructive relationship between adults, not one where one party suggests specific rules for how people can work flexibly, which may or may not work, for the people involved, both individually, and as a team of workers. We should invite our people to design their own arrangements for flexible working and expect them to be thoughtful about how this will work for the organisation and for their colleagues (as individuals’ flexible working arrangements can take a toll on their fellow work team members), and likewise their own career journeys (moving between fast track, slow lane, plateau, sideways, etc.).
To build this narrative, and not least to get senior management to live by it, HR must be a credible source of strategic direction, and be proactive. This requires changing deeply engrained views of roles and responsibility. It also requires mutual trust, which needs to be preceded not only by the new narrative, but also by training, guidance and coaching.
My final question to the HR community is how do we train ourselves for this role? I’d suggest we start by ensuring we profoundly understand what the future of work will look like – (and assume that predicting the exact pace of change is near impossible so ‘sooner rather than later’ is a safe assumption regarding the timeline). We need to be a force of proposition and prepare our organisations for this change – it could well be the biggest one so far this millennium!
Over the last few years I’ve been working with a fabulous mentor who has been instrumental in helping me find strategies to deal with my ‘inner critic’ or ‘imposter syndrome’.
Initially, my interest in this area was entirely personal and driven by the experience of the ego ride first appointment into a senior executive role. But, as I read more and shared more articles online, it became clear that I’m not alone. Maybe it’s the taboo subject of our generation, and is in some way linked to our connected device driven world where our social media lives belie reality. However, my experience is that when I raise it as an issue professionally it’s as if I just pointed to the elephant in the corner of the room and everyone wants to talk about it, just not in groups. So, I’m raising it here, with some reflections on the practices I use to manage it.
Being accountable to a mentor
Just having a mentor has helped me to identify the problem, and be held to account about what goes on in my inner world. I need to do this monthly, I’m a better person for it.
Understanding the internal voice
Possibly my mentor’s greatest gift to me was ‘Falling Upward: How to live the second half of life well’, by Richard Rohr. Richard is a Franciscan priest, and boy is he calm. In this book my epiphany moment was his description of our need to ‘discharge our loyal soldier’. This is the voice that served us well as we grew up, through our 20’s and into our early 30’s. It regulated our behaviour, guided us through what was ‘right and wrong’ and set us ‘the rules by which we should live in order to be something’. However, once we’ve got there, this voice isn’t as helpful. Once we can learn to recognise this, we can thank that voice when it makes and appearance and discharge it.
If I’m bluntly honest I think my loyal soldier only got louder when I got to that place where it had nothing to really regulate, and therefore became more of a distraction. So I’m also interested in how it can interfere with the work of an executive team who are all managing their own inner critic and their sense of place around the table, or ego. It’s definitely still a taboo subject in that setting, but maybe its the reason why so many organisations now provide mentors to their executive teams.
I’m also on the mindfulness wagon. In the same way that I avoided WeightWatchers for years because ‘I don’t need that’, I had avoided this. Then along came ‘HeadSpace’, again like WW it grabbed me because it’s an app. It means I can do this completely solo when it suits me. I recently had a conversation with my husband at the end of a work day, we both have big jobs and our end of day debriefs can be intense. On this occasion I had done a HeadSpace practice, he hadn’t. After a few minutes of listening to him ramble, I gently said ‘honey, go do a HeadSpace’ then call me back. The subject matter changed completely, and for the better. Finally, I journal now, I have a routine / structure to the content and it involves active gratitude.
Managing the inner critic is a bit like physical exercise. When it’s going well, life is great, but let’s be real we get thrown off balance a lot. So I’m also not going to say that my life is a bed of roses. Even with all these great strategies, I recently reached a point where sleep was just not possible and the inner critic was in charge at 1am, 2am, 3am, you get the picture. So in this world where we’re connected 24/7, we have to give intentional thought to how we can disconnect individually and how do we model this as leaders because I’m certain the alternative is not sustainable. I’m sure it starts with talking about it, taking the temperature of our team regularly and figuring out what works for each person.
Beth Bundy is Group People & Organisation Director at Auckland University of Technology
Last week, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel discussion at the annual Women of Silicon Roundabout event, hosted this year at East London’s Tobacco Docks.
The event aims to bring together women working in technology to provide inspiration and ideas on how to advance their career, advance the career of others and improve diversity across the sector.
It’s no secret that the IT industry is particularly male dominated but as technology becomes an integral part to everyday life, we must ensure that women are empowered and prepared to thrive in the digital era.
The panel session I took part in discussed the art of mentoring, exploring the importance of role models, how companies can approach this and ultimately, how we can create the next generation of female leaders in technology. The other panelists were distinguished leaders from a variety of major companies, including: LinkedIn, Expedia and ASOS.
What I found most interesting was the varying opinions on what being a mentor is and what it means to individuals. One of the panelists described this as the ‘magic of mentorship’, a completely unique relationship in which the mentor and mentee learn from each other, whether it be a simple catch-up or a focused discussion on how to achieve a particular goal.
I know from personal experience the benefit of having a mentor, someone to guide you and prepare you for the next stage of your career, or life. That’s why I am a great advocate of TCS’ iConnect platform. This internal initiative provides each employee with a mentor and sends reminders to both the mentor and mentee to meet up and maintain regular contact. We have found that this more formal process of bringing together employees to learn from each other, has ultimately helped to make our overall network a stronger one.
TCS is actively addressing gender diversity across our employee network. More than a quarter of our UK workforce is female while it’s over a third globally. But, the change needs to be systemic and these numbers will only improve across the technology sector by educating young people and inspiring them to pursue a career in IT. Through our IT Futures programme, we’ve reached over 170,000 young people across the UK in less than 4 years. Through inspirational talks from female leaders and partnerships with organisations such as MyKindaFuture and the Engineering Development Trust (EDT), we’ve worked hard to engage the next generation of young women in technology and demonstrate what is possible.
The conference aimed to encourage and inspire those who want to get into technology, helping individuals and businesses alike to understand the role that talent acquisition, retention and development of females has to play.
There’s still a way to go but I look forward to being part of more events and initiatives such as this, and continuing to meet more and more women that are set to play a major role in this sector, and wider society.
Nupur Singh Mallick is Director of HR at Tata Consultancy Services UK & Ireland