There are three things HR professionals and their organisations need to do to help prepare for the future of work, according to digital workforce expert Jason Averbook. The first most important thing HR can do to prepare for the future of work is to take more of a design-thinking approach to HR and the workforce, he said. HR has long had the same approach when it comes to the administrative process of managing people, policies, payroll and work, however, these processes have not necessarily been designed with people in mind, according to Averbook.
“In the modern world of technology, given how fast information flows and the expectations of the workforce around communication, HR needs to change its mindset,” said Averbook, who was speaking ahead of SAP SuccessFactors’ HR Connect 2019 event. “We need to design for the workforce first, and if we do that HR will have a more engaged workforce and people will also stop seeing HR as the police because HR will be there to help rather than hinder them.” Value is key here, according to Averbook, who said employees and managers need to see and experience genuine value in using processes and systems in order to use and benefit from them. “All of a sudden, employees and managers will become advocates for these processes and systems – and this will also provide more and better data for HR as well,” he said. “So, HR needs to truly leverage the concept of design thinking and ask how they can redesign processes so that they are going to meet people where they are and provide benefit for them in how they really work.”
Averbook, who serves as co-founder and CEO of consulting firm Leapgen, also explained that HR needs to understand people, their personas and how they work – and design accordingly for them.“That way HR can truly create processes that meet people where they are, instead of trying to get them to engage with them in a way that is not natural for them,” he said. “Once HR does that, they can make decisions around technology and implementation which truly makes sense – so, the challenge for HR is to think differently about this and realise that it’s not just about implementing technology.”
It’s not just about deploying a technology solution, but rather deploying a new vision and a new mindset
A shared digital strategy vision
The second most important thing HR can do to prepare for the future of work is to develop and hold a shared vision around digital strategy. However, this concept is broader than most HR professionals think: “digital is a mindset, and this encompasses people, process and technology – not just technology,” said Averbook. “Oftentimes HR might think they can just develop a technology strategy or purchase a HR system, but that’s where they fail.”
This is why a design-thinking approach is important as a first step, as Averbook explained that this is critical to implementing the right technology as an enabler to effective HR and work. “It’s not just about deploying a technology solution, but rather deploying a new vision and a new mindset,” he said. “And in order to be prepared for the future of work, that’s what we have to do: don’t lead with technology, but think about the impact on the business first.”
Averbook, who will be speaking about the future of work and HR, observed that HR functions often think that if they buy a new piece of technology, “all of a sudden everything’s going to change,” he said. “This goes back to the definition of digital, versus the definition of technology. Digital is mindset, people, process and technology, so a design-thinking approach to HR and work helps change the old mindset and create this vision.”
Averbook noted that HR sometimes gets stuck on the phrase “digital transformation” as if it is a one-off event that transforms an organisation. “That’s never the case; instead, HR needs to think about maturity and realise that organisations are always going to be maturing,” he said. “This has huge implications for HR, because this involves always-on, continuous learning, change and reinvention, and what I call ‘permanent Beta’.
The future of work that we’re really describing is already here today
“If the HR function of today is not in permanent Beta, that’s a big problem because the workforce, business and technology are going to continue to shift. “If we don’t have a permanent Beta mindset, there’s no way to keep up and that chasm is just going to keep getting bigger,” he said.
Learn from the outside world
The third most important step HR can take to prepare for the future of work is to continue to learn from the outside world. “It’s 2019 outside of work, and people are connecting and communicating instantly using personal devices and apps – which is usually more modern than the technology companies give their employees to work with,” he said. “If you ask what year it is inside of work, you often get organisations saying it’s Y2K or others might say it’s 2010 – so there is a big gap there in what people are experiencing.”
This is not just about technology, but also other HR processes such as engagement surveys, performance management and compensation reviews, which are often conducted once a year. “Why can’t they be done in real time just like people do everything else in real time?” Averbook asked.
“HR’s approach is that they have always done things that way, so an organisation needs to be able to stomach change in re-imagining its approach to HR and work,” said Averbook. Organisations need to be maturing as the needs of workers change, and he said some organisations employ 100 per cent full-time or part-time workers, while others rely heavily on contractors, and others use “gig economy” workers. Workers have already moved on in how they work, with increasingly decentralised and remote practices, and Averbook said the way people work is very different to what it has been in the past. Worker expectations have also changed, and they no longer want an organisation to employ, train, develop or retain them for life. “People simply don’t enter the workforce thinking that; they are happy to work remotely, or from a WeWork or from their favourite café,” he said. “So, the question for HR is how to manage and engage employees in a way that helps them get work done.”
Averbook concluded by saying that the most important thing to understand about the future of work it that it is an “overused cliché”. “The future of work that we’re really describing is already here today,” he said. “It’s just that it’s not evenly distributed and every organisation is at a different stage of the future maturity curve.”
About the Author
Averbook will be speaking at SAP SuccessFactors’ HR Connect 2019 event, which will be held in Auckland on 27 May 2019 at the Hilton Auckland and in Sydney from 29-30 May at the Hyatt Regency Sydney. Other speakers will include Tina Lundkvist (GM People Analytics, Fonterra) and Clinton Berryman (GM Global HR Process & Systems, Fonterra) as well as Jessie Hommelhoff (Head of Enterprise Improvement HR, BHP Billiton) and Carly Brown (GM Human Resources, Ruralco Holdings). For more information or to register please visit the SAP SuccessFactors’ HR Connect 2019 website.