Sunday, 16 February 2014

Making Connections

Having been ticked off by a Twitter connection for writing blogs that are too long, here is a slightly shorter one...

Last week I attended Impact Executives’ event to launch their latest change survey findings.  The contributors to the survey are business leaders from around the globe - CEOs, CFOs, COOs and CHROs (55% of respondents are on main boards).  I have followed this survey for a few years and enjoy considering the trends and themes that are emerging.  For the third year running the top three “biggest challenges” are ”lack of visibility of future demand”, “margin pressure” and “not having the right staff/skills”.  Over a three year period these findings do not surprise me - if you are poor at anticipating or understanding future demand, it follows that three years further on you are highly likely still to be struggling with having the right staff and skills, as you don’t understand the world in which you operate.  It takes time and structured thinking to predict, plan and build, so that you are best placed to cope as and when you need to.

Earlier in the year I was invited by certain members of the MOD (the UK’s Ministry of Defence) to attend a future-thinking scenario-creation session - they were keen to contemplate what the world might be like in thirty years’ time and brought together a group of us, from a variety of backgrounds and outlooks, to share our thoughts.  We were asked to describe scenarios that we believe will be probable or even just possible.  I know from my work as a governor for a leading NHS foundation trust that there are many anticipated changes within the health sector - the prevalence of certain diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, will continue to increase, with a potentially devastating impact on society; bacterial resistance antibiotics is also likely to grow with resultant problems.  However, there will also be major developments that will enhance healthcare - apps are already available that enable us to monitor our health using everyday technology, without having to physically visit a specialist; surgery increasingly will be undertaken by minute robots that will be remote controlled instead of relying on human surgeons being physically in the room (with their large clumsy hands) making major incisions (less intrusive surgery is definitely a good thing, especially if antibiotics are becoming less effective).  We will have wearable robotics that will make movement or other functions more effective.  Much of our medical care will increasingly be dependent on data - the functions that currently happens in a GP or doctor’s surgery will be done via technology (measuring heart function, blood chemistry, etc…) this data will be overlaid with personal information such as family genetic history, the impact of living in a particular area (for example pollution levels, or the prevalence of certain diseases) or your lifestyle.  This information will help faster prediction (and potentially the prevention) of health issues.

Just as in Medicine, the world of work is being impacted by technology and the pace of this is set to increase. It is no wonder that the Impact Executives’ survey reported that 87% of respondents envisaged more and faster change than ever (a similar level to the responses to this question in both 2012 and 2013, hence a growing trend).  Increased use of technology is providing loads more data.  HR’s role is to enable organisations and the people within them to perform at optimum levels.  As a result HR professionals need to become comfortable with data and how to use it, to inform and support business decisions.  We need to change, to move on from the production of backward looking observations, such as on staff turnover or how many people attended training courses, to forward-thinking extrapolations from the evidence available.  The trick with data is being able to understand what it is telling you.  Nobody said this is easy.  Neuroscience can prove that human brains are not programmed for long-term thinking and hence our approach to natural evolutionary timescales is out of sync with how we need to appreciate the world going forward.  

Fortunately, technology itself can help, turning us into a global neural network (where the power of many is greater than one man working by himself - Adam Smith would have loved it, a clear progression from his thesis in “The Wealth of Nations”).  Technology enabled connectivity is resulting in collaboration, learning, creativity and shared problem solving at a swifter pace than ever before.  Despite the recent hacking scare from Kickstarter, crowd-sourcing solutions are producing results, with the production of goods that fit people’s needs at a faster rate than would perhaps have happened a world of silo-ed businesses - for example the ways in which mobile phones are being charged in Africa might not have been envisaged within an isolated research and development department located in Scandinavia or the USA.  We need to solve problems through understanding, instead of squandering resources and working in secret through fear of competitors.  If we are smart there is more than enough work for all.  The cost of innovation, participation and learning is dropping and hence the world is becoming more equal and also more conscious through connections.  This is immensely powerful and will change the drivers of economies and the way we work.  HR should be at the forefront of this, as growth revolves around people and how they contribute and work together.  It’s not too late to get on the bus, but to do so HR itself needs to be part of the action, not simply observing and monitoring for others. 

The Bayswater Omnibus (1895) by George William Joy
How connected is your HR department and your approach towards business? 

This is a photograph of what our global Internet connection looks like from a distance. In her TEDtalk We are all cyborgs nowAmber Case states that this connection looks organic. Indeed this organic connection, she argues, helps us develop our ‘humanness’.

The Rolling Stones - Connection


  1. Ticked off eh? A good read. Love the horizon scanning stuff. Thanks for sharing the three questions which keep the bigwigs up at night. I can see how they fit together well and I also think that we are much poorer at predicting the future than we give ourselves credit for. So whilst having a plan is important - I think we often invest too much time and effort into it and then feel obliged to follow it come what may. Oh - and a great closing question for the HR profession too. Nicely done.

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