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Key trends in future-proofing your workforce

British organisational theorist Lynda Gratton discusses why HR needs to give clear direction to the workforce.

Technology will undeniably be at the forefront of our future working lives. But this is exactly why we need to factor humans back into the equation says Lynda Gratton, the renowned organisational theorist and management consultant who founded the Hot Spots Movement – to bring the latest thinking around the future of work into organisations.

Automation and AI will, it is predicted, eliminate the need for people to focus on mundane tasks. But then what?

We’re not robots

Humans are a collaborative species, and so the way we work together should be central to an organisation’s thinking – with a strong emphasis on trust. Humans are also highly inquisitive and creative, so HR needs to be thinking about giving employees the space and time to maximise that potential.

According to Gratton, the way many organisations currently operate is to treat people as if they were robots – piling on the responsibilities without giving them room to consider how to do things better and their place in the wider scheme of things. Lack of clear direction, or knowledge about people’s place in the future workforce has allowed anxieties to brew.

“Organisations need to create stronger signalling about what it is they want from people, and what direction they think people will be going. There needs to be more navigation,” says Gratton.

Don’t forget the present

The types of work in each particular organisation need to be carefully identified, and a clear idea of what role humans will play established. Gratton says this should begin now – a diagnostic of people’s current place in the workforce, and ideas about how they need to change and develop.

“Organisations need to separate their thinking into tangible and intangible assets,” says Gratton. “We talk a lot about the tangible aspects, such as the bottom line, but I think we need to focus more on the intangible things – how do we inspire productivity and vitality, how can people transform themselves and upskill – in essence, how can you future-proof people?”

Future-proofing your workforce

So how does HR do this? Firstly, by developing a blueprint of technological trends – which jobs will be automated? What specific functions within roles will be taken over by automation? And how will this process develop over the next five to 10 years?

Longevity is another key factor. As people will continue to live longer, they will need to remain in the workforce for longer. More people will stay in work until they reach 70, and this may even extend as time goes on. HR needs to adapt to this ageing workforce and tailor roles and responsibilities accordingly through training, development and extended career path and retirement planning.

Lastly, there is the social aspect of the workforce. Gratton points out that one of the most prevalent social trends in Australia is dual-career households, and the impact that has on children, families and the workforce. Organisations need to be responsive and cater to the needs of dual-career partnerships.

Looking ahead

Gratton believes HR has a big role to play in getting organisations to look ahead.

“HR needs to shift the focus from the now into the long-term and help organisations realise some of the big trends that are going to shape work,” she says. But there is also a need to emphasise the traditional role of the HR function as a protector.

“HR need to be guardians of good work. People flourish when they do good work, so helping people to find the work that gives them some sort of autonomy so that they can be innovative, and work that allows them to build strong relationships and networks with others.”


Hear Lynda Gratton and other global thinkers at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition in Melbourne from 28 – 31 August. Registration closes Tuesday 14 August.

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Good article. I think increased options for flexible working conditions, be they job share, working remotely (some or all hours) or just a flexible approach to when & where work is performed (assuming it fits the industry) should be part of the “future” conversation. I fear for a class or group of workers pushed out or unemployable between the ages of 60 – 70 (the new retiring age) given the potential increase of the existing stigma.

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