When robots design and build robots to service other robots, humans will know they are obsolete. In the meantime, people need to manage organisations by optimising all available resources for the current workplace – and to prepare for an uncertain future of work.
Experience tells us that our hazy view about the future of work is not a new issue. The fundamentals of organisational and human resource design need not change, but stakeholder expectations will change, as will the measures of success.
Historical pressure points
In 1974, the issue of provision for driverless or automated guided cars was discussed for the Darling Harbour Freeway. At that time, the plan was for the control technology to be incorporated into the pavement, but today’s driverless cars use GPS and other control systems. If the strategic plan developed 40 years ago had incorporated the concept of control systems, the plan could have been updated progressively as new technology developed. Change would have been managed in an orderly way.
When the PC emerged in the 80s as an affordable tool, computers were ‘trained’ to emulate the activities humans undertook, rather than capitalise on their potential. At the same time, many Australian industries became uncompetitive, lagging behind in technological change and response to legislative changes; this continues today. The Australian economy of scale also contributed to the lack of competitiveness – for example, it took seven weeks in Battle Creek USA to produce the annual corn flake output of the Australian factory.
And in the 90’s, robots were designed to put wheels on cars in an assembly line. Initially the robot emulated the production worker, one at a time. The real performance change occurred when it was realised robots could as easily put on five nuts at a time.
Australia’s competitive position requires us to become smarter as we plan for the future of work. Organisations need to monitor their progress in meeting the future needs of their stakeholders, identifying and measuring outcomes, and integrating smart technology.
At the global level, our government signs trade agreements with countries where Australia has little competitive advantage. Maybe some great Australian iconic businesses would still exist in Australia had cooperative deals promoting companies headquartered in Australia been promulgated. Manufacturing or processing could be located off-shore, exploiting their critical mass and better proximity to markets.
Dynamic planning for the future: What we should be doing now
The fundamentals of sound organisation and people management will still be the same in the future, and the inclusion of the human resources, intellectual property and social responsibility contributions into the balance sheet will provide a truer picture of organisational value.
The critical planning steps to ensure we deliver on this future of work will be:
- Develop comprehensive and quantifiable strategic plans and incorporate a clear analysis of stakeholder expectations about what success looks like. Define the organisation’s core business now and in the future.
- Align stakeholder expectations to the core business. Measures to achieve these expectations form the performance framework.
- Prepare current and future structures, considering the impact of disruptive and new technologies. With the introduction of computers into the workplace, the shape of organisational structures changed. Process-driven positions were reduced and professional value-adding staff increased. These new positions demanded a new set of competencies and greater demand for appropriate levels of complexity. Plan for change, and don’t let change overtake your organisation. Do not assume that traditional structures or positions will remain. This article was inspired by a comment about HR departments of the future, and none of us should assume that our function will remain into the future. How roles contribute to the organisational goals will change as technology develops.
If a robot can make and serve a hamburger, how does that change the expectations of the customer and business stakeholders?
Plan your organisational development strategically, and you will be prepared for a tomorrow that incorporates technologically change in a way that will maintain competitiveness. However, if we try to keep hold of current structures and positions, the world will pass us by.