Nearly three years ago, AHRI published a white paper, people@work/2020 – The Future of Work.
I wrote this paper following a two-year research program driven by a steering committee of six eminent members of the HR profession in Australia, and chaired by Kevin Brown, then of Qantas and now at NBNCo.
Frankly, that’s a somewhat scary thing to do, as it provided a public line in the sand about senior-executive professional thinking at a point in time, and then later its relevance, prescience and accuracy can be compared with what actually happens. Since that time, the content of this 2010 AHRI white paper has provided the basis for AHRI’s most requested and well received public presentation, not just in this country but at other HR conventions around the world, from Brisbane to Bangkok, Bahrain to Brussels.
But after three years, is that content being overtaken by events? The short answer is that it is standing up well, although some of our predictions have already reached their 2020 expectation levels, and many others have surged past the latter, such is the speed of change in this hyperconnected world.
Late last year, three events provided the opportunity for us to check our radar screen for critical HR professional challenges by 2020. Those events included the great presentations made at HRIZON 2012, our own World HR Congress in Melbourne last September; the annual Global HR Thought Leaders Conference in the US; and finally the 2012 NeuroLeadership Summit in New York.
The first major influence identified in the AHRI white paper was globalisation. The theme for HRIZON was ‘new world thinking’, and the opening sentence in the summary of the 2012 Thought Leaders Conference was “Globalisation is irreversible”. So beyond such high-level rhetoric, what’s new?
Globalisation essentially means the strength of the interconnection between world economies and workplaces, and also the speed of transmission in real and expected changes from one nation to the rest. This is no more apparent than with the economic troubles of Europe, the ‘on again/off again’ economic recovery in the US and the teetering of China’s economic growth between continued high surges and the ever-present dangers of overheating and collapse.
What does all this mean for HR professionals? Globalisation is indeed still dominating and irreversible. In 1993, there were 3000 multinational organisations but today there are 63,000. By next year, emerging economies will represent a larger proportion of global GDP than developed nations. So the failure to adopt a global mindset and business model is a surefire means to secure passage to the dinosaurs’ graveyard.
Globalisation is very much a people issue and an HR one. The search for talent is still the priority, but the mix of implications within that is changing dramatically.
Attraction, recruitment, assessment and development are still the recurring features of the talent challenge, but international mobility has loomed larger in its contemporary importance, together with the need for greater cross-cultural training and management skills. The headache of this talent imperative has also caused some anomalies in management behaviours. PricewaterhouseCoopers recently produced an international survey showing that one third of CEOs had cancelled some of their major strategic initiatives due to talent shortages.
The workplace will be much more complex by 2020, when we will likely have five different generational groups working side by side: traditionalists (pre-1946); baby boomers; inimitable Gen X & Ys and the 2020s – those born after 1997 and entering the workforce by that date. Further talent shortages are persisting alongside chronic high unemployment. A generation of low-skilled workers is being left behind, while the rest of us are struggling to keep up.
And finally, that great HR myth is dead. Evidence from all forums is that not only are CHROs at the executive committee and board tables, but also that we know much more about what they are doing there. They not only work as strategic advisers, talent architects, executive coaches, mentors and HR functional leaders, but act as workforce culture sensors and engagement sleuths.
In short, it’s a great time to be in our profession, notwithstanding the daily headache factor. Many positives will come from mastering the uncertainties of our new global life and transforming them into creative purpose and innovative actions on the job.
Fortunes await for those who ‘care to dare’ in this brave new world.
Peter Wilson is the national president of the Australian Human Resources Institute.