We live in a world where more than 5 billion smart phones have created a new public information space making so many businesses, institutions and governments extremely vulnerable and challenging them to rethink the way they operate.
These online learning platforms might not have an immediate impact on the HR director of an Australian financial services company (unless his children are struggling with maths problems, which is why Gates started using the Khan Academy), but there is so much opportunity here to rethink learning and development for the organisation.
The relentless stream of game-changing technologies is throttling towards workplaces of every kind – 3D printing, Google Glass, big data, MOOCs (massive online data courses), cloud technology and “the Internet of Things”.
So how do leaders re-imagine business models, KPIs, recruitment and retention strategies in the face of so much change?
Some companies seek out a disruption specialist, such as collaborative consumption expert and founder of the Collaborative Lab Rachel Botsman.
She runs new product and brand workshops, consults and is a partner in a fund that invests in emerging entrepreneurs. Botsman is also a hot ticket on the speaking circuit and has delivered keynotes for TED, Google, HP and 10 Downing Street, and was a speaker at AHRI’s technology conference HRIZON2013.
It was at the AHRI conference that Botsman declared that Australian companies were not thinking about disruption in a positive way.
“They are, in the main, ostriches,” she said. There are other responses to disruption. According to Botsman, the “fighters” try to take out new competitors (usually by buying them out, way down the track) and “pioneers” who are prepared to let go of power and are open to new ways of doing things.
It is not about the technology
The biggest mistake she sees organisations making is chasing the device, the platform and the gadget.
“They spend a lot of time playing catch up and a lot of time being afraid to admit what they don’t know. The best thing organisations can do – and it starts with HR – is understand the disruption drivers,” she says.
Similarly, Sydney-based speaker, social research and author Michael McQueen works with clients including Tupperware, Randstad, Pepsi, AMP and Bankwest to help them put disruption into the context of their business.
He runs workshops on creating “roadmaps” for disruption (see left). “Disruption is the sexy word at the moment, it is much sexier than ‘change’,” he says. “A lot of businesses would like to adapt and evolve but that involves a whole lot of risk.”
Be your own disruptor
This is where McQueen sees businesses that are prepared to “be their own disruptor” as having the upper hand.
Apple was prepared to sabotage its iPod market with the introduction of the iPhone. “If you are not willing to cannibalise your own business, another business will do it for you,” he says.
McQueen is increasingly working with HR teams rather than with strategy, marketing and operations due, he says, to the need to be more strategic about ensuring that the employer brand is relevant to the highly specific talent the company needs to attract.
“We are fighting for a precious, limited resource,” he says. “And businesses are realising that so much of their success and their competitive advantage is their people.” And it is not just the staff at the top.
Because innovation does not flow from the top down, HR can be a key facilitator in information exchange, particularly from staff in the lower levels of an organisation.
“HR can be a key way to ensure the perspective, creativity and insights from within the business can be utilised. HR plays a critical role in shifting culture to make sure that the innovation is being fed back,” says McQueen.
Without this companies get stuck with a “clay layer” of usually middle managers that can obstruct the valuable ideas and feedback from entry-level staff feeding up to the top of the business.
Out of your comfort zone
It can be the case of trying one new thing – as simple as downloading Twitter onto your phone and committing to sending 15 tweets per week; committing to learning more about MOOCs; or watching a demo of Google Glass.
Says McQueen: “You shouldn’t look at disruption as the enemy, you should look at it as an opportunity.” To adapt means bringing out the best in people and making businesses much more agile and responsive. That is a big upside.