WE ARE LIVING THROUGH THE MOST CHANGEABLE ERA THE WORLD OF WORK HAS EVER SEEN. ARGUABLY THE FIFTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, A HUMAN REVOLUTION. THIS WILL REQUIRE BOLD HR TO DEVELOP NEW HABITS AND PRACTICES IN PEOPLE MANAGEMENT, WHICH CREATES SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS CAPABLE OF ABSORBING THE FUTURE SHOCKWAVES AND CAPITALISING ON THE OPPORTUNITIES THEY BRING. ABOVE ALL, ORGANISATIONS NEED TO CREATE THE CONDITIONS FOR PEOPLE TO BE RESILIENT, FOCUSED AND ENGAGED AT WORK.
Emma Nicholls, People Insights & Experience Director – City & Guilds
Tracy Noble, Group HR Director – Alliance Automotive
Nicole Ward, Strategic HR Business Partner – Havering Council
Tabassum Fatima, Senior HR Business Partner – Network Rail
Siân Ferguson, Director, Leadership Assessment & Development – Kincentric
Catherine Donaldson, Director, Consulting – Kincentric
Mark Taylor People, Director – Constellation Automotive Group
Vishal Gandhi, Head, Talent Supply Chain – Tata Consultancy Services
Helen Ketteringham, Executive Director For People – NCFE
Kerry Young, Chief People Officer – Allpoints Fibre
Christopher Talbot, Group Chief People Officer – Gedu Global Education
IN AN ENVIRONMENT OF CONTINUING CHANGE, HOW MIGHT THE NOTION OF DISRUPTION BE HELPFUL?
Vishal Gandhi: Disruptor businesses are literally setting the pace and direction of change. For traditionally analogue businesses, the fifth industrial revolution – the digital era – dawned without much preparation and now businesses in all sectors are playing catch up. Meanwhile, automation is the driver.
Mark Taylor: Our business has historically been b2b until we launched cinch, post pandemic, which linked to one of the big disruptors in the automotive sector – buying online. The other two significant disruptions are the change from combustion to electric vehicles and ownership moving to a more subscription model. For us, this market disruption was ultimately helpful, as it fundamentally challenged the traditional automotive sales mindset.
Kerry Young: I also see disruption as an opportunity. The most creative and innovative ideas appear when there’s been a challenge or disruption to the status quo. We certainly reframe disruption as a positive. People are the architects of the future.
Helen Ketteringham: For us, mindset is key, as we strive to continually adapt and respond to change. Coaching is a powerful tool in helping us to prosper from disruption, reach new goals, operate outside of our comfort zone and frame opportunities.
Christopher Talbot: Agreed, education and training is critical, particularly for employees that have been out of education for a long time. But it’s not just older workers that have to be supported, Universities are failing to prepare students for the world of work.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT EMPLOYERS AREN’T FINDING THE CRITERIA THAT THEY’RE EXPECTING IN CANDIDATES?
Emma Nicholls: There are many things that could be done, such as utilising the apprentice levy and reaching out to the huge talent pool of young people in diverse communities. Meanwhile, there’s a tension between employers reaching out to colleges and training providers and there is a need for a more mature conversation.
Tabassum Fatima: Modernisation is a continuous journey and communication is key to success in transformation. Disruption can be divisive and frustrating and so giving people voice, vision and transparency is essential to keeping all stakeholders in the frame.
Tracy Noble: Our company was very traditional and before the pandemic, remote working was unheard of. But we grasped technology and flexibility, we kept operating and colleagues discovered better work/life balance. Now we are helping our customers to be ready for new EV technology and we are running reskilling programs.
Nicole Ward: Talent and its availability is a matter of perspective, in one company there may be no opportunity for ambitious employees and new talent will quickly realise if there are limited opportunities for any future or longevity and that leads to an unattractive employer brand, so far as careers go.
Siân Ferguson: I wonder to what extent reframing the story around re-skilling could be helpful? It’s not possible to predict the future with any degree of probability, so we all have the same sense of the unknown. The aim is to learn faster than your competitors.
Emma Nicholls: We’ve all heard of changefatigue – it’s almost like, people are done with change. Life is all about change, but the word itself is meaningless. Open learning is fundamental to supporting people in a more positive, inspiring way.
Cathie Donaldson: The fact that we call it change means that we are limiting ourselves. If we create a narrative which is around a constant state of evolution, we know that this is just how we progress. Empowerment is also key – how we create the conditions from a cultural perspective.
Kerry Young: People struggle with transformation being a “business as unusual” status, because humans use cognitive frames to navigate the world. When something is being disrupted, we form a new cognitive frame and it takes time and effort to do this.
Christopher Talbot: Why do we categorise different generational types? Being inventive, creative and engaged should not be just assigned to one generation. It starts with bringing people together and treating people as diverse and equal.
HOW MIGHT OUR UNDERSTANDING OF RECOVERY HELP US WITHSTAND FUTURE CHALLENGES?
Kerry Young: Real insight into best practice for recovery is with professional athletes and the way they prioritise active recovery and rest time. How critical do we make recovery time in our own organisations? Aren’t we also professional athletes in what we undertake in our own businesses? It’s about balancing working hard, while prioritising recovery.
Siân Ferguson: There is so much we can learn from how athletes prepare and recover and there are some important points to consider in neuroscience too – such as the parasympathetic nervous system – and it is our rest recovery that holds the key to creativity, conceptualising, redesign and everything we need for complexity. Yet we are predominantly drawing on our sympathetic nervous system – fighting, flying and freezing.
Emma Nicholls: We all rallied through COVID and generally responded well to the crisis and this time is really important for reflection and deciding how we go forward. But if you ask people, most say their targets are back to pre-COVID levels. So where’s the recovery period?
Mark Taylor: A lot of this is down to muscle memory and it’s important that we don’t revert back to old mindsets, where people working hybrid were assumed to be disconnected or unproductive. There is a need for balance.
Emma Nicholls: We go back to what we know, feel in control of and have power in. Agreed, revelations came from that crisis experience and our responsibility is not to snap back, but to work towards embedding the new and the different.
Vishal Gandhi: What is happening here is a lot of traditional organisations are back in their comfort zones and a lot of startups are capitalising. There are many businesses and industries that are not really fighting to be fittest, they’re fighting for survival.
Nicole Ward: We need to feed and nurture if we want to retain and attract the talent we desire. We must trust people to make the right decisions in how they carry out their duties and responsibilities, wherever they are based. We will of course need to interject, measure and adjust. We also need to refresh, invigorate, excite and bounce back.
Kerry Young: It’s the shift, broadly, from synchronous work to asynchronous work. We’re looking at how we can disrupt how work is completed in our organisations and it’s not the face- or desk-time – or how early people start work or how late they finish – it’s about contributing to vision and goals.
Helen Ketteringham: People are the architects of the future in any organisation – the answers lie within the workforce – and so connecting, involving, listening and responding to people are critical levers of success.
IS THERE STILL A SUBCONSCIOUS FEAR OF TECHNOLOGY AND ITS PART IN CHANGE?
Emma Nicholls: Like the word change, technology and digital is misconstrued as something that cannot be controlled. Fundamentally, if the tech is aligned, the user experience good and it is a force for good – enabling people to be freed from repetitious work and free to focus on value added – that’s the greenlight.
Tracy Noble: It’s about selling the right story, “what’s in it for me?” There’s that fear factor about a threat to livelihoods – it’s why all the barriers go up – and then it becomes a harder road to encourage people to make the journey.
Kerry Young: It’s also showing that when technology causes change, it creates new careers and opportunities and that’s where the re-skilling piece is so critical. It’s how you reframe the future and critically, because people are used to almost seamless tech experiences as consumers, this does not always transfer to tech experiences at work. Staff expect personalised technology experiences at work and organisations need to strive to provide this.
Vishal Gandhi: There needs to be a better understanding that technology is not driving change for no reason, it is a response to behaviour – for example as we change our habits from the high street to shopping online – technology is reflecting and supporting it.
Mark Taylor: There are different mindsets across any business and leadership and management teams need to stop and really think about the different types of people, understand how they work, what they need and be pragmatic.
Nicole Ward: There’s a lot of pressure on employees to buy into things. People may wish to do things differently, but when there is no choice and they are dragged kicking and screaming into a tech space change, no wonder they react as they do. It’s about enabling people to embrace it in their own time, to see transition happen and the improvements brought by the incoming tech.
DO YOU THINK WE UNDERSTAND WHAT A TRANSITION IS?
Kerry Young: The reality is, there’s an even bigger mountain beyond adoption, ensuring the utilisation and return on benefits of a change. Staff can often be quite checklist-driven, so the mindset can be, “I’ve delivered that activity it’s now complete”. With organisational change, using the “change curve” to understand and drive behaviour can be more powerful, as change is not always a straightforward checklist-driven journey.
Siân Ferguson: William Bridges’ work in this space is very pertinent, as it very helpfully articulates, in a very straightforward way, the need to move away from some aspects and go towards others. I’ve experienced these shifts with individual leaders I coach, but also in organisations, where there’s been an articulated culture change – a shift from command and control to accountable freedom, for example – or from perfectionism to experimentation. Some aspects are much easier to go towards, but some, you really have to let go of or move away from what is holding you back. I’ve seen companies that probably could go further, faster, if they didn’t have both the brake and accelerator pressed at the same time. Understanding those two things – and the critical place the space in the middle serves, that “neutral zone” where the experimentation occurs.
Mark Taylor: The good thing about the Bridge’s model, is that it shows the gap and that people move at different speeds.
Siân Ferguson: When we combine that with the concept of immunity to change – that one may state an aspiration to transform, but see little evidence of change towards it – that understanding is enhanced. Individuals and organisations are often serving a competing goal, which makes that transformation challenging, if not impossible. Often this “hidden” goal is linked to reputation – what has served that individual or organisation well to date – and is related to what their success has been based on.
Emma Nicholls: The beauty of diversity is that we all come at things from different perspectives and that’s where you gain the best outcome. If we are all aligned around the purpose, then with some parameters and some safety nets, it doesn’t really matter how we achieve the goals. Another important point is, if we create too strong a picture, we kill the opportunity to have the discussion around it.
Helen Ketteringham: Education plays a key role in preparing the future workforce, developing a growth mindset and the ability to navigate ambiguity with agility and resilience.
Christopher Talbot: In general, organisations don’t allow ideological conflicts and don’t create a culture where people can speak up because of the consequences if they do. We have encouraged cultures of blame, instead of being able to openly discuss the real cause of a problem and fixing it.
HOW DO WE MOVE AWAY FROM BINARY THINKING AND TAKE A SYSTEMIC VIEW?
Tabassum Fatima: Organisations which have been through the change need to align this with their culture. The visibility of objectives and a systematic approach to the change, will allow buy in.
Kerry Young: A systematic approach and systems thinking is useful, but there’s often additional complexity after leveraging and harnessing talents and ideas from within each network to provide clear outcomes and requirements for implementation and embedment outside of each network. I believe in allowing people to help create and codesign what the future looks like.
Cathie Donaldson: You do need an element of top-down led change, where the vision is talked about and shared from the top. But you have to empower people across the organisation to actually contribute to realising vision and implementing it.
Emma Nicholls: What puts people off moving to more systematic adoption is that it becomes too big and continuous, making it appear that there is no end to the tunnel. We don’t need to change everything all at once, it’s like the art of actually giving focus and choosing one priority has been lost and there’s a lack of transparency around what’s changing.
Vishal Gandhi: Technology is definitely distracting. When people talk about employee engagement, when we plug in the gig economy as a concept into the future, I think that the composition of organisations will have to change drastically.
Siân Ferguson: It’s interesting that we’re referencing both systematic and systemic. I’m wondering if being drawn to systematic on occasions, is a reflection of what our brains prefer to do.
Cathie Donaldson: A good deal of focus work that we’ve done is about positive intent with values, but then it becomes something that is posted on a wall and people don’t actually live and breathe the values. That leaves people not believing the values, when they don’t see it demonstrated or reflected in behaviours.
WHAT DOES BOLD HR LOOK LIKE?
Vishal Gandhi: The role of HR will definitely change from what we do today, to a very different setup and portfolio of what we manage end-to-end, particularly in the talent supply chain. Fundamentally, we need to end this paternal relationship with employees, stop babysitting them and start treating them like adults.
Christopher Talbot: Focusing on what we do and how we inspire, support and develop staff to gain the best results, is what will be required, rather than results at all costs which usually generates toxic cultures and management. If we go back to results at all costs, organisations will fail.
Helen Ketteringham: Retaining talented people is about valuing human capability more holistically and regularly. It’s a continued shift, purpose-led work combined with human-centric measures, curiosity and growth. Sharing experiences through meaningful conversations remains key.
HOW MUST HR ITSELF TRANSITION SUCCESSFULLY?
Mark Taylor: Going forwards, I want HR to be a function that is not dealing with admin and focuses instead on driving the business forwards more strategically and ensuring we have the right short, medium and long-term people capabilities and engagement levels everywhere.
Vishal Gandhi: HR’s final achievement in the future will be when it is not required. Some 50-to-70 percent of our work is purely operational and for the majority of HR enquiries, chatbots can cover it.
Siân Ferguson: There is a shift required in the paternalistic nature of HR – a shift in power dynamic – and there’s an opportunity to reset expectations. The big question is what is the future role of leadership?
Emma Nicholls: HR will become the relationship managers – the people that understand humans in commerce – or at least should understand better than anyone else in the business – as well as project managing core elements such as capability planning, succession planning and skills attraction.
Christopher Talbot: HR must shift from being the bastion of rules and regulations to a position of consultation, coaching, advising and supporting and not occupying the middle ground.
Nicole Ward: A bold HR is one that is confident to change/correct sensitive things, such as faulty leadership behaviours. We all know that the worst kept secret is a manager or leader who manages badly. So, the future of HR needs to be able to challenge those behaviours, as well as to change those default settings.
WHERE DO YOU SEE LEADERSHIP TRANSITIONING TO?
Cathie Donaldson: We’ve been talking about EQ and empathy in leadership for years, we’ve debated whether coaching leadership supports these fundamental values and we’ve been fixated on the triple bottom line – people, planning and profit. Yet the headlines constantly scream examples of bad leadership. So, we have to be honest and say, things need to change in how we develop future leaders.
Mark Taylor: This all points to a need to change mindsets. Businesses have to broaden their definitions of success beyond constant profit growth. Leadership and the transition to a new type of leadership therefore becomes something very different. The big question is – from a business model and leadership mindset point of view – if not growth, if not profit, then what? My take is it’s the balance of people, planet and profit.
Helen Ketteringham: In current times, leaders need to focus on humanity and recognise their responsibility to represent people authentically, provide a duty of care and influence social value. Leadership is a privilege and an opportunity to shape the future.
Emma Nicholls: Interrogate the word growth, look to redefine our perceptions of success and we could have a better conversation with our leaders around this. Instead of looking at a business strategy that’s locked on revenue targets, refocus on outcomes, experiences and contribution.
Mark Taylor: This is surely the true essence of ESG – as part of corporate governance – to remind businesses to focus on more than just profits. It also goes back to KPIs and what we measure in performance and productivity.
Kerry Young: Growth is not just about expansion, it’s also about change. There is a finite limit to expansion from a resource perspective, but you can also grow by changing the way you approach something and new opportunities can arise out of that growth mindset.
Helen Ketteringham: It’s that shift from shareholder value to stakeholder value and really thinking and understanding what stakeholders need.
Mark Taylor: It’s also important to think about who the stakeholders are and they are a much more broader group than has previously been perceived.
Tracy Noble: Without the shareholders there is no funding and so you have to change the shareholder mindset to accept that the business is not going to be looking at profitability and increasing the share price year-on-year. You would need to convince them not to withdraw their funding at that point.
Tabassum Fatima: Future leaders, must have flexibility, because where failure lurks is in the lack of adaptability with the younger generation, failure to respond quickly to changing economic needs.
Vishal Gandhi: Leader competency is not so much the issue, it’s more to do with the level commitment.
Cathie Donaldson: A good case study is, a tech company that needed to change, because it had been revealed in the media about its lack of diversity. The investors elected to scrap the financial target and insisted that the only target for the business to focus on was DEI.” Now, that’s my idea of bold, taking that radical shift in thinking. Is this a philanthropists spring, I wonder?
HOW COULD DATA INSPIRE CONSCIOUS CHANGE?
Emma Nicholls: Curiosity around data is really important, especially for diversity and inclusion work. By disaggregating our data, we’ve been able to really understand key issues – for example, ethnic pay gap reporting has been so powerful. It’s not just cold analysis either, it can lead to having those conversations that turn out to be really proactive.
Helen Ketteringham: We have an opportunity to combine technology with diverse human data and psychometrics, to form a transparent data set to inform creative people solutions and decisions. Matching skills, valuing difference and including people to best effect in alignment with business goals is a thoroughly modern approach to equality, diversity and inclusion.
Kerry Young: Data acts like a language and it can be shared in a consistent manner, articulating activities in an organisation, expands vision and providing a way of articulating concepts more meaningfully.
Helen Ketteringham: An understanding of our strengths, traits and aspirations can build confidences and enables the usage of personal insight, to drive our own progress and possibilities – particularly relevant in the growing market of portfolio careers.
Vishal Gandhi: Data is the most fundamental and foundational skill that HR practitioners need. We need to play with data, experiment with it. However, huge data is available for everyone, it’s the insights that few use as intelligence.
Kerry Young: Data not only gives you insight, it helps demonstrate value and articulate to investment managers, the board and shareholders why they need to invest in these HR programmes.
Vishal Gandhi: How we link this data to all the other disciplines is also very important. It’s not just singularly HR, it’s how does this impact different areas of the business.
Siân Ferguson: We all know that, at a fundamental level data provides visibility of and access to information to support decision-making. But even now, the data that businesses use or pay attention to is underutilised and a lot of important data doesn’t even see the light of day. We have to take an honest and pragmatic view surrounding data usage and ask questions about what we are monitoring and reporting on and for what purpose, versus exploring, interrogating and creating new thinking.
WHAT IS IN YOUR FUTURE VISION?
Kerry Young: One of the fantastic things about being in HR currently is this wider recognition outside of HR of inclusivity and the value that brings both to HR teams and to organisations and society. Looking at how can we leverage and capitalise on that, that’s where our challenge as HR Leaders lies. We must stay people focused above all else.
Tabassum Fatima: It’s not expectation of change that is challenging, it’s how it is implemented. We must avoid causing anxiety and instead build confidence.
Nicole Ward: I have four words, “improvise, adapt, overcome, solved”. Short and sweet. The reality is, you’re going to have to improvise if you haven’t made a contingency plan and you’re going to have to adapt.
Mark Taylor: Sometimes you just need to let people be and let it happen naturally. Everybody changes every day. One thing to avoid is panic and knee-jerk reaction, we need time to reflect and think about how big any problem or threat is.
Christopher Talbot: There’s something in having a healthy paranoia.
Nicole Ward: It’s good that leaders are still talking and still actively wanting to find a solution. I say, keep talking, let’s keep coming up with some actions and some solutions.
Helen Ketteringham: At the heart of an organisation is its human capability, which naturally brings diversity, creativity, imagination and choice. It is about harnessing curiosity and responding to opportunities with a growth mindset.
Siân Ferguson: Letting go of the need for a model is a “hoorah” moment. Our conversation leads me to the conclusion that our future is less about capability and more about choice and commitment. The possibility to reclaim parts of ourselves that we already have, as we go forward.
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