HR as the Agents of Change in Digitally Disrupted Future of Work: Q&A with Karen Cariss, CEO of PageUp

May 15, 20178:41 am1494 views

Rise in the gig economy, evolving new workplace models, change in working styles and best business practices, growing employee/consumer expectations from brands, combined with the accelerated pace of change, together call for HR professionals to skill up with technical capabilities owning a level of vision, courage and fortitude beyond what has been expected or done in the past.

Speaking about the key role of HR as agents of change in digitally disrupted times of the future, Karen Cariss, CEO and Co-Founder of PageUp, and co-author of ‘Cliffhanger: HR on the Precipice in the Future of Work’ gets candid with HR in Asia during her recent book launch last quarter.

Karen firmly believes that moving forward, it is essential for organisations to recognise, adopt and place HR technology as the strategic driver in assessing, forecasting and optimising the future workforce. HR technology and analytics should be embraced to underpin data-driven human capital strategies. Read on for more insights…

Karen Cariss, CEO and Co-Founder of PageUp

Karen Cariss, CEO and Co-Founder of PageUp

  • What will be some of the key challenges faced by HR in a digitally-driven workplace of the future?

There remains a disconnection between business and HR when it comes to strategy – while business strategy focuses on value creation, competitive advantage and results, HR strategy formulation often rests with the blurring of what the HR function needs to contribute to the organisation and how it will achieve this.

Moving forward, it is essential that organisations recognise, adopt and place HR technology as a strategic driver in assessing, forecasting and optimising the workforce. Consumer technologies are setting the benchmark for heightened expectations of enterprise technologies.

People are typically on several social networks, using software apps on their mobile devices for play, interaction and self improvement in their personal life. They are connected wherever they are, as the technology is easy and engaging, and if it is not, it is simply cast aside for a new app.

Leading companies are providing similar tools inside the enterprise, introducing a whole new landscape that HR needs to navigate alongside the IT department. HR needs to skill up in technical capabilities, navigate the challenges of privacy and security and keep up with the rapid change that we are now seeing in technology.

It will also be a challenge for HR professionals to guide the migrating labour force into this new era. HR professionals will need to have a level of vision, courage and fortitude beyond what has been expected or done in the past.

  • How can companies in Singapore manage the potential upsides and downsides of the rising gig economy, and the resultant contingent workforce demands in a tight labour market?

With the rising gig economy, the focus will now shift from aggregating work inputs to measuring work outputs. Some of the potential challenges will include the equality of the gig economy – employees might miss out on monetary benefits, social and development opportunities.

Moving forward, while there is no one-size-fits-all solution for organisations to adopt, here are two key roles that companies can look to manage the situation:

  • Innovation is highly valued at every level, with Singapore coming in as the top three countries for innovation, together with Switzerland and the United States.
  • Organisations will have their existing business models challenged and therefore, should seek to self-disrupt to some extent in order to prepare for the future. HR can help by setting the innovative context in three areas – culture, physical and psychological.
  • Singaporean companies should also nurture innovative players, for instance, leaders and workers who authentically support innovation, heterogeneity and change.
  • What are the best practices that HR practitioners can follow to be the precipice of change, in this rapidly evolving world of work?

Instead of striving to be a business partner, HR should be incorporated into the business itself. Some of the best practices for HR practitioners to adopt include the three HR intelligences – Digital, Cultural and Business Intelligence. These intelligences underpin the required HR transformation to the digital age and it is important to note that, change and adaption is fundamental to the future of work.

Organisations today need to have a deep understanding of how technology can aid them in achieving business objectives. In terms of digital intelligence, businesses should seek to optimise products and services for digital, people and technological capabilities that are aligned to the strategy, as well as a culture that promotes digital innovation.

Cultural intelligence, on the other hand, consists of social and emotional, cross-cultural and organisational intelligence – through measuring an individual’s applied emotions, understanding various cultural differences and being aligned with the company values, it can impact everything from the business’s productivity to annual profit growth.

Last but not least, business intelligence highlights the value of HR, that is capable or aligning current and future human capital needs with the business goals, that they were hired to achieve. HR executives can actively participate in strategic business planning, be accountable for non-HR business outcomes and representation on business or industry counterparts.

  • How will the role of HR transform in the future, and where will they fit in?

In the 21st century, when we think about innovation, we mostly think digital – we accept that a career is no longer what it used to be, and what has been developed and have succeeded in the past now needs to be dismantled, disbanded, refashioned and reconstructed.

The jobs of the future will now be leveraged off humans and we need to move fast because if we don’t, the business will move around HR. We are at an inflection point from linear to exponential digital growth, which will fast-track the innovation of products and services, and challenge every existing business model.

The debate about the cloud is over, with mobile and social now becoming mainstream and expected in both consumer and enterprise applications. For example, 42 percent of organisations plan to replace on-premise HCM solutions with cloud-based in the next 18 months, and half of the world’s population are now online, with countries such as Singapore having one of the top network readiness.

Organisations not keeping up with the opportunities and threats inherent in the digital transformation risk will become quickly irrelevant. HR has a role to play in leading cultural change, its involvement in changing organisational structure, people processes and practices. In terms of culture change, HR is not there to run a cultural change program but more of developing organisational leaders, who can subsequently effect culture change.

Moving forth, HR can help by instilling design thinking as the digital workplace now requires fast response, fluid innovation, open collaboration and accountability, and decision-making at all levels.

See: 10 Guiding Principles for CHROs to Lead the HR Transformation Journey

  • What are the people management and relationship challenges that employers will face in terms of engagement of the multi-generational workforce?

With a multi-generational workforce, some of the key challenges employers will face include, consistently reinforcing the value of heterogeneity in the workplace, be it for financial performance, strategy, or innovation of leadership.

Employees coming together from different generations and with different experiences have shown to focus more on facts rather than relying on assumptions – they process information more carefully and produce more innovative solutions. With skills transcending generational difference, HR leaders need to hone skills that allow them to connect around social and emotional intelligence.

Between the Millennials and their predecessors, “one-size-fits-all” leadership will not work, doesn’t matter even if the age differences are huge and people are very different. The workplace reality today is that, leaders are very likely to work within and across teams that have a multi-generational representation – from Veterans to Boomers, Gen X and Y, and within the next decade, Gen Z.

This will help facilitate effective communication, knowledge transfer and encourage divergent thinking. It can also build respect for diversity, enhanced teamwork and the control of toxic behaviour. 

Technological progress is different this time, with changes across different fields leading to transformation in the global social, political and economic landscapes. We are seeing unicorns build their market value by disrupting traditional businesses and industries, and achieve billion-dollar company valuations with a fraction of the labour force they have displaced.Cover page of the Karen's Book

With that, a large demographic in the workforce also faces extinction – moderately skilled jobs. You can see people starting to work longer, experiencing continuous cycles of work, learning and leisure time. In turn, workplaces are being redefined and reimagined, underscored by a new understanding of productivity and engagement.

As the gig economy advances, permanent employees and contingent workers are now challenging organisations to source, retain, and manage talent. Businesses everywhere are scrambling to reinvent themselves to succeed in the rapidly changing environment.

In the same vein, HR must be instrumental in facilitating the transformation of the workforce, to align with the needs of the digital business. HRs can play a strategic role in companies, by using technology as a strategic enabler and applying strategic foresight for sharp alignment with the business strategy.

  • With different working arrangements coming to play, how will HR manage a fluid workforce in a sharing economy?

Organisations need to rethink about their workforce and understand that the old employer ownership mind-set no longer works in this day and age. The hierarchy will likely become more egalitarian, with technology playing a significant role in future workflow management.

Machine algorithms are fast becoming an efficient channel, helping businesses identify specific skills and talents. HR should harness business agility and cost management, thus allowing organisations to upscale or downscale labour accordingly, and support flexible modes of work delivery.

With organisations scrambling to source and retain specific talents, flexibility is the key attractive factor for potential workers. In addition, due to the complex fluid workforce, unified talent management strategies are also essential to tackle multiple and diverse modes of engagement with the business. The focus should shift from aggregating work inputs to measuring work outputs.

Should there be an insufficient demand for human labour in the future, universal basic incomes (currently being trialled in countries such as Canada, India, and Finland) could become an alternative to work. 

  • Digital Intelligence
    • Understanding the strategic power of information technology and having the ability to execute digital strategies for competitive business advantage.
    • At an organisational level, businesses should build a digital platform comprising of an organisational culture that promotes and recognises digital innovation.
    • Other ways to optimise the digital strategy include organisational design and structures that accelerate collaboration – such as high-tech, next generation workspaces with collaboration zones and social hubs conducive for innovation.
  • Business Intelligence
    • Understanding the business drivers, systems and capabilities and having the ability to contribute strategic advice based on workforce analytics.
    • As a HR function, organisations should integrate science and technology innovation in HR.
  • Cultural Intelligence
    • Relook security and privacy management issues and address these challenges, keeping in mind not to stifle interchanges such as extensive information sharing and collaboration, so as to not restrict innovation.
    • Enterprise social networking should also be incorporated. In 2017, adoption rates are set to peak with 70 percent of organisations utilising this. Performance statistics have shown that incorporation of this, has led to an average growth of 31 percent in the speed of innovation due to better communication, collaboration, and problem-solving capabilities.
  • Other ways HR can support in driving innovation include:
    • Setting innovative context (culture, physical and psychological environment, and rewards)
    • Nurturing innovative players (leaders and workers that authentically support innovation, heterogeneity and change).
  • Create an exceptional work environment and innovation will follow.
  • Allow space and time for creativity and innovation to thrive.
  • Create autonomy through trust and empower leaders at all levels.
  • Create a caring, collaborative workplace where employees feel safe to innovate.
  • Invest in continuous learning and challenge the status quo.
  • In an age overloaded with information, how can HR utilise big data and analytics to identify future workforce, retain key talent, improve engagement and productivity, and augment decision-making using AI?

HR technology and analytics should be embraced to underpin data-driven human capital strategies. Organisations should look at employing talents, who can drive the correct and best uptake of new analytics, algorithms, and big data sets, in order to reduce attrition, develop rich pipelines of talent and produce workforce forecasts.

HR should also expect to see embedded analytics, going fully mobile (phones, tablets, wearables), utilising AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) interfaces in recruitment, on-boarding, L&D, and having smart workspaces.

  • Big data and analytics will also help in predicting which:
    • Configuration of team members, best suit tasks requiring diverse thinking and creativity versus expeditious task execution.
    • Leaders or team members’ best facilitating cohesion and collaboration based on meeting participation.
    • Teams that demonstrate higher levels of trust and cooperation, and build solid long term relationships.

Real-time, continuous feedback from AI and sensor technologies can help HR focus on dynamic information that is significantly more accurate, relevant, timely and most importantly, predictive.

AR can be utilised in enabling remote guidance, mentoring and training, as well as augmented visualisation of locations and objects. VR, on the other hand, will allow users to simulate environments, showcase products and service, rehearse activities and practice complex procedures in a virtual space safely. These will be beneficial in enabling personalised content, while reducing the need for business travel and drive enterprise demand.

  • How can HR professionals in the future derive most of the combination of cloud, social and mobile technologies to upgrade capabilities and drive competitive business advantage?
  • Cloud infrastructure and SaaS applications will lead the wave of social, mobile, and analytics capabilities, transforming businesses and the workforce.
  • Social
    • Establish a cross-generational task force to brainstorm collaborative tech in the workplace.
    • Investigate workplace social collaboration platforms for best fit, and launch or re-launch a workplace social network to promote its benefits and accelerate adoption.
    • Engage stakeholders to understand potential usage and encourage adoption, enlist influencers and highly engaged users to drive participation at all levels of the organisation.
  • Mobile
    • Trial HR apps on mobile devices: Begin with HRIS admin, recruitment and onboarding, while progressing to broader talent management tools.
    • Pilot wearables in areas that benefit employees, such as wellness and personal productivity.

Also read: Outlook 2020: Gazing into the Future of HR with Lee Murphy, Senior Director HR, Microsoft Asia Pacific

Content rights: This exclusive interview content is produced by HR in ASIAAny redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.

Feature image credit: Freepik

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