I’m going to talk fairly broadly about a lot of the contextual shifts that are happening which I believe put the very centre, the idea of what it means to be human, and how we create more human centric organisations, and being in the professional body for the HR profession I am also saying that we need to put the human back into human resources, because a lot of what we have done over the last 20 or 30 years is kind of proceduralised everything and created lot of rules and policies and practices and rather forgotten that actually the heart of everything is people.
Of course that is the big theme for today. So there are lots of ways of thinking about the contextual shifts, political – you are probably familiar with the PEST model (political, economic, social and technological change) but I don’t have to tell you politically what is gong on. More and more uncertainty, we have just had another extraordinary election and again a reminder about how important it is to listen to people, and why can’t politicians listen to people. It’s the same thing in many businesses. Why can’t business leaders listen to people? So employee voice and people’s voice is one of the things that resonates more and more strongly through these sort o debates.
We have obviously got a lot of debate now about what is globalisation, are we in the 4th wave of globalisation where, as I describe it, it feels like the handbrakes are coming on. We have been growing over the last 20 or 30 years into this world which connects everything. Movement of goods, services and labour, ideas are all flowing all around the place and then people start to say ‘hold on a second, that is not good for me. I am being affected by this and it’s not all good for me.’
We obviously have social change. We talk about the smart phone and all of that and I often reference my own children. I have my own social experiment going on at home. I have 3 daughters, 2 are Gen Y (26 and 22) and I have a Gen Z (a 19 year old). The difference between the Gen Z and the Gen Y’s are they are the true digital natives. They have only ever known what we think of as technology, they just think of as stuff. My youngest daughter is a classic of this generation. She is completely hard wired to devices, phones, iPad’s, laptops, TV. They are all going on at once and you come up to her and say can you stop watching the Only Way is Essex as it’s nonsense and polluting your mind because I want to watch the football. She says ‘you can’t as I am watching TOWIE’ but she is doing all these other things at once and I say ‘you cannot be doing this all at once’. I ask her what is going on on TOWIE, it doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist and she will say ‘this, this and this’. There is growing evidence that perhaps this generation is getting wired differently. They grow up with this stuff so they are going to get wired differently. Their attention span is much shorter but perhaps ability to multi task. Is it real or not? I don’t know. It helps that she is a woman of course right? As you said it is bombarding the stuff that is going on in our lives every day.
Technology is a massive part of these shifts as well. And technology itself, there is a lot of debate. People talk about the 4th Industrial Revolution. We are now into this world of machine learning and AI and advanced Robotics and this really is going to have to be about how do we get the best out of people alongside technology and all these sorts of stats about how many jobs might get displaced or completely changed in the future.
A lot of what Laura talked about is FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. That is a lot of what is going on with our phones isn’t it? Reading this stuff and thinking you don’t want to miss out. An email coming in and you think you might have missed something and you should have been in that conversation. I should have read and responded to that text. It’s pretty acute amongst the young and it’s a troubling trend in many ways. You can see some of the mental stress it is creating with young people because they are living their lives out there on Facebook and they think everyone else is having a wonderful life and they are trying to portray this wonderful life and they are desperately concerned if they are not part of it.
So what’s FOBO? For Gen Z this is fear of being offline. I also use it in the context of fear of becoming obsolete. If this skills and the jobs and the capabilities that we have today are going to get replicated by computers, what does that mean? Of course AI and machine learning is moving up this scale of skills and capabilities is not just about administrative or low skilled things, it’s about increasing high skill things. If you are a lawyer, a Dr or an accountant, these sorts of jobs that require highly cognitive and analytical skills, increasingly not only can artificial intelligence do it well, it can arguably do it better.
There are endless books and endless debates about this stuff, I would encourage you to read things like the rise of the robots by Martin Ford. If you want a really human aspect of this and some more dystopian views read Yuval Harari – Sapiens and Homo Deus. Read other books such as Humans are Underrated. There is so much discussion about what all this means. I don’t know what the future work is going to be and I don’t know what the future job is going to be but I am going to talk about the things that I think are really important and I do believe that this should be about how we create jobs and work that are good for people alongside how we leverage and use technology.
65% of school children might be working in jobs that we haven’t yet invented. So what does that mean to education? What are we training people to do in the future. If education which is being called out for a long time is teaching people skills that are not always the things that equip them to work well then that gap is growing. And indeed how we work – the fact that technology can now enable a much more of working anyplace, anytime, anywhere and actually this work/life balance is an old paradigm. It’s work/life integration and I don’t think it’s all necessarily bad. We were just discussing at our table and maybe I am not a good example but I do get a lot of emails and I get quite stressed out when I am on holiday if I haven’t had access to drain them because I spend the rest of the day worrying about what might have been on the email that I should have responded to, I do actually feel better when I have had half an hour to clear them and now I can just focus on holiday and not worry about anything else. It’s not all bad necessarily so how do we use these things in effective ways.
Certainly in terms of how we work and the growth of the self employed, the growth of flexi-working, zero hours contracts – all these forms of work which are growing, every trend is pointing to the fact that if you look at jobs growth since the global financial crisis, an awful lot of it has been in this space and yet we struggle with it. We have political debates about this, it’s all terrible, we should get rid of zero hours contracts, we should stop this so-called casualisation of labour. For many people it’s a good thing. It’s creating opportunities for people to come back into work and work in very different ways. When we know to the work life/integration point that people have very different responsibilities. We have to get better at this, we have to build flexible working cultures and one of the things that is constraining more women in particular staying in work and women returners is that the number of jobs that are open or advertised as flexible or open to flexible working is tiny. Timewise, who study all this kind of stuff, reckon there is about 7 or 8% of jobs that are advertised that say you can work flexibly. We have not yet embedded true flexible working as a cultural norm into our businesses and yet this is an emergent trend and arguably a very good thing. Then it’s got to trade also with security, because there is a lot of concerns that people have about work is what they would call security. What does security actually mean? Does it mean I have a permanent job and I am not going to lose that job? This is a real reality and it’s something that we need to understand.
I love quotes on this stuff. Do you remember who said ‘love and work, work and love – that is all there is?’ Anyone know that quote? Sigmund Freud. That was a sort of interesting concept. I actually prefer this one from Voltaire which is ‘work frees us from boredom, vice and need.’ It’s quite interesting if you unpack that. Yes I think good work, which is what this debate is about, and it certainly what we think about and all the work we do together with engage for success is a lot about what is good work? What engages me, what gives it purpose, what gives it meaning for me? The good news is that there is a lot more debate about what good work should be. You have probably heard of the Matthew Taylor review that was kicked off by the Conservative Government with Matthew Taylor who is the Chief Exec of the RSA, to look at modern working practices but actually he has taken a step back from all of that and said ‘well we could see some of these modern working practices, what would be the defining principles of good work.’ It doesn’t matter how or where I work which is why I get quite cross about a debate which says we should ban a particular form of working like zero hours contracts when we know we have done research on it and there are many people who work on zero hours contracts who are not only happy with it, they would much prefer it that way because it gives them the ultimate flexibility but it does say you have to have a really good relationship with your boss and with the organisation and they have to understand that stuff.
The point is regardless of how I work or in what form I work, what are the principles of good work? How can it be that it really does therefore free us from boredom or vice, which is the idea that if I wasn’t working them I might be running round the streets selling drugs or something, or need which of course we all know about which is all the way from basic needs but all the way up to my more aspirational needs as well. That should be a very central construct of whatever we do for the future. If you look at the principles of good work and the things that people regard as important in good work, interestingly job security comes out very high. That is probably not surprising in the context in which we are working. There is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of concern. Financial wellbeing we have already touched on wellbeing but financial wellbeing is almost the top of the list. The number of people who are in ‘in work’ poverty, so just about managing. Security is part of that idea as well, what I don’t think it means is I need a 9-5 job, it means can I see some degree of security from that job, creating an income stream for me? I think also the idea that when I am at work, I should feel safe. One of the things we have said a lot to people, post Brexit and even post the election is the more uncertainty that is going on in the world around us, we have got to create that sense of safety for our people. That they are valued, that they are listened to, that they are recognised for their differences and that we value those sorts of things. A lot of the dialogue going on around us unfortunately is headed in a different direction from a lot of those ideas. I think it is very incumbent on us in work to help to create these kinds of environments and these kinds of corporate cultures. It has never been more important that we do that.
So interestingly high income doesn’t figure that high but good opportunities for advancement, an interesting job, working independently, helping other people, useful to society, personal contact – these are all very human things about work. Interestingly it isn’t and it never has been just about I want to earn more money. It’s about all these other things that give it meaning, give it purpose, make me feel good about myself, make me help to feel like I am contributing. We know from all the behavioural science research and if you haven’t read Dan Pink’s book called Drive or the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us then you should because it is the elemental ideas behind engagement. He calls out three things based on many years of behavioural science research. Purpose – so what I do it has purpose, I understand that purpose and I connect to it. Secondly autonomy –give me space to operate so that I can give of my best. I translate that to mean don’t treat me like a Muppet. The third is master – help me improve. It’s a very human thing – I want to do my best and your job as the manager of the organisation is to give me the resources and the support to improve. Those are very human aspects of work as well.
We have issues of reward which of course is a big subject all by itself. You know, you have seen the stats, I am sure you read the papers –the average income on a real basis has been dropping over the last 10 years or so, and yet it’s not that the economy hasn’t been growing, we are in this extraordinary situation of pretty close to full employment in the UK, 4.9% unemployment, and yet wages are flat and still projected to be flat by us and many others. So what is going on? We do not have a fair distribution of wealth. Productivity gains have been landing in then hands of the few, not the many. They have been landed into the owners of capital, they have been landing in the hands of the executives with their big share ownership schemes and we have to confront some of those things are well because it speaks to the heart of fairness as an idea at work as well.
The skills divide, we are not utilising the skills of our workforce. We go back to the idea of mastery. I’ve got skills and I want them to be used and I want to find jobs that utilise those skills and grow those skills because that is a very human thing as well. We have this big mismatch between the supplier skills and the jobs we are creating and it is particularly extreme in the UK. We have frankly too many graduates, as an example this is what we have looked at here, for the number of jobs that we are creating that require that level of skill. That is a two-sided thing. Is the supply wrong or is the demand wrong? The answer is that it is a bit of both. We have not in this country been creating jobs that require and utilise all the skills that we have in the workforce. We have actually luxuriated in the fact that we have had a very steady supply of labour, of EU migrant workers and many others, which has helped us enormously but it has also given us the opportunity in work to say ‘well maybe I don’t have to invest so much in this technology and clever stuff because I can just hire people do to it’. That is lower risk, cheaper and all these other things but it is not sustainable but we have to make better use of the skills and talents or our workforce, not only for economic reasons but also for very human reasons.
So it says there is a lot to think about. Certainly as we work with engage for success and other groups and entities it’s about how do we influence the bigger agenda. There is policy stuff that has to happen here. We are going to think about education. We have to think about demands on society. I started off talking about the fact that in society today what is really irking people is that they do not think they are being listened to. They can go out to social media and they can tweet and blog and build audiences and get their voice out that way but who is listening? Are they listening in the organisation I work for? Are politicians listening? Is anybody listening? Again it’s a very human thing – how to engage people, we can give them a voice. So all these sorts of things have got to come together, how we work with business and education more closely. How we get regulation and policy right and a lot of big debates need to happen. Part of the challenge is that they are not all happening. They really are not all happening. There is too much short term-ism from a policy and regulatory business standpoint yet the issues that we are talking about and the future that I have depicted requires a much more substantive debate.
So to conclude and I am then going to ask you some questions on this and get a discussion a bit, we have known for a very long time that the things we really need and that we are really looking for, and what I would describe as the truly human skills. The interesting thing when you look at all this technology stuff and the more you debate technology and read about technology and what more and more people are concluding is the things that are really, really important from people are the human skills.
There is something known as Moravec’s Paradox, Moravec was a researcher who said there is a paradox here in terms of technology. The paradox is this –the skills that we have had as human being’s the longest, and I am going all the way back to when we were running around the Savannah in Africa, the earliest forms of homo sapiens – the skills that we have had the longest as human being’s are the hardest things to replicate by technology. There are two areas. Emotion – that is what makes us human. It’s not because we do things like an automaton although we try to create work environments that treat people like that, the reality is that one of the hardest things for technology to replicate is any sense of emotion and you touched on it in terms of creativity and critical thinking and those sorts of things. They are very human skills. The other one is so obvious – it’s sensory motor skills. You know how hard it is for a robot to do the most basic thing if you present it with a tray of disassembled objects in different places it finds it hard to pick out the right thing and put it in the right place which is why we have created jobs, if you have looked at the Amazon warehouse as an example. A great big warehouse, driverless trucks and robots everywhere but there is one little job left for the human which is reaching into a shelf to pick something out and put it in the driverless vehicle that is going past them? Is that a good job? No –frankly it is a shit job and the reason it is done is for pure economics because that is harder to replicate for a robot. Now good news/bad news, the price points are dropping all the time and if you go onto YouTube you will see robots folding t-shirts and they are finding out how to get robotics to do these things very easily and at a very low price point. It’s known as Moore’s law within the growth of technology and drop of price points.
So sensory motor skills but the one I want people to focus on is the emotional stuff. So we know that to build the technical skills of the job, we are going to have to be very good at that we will have to retrain people but the things that we really want to make sure is that we are aligning on things like their behaviours, their personality traits, these truly human things. We talked about this for a long time and we don’t always know how best to align these things to corporate values, professional competence or whatever but that is where we have to go much more. We have to encourage the development of these skills because those are the ones that we will really need more and more of. That is what I find encouraging in all this debate about technology is that more and more people are saying the things that we are going to need are the truly human skills but we have to develop them better, we have to pay more attention to them. If you think about line managers, what have we promoted line managers on typically? We promote them on their technical and job skills but actually the things that really make the difference in terms of how well I engage my people, how well I look after them, coach them, support them –all the things that we know are absolutely fundamental to my engagement, my productivity and everything else are all of these things. So we have to do a better job of focusing on them, recruiting for them, developing for them, holding people to account for them through our performance management systems and everything else. That is part of what we can do today, and we need to do more and more of. There are lots of different ways as we know, and there are a lot of other speakers who are going to speak about aspects of engagement but it is of course a multi dimensional thing and all the work that engage for success have done on this and their four pillars, all of that is really to be commended. There is a lot of deep done around the ideas of engagement, what it means and its importance.
So finally I think in terms of what it means for us collectively and us as an HR profession is that we have to drive much more from this idea of principle and we are driving these ideas in terms of work itself. If I go back to the idea that what we should be thinking about good work is about principles, it’s not about a bunch of rules. What have we done, what has been the paradigm for work for so long. Here is the work, here are the policies, shut up and do your job. From a regulatory context how do you think the regulators were in the City of London? How do you think the regulators at the FCA tried to control the behaviour of organisations? They write a lot of rules. Does that work? What do people do when you write lots of rules typically? They find ways to break them or they will do them religiously without any thought of the context of the outcome and there are way too many examples of that, I was just playing by the rules, I just did what I was supposed to. The fact that it screwed up a whole bunch of customers or destroyed half of our economy – well that was the rules. You can never write enough rules and we know from behavioural science research for decades that it creates the wrong things. It disassociates people’s accountability from their own actions. If you doubt that go back to the Milgrim experiments from the 1950’s. The electrocution studies they were known as. Which themselves were marginally ethical and you can’t actually do things like that anymore but it was really interesting and insightful, you can Google if you are interested, but it showed what people will do when you just say here are some rules, just do what I tell you. They do some pretty awful things.
We are saying that future work is going to be driven by ideas of principles, principles of good work, principles that we want to be inclusive, we want to give people opportunity, and you can express it in lots of ways, but then you start to try from a much higher order of thinking. Secondly this has got to be evidence based. We have got to have more data. We have to understand these things and understand the interventions we make and the outcomes that we are tying to drive for. If we are saying ok we want a more engaged workforce, then that is great. How does that connect then to things like productivity and outcome? And the interventions that we make in order to improve engagement. How are we measuring that? Do we understand actually if interventions make any difference. We have been very good in the world of work at looking at the input and not the output. One of my favourite examples is learning and development. How do we measure typically how well people have responded to a piece of learning? Let’s take a more difficult example. Soft skills training, leadership training – what is the most common measure? One of these is how many people attended the course, and the other was how happy were they. They don’t measure the impact of the training. If they have been away in a nice hotel for a few days in a nice hotel and got drunk with a few people in the bar they actually enjoyed it. Did I learn anything? Did it make a difference to my behaviour and did it make a difference to the outcome? That is the question.
L&D has a parallel with the world of marketing and people have often said about marketing is the problem about marketing is I know that half of my marketing adds value, I just don’t know which half. I think this is exactly the same as the world we have created around L&D. I know that at least half my L&D probably adds some value but I am not sure which half. So you will hear a lot more about this and the idea of going to evidence. What is the data that is supporting what we do? Now we know that in our world of HR and people there is more and more data. A dimension that Laura didn’t touch on which is one of my favourite subjects on the growth of technology and smartphones is how much data is being collected about you. There is a saying which no-one can attribute which I think is a good one which is ‘if you do not pay for the digital product then you are the digital product.’ So Facebook, who is on Facebook here? Have you ever paid for anything on Facebook? If not what do you think Facebook is doing with you? They are capturing a tonne of information; they have the right to do that if you check their terms and conditions. They can access all your contacts, all your searches, they can access your phone, they can switch your phone on, they can access your camera, there is a story that Mark Zuckeberg tapes over his camera on his laptop and phone because he knows that Facebook is always on and it can access your phone and camera. They have given themselves the rights to do this stuff. Why do you think they are doing it? Are they bad people? I don’t think they are bad people but I think there is a real question about where this is all leading us to? There is more and more data about us that they can use to predict what we are going to do and predict what we think and to guide us in that way. Another great example is we live in a post truth world, so I read things on Facebook, it might be far right wing stuff so what do Facebook do then? They keep showing me more. They say if you like this, you will like that. How is this helping discourse and dialogue and critical thinking and all of those other things. These are some of the other aspects of technology; I am probably going a little off-piste.
So I given you quite a lot of things to think about right? So the future of work is challenging but there is huge opportunity. There is more opportunity for the kinds of things that I think we all do whether you are in HR or anything else to help to build good organisations with jobs that make sense and that use technology in the best way for people. That agenda in my view has never been more important, and has never been clearer and we have to drive for that, individually and collectively because if we don’t then the trends that we can already observe in the worlds of work such as the fairness about wealth distribution, about the plateauing of engagement, about the drops in productivity, about the lack of progress on things like inclusion. About the lack of progress in creating working environments that are good for people, that are meaningful and all those other things - they will get worse is my view. But on the positive it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to build great working environments. So I am getting the signals from Henry, but can I just throw a thought out to you and just can just spend a couple of minutes on your tables to think about this. What do you think is getting in our way? If you had to pick one or two barriers, what is getting in the way of us doing the things that I have pointed at? Or maybe you believe it’s ok, you have overblown this Peter and we are all doing it so don’t worry. So if you can spend a few minutes to think about what are the biggest barriers that we need to overcome if we are to create a world that really engages people, makes great organisations and makes work truly meaningful. Let’s have a quick think and I will wrap up.
I am going to pass the mic.
MS1: I think the challenge is we have lots of evangelists in the room, and we love it, get it and you articulate it better than anyone who I have heard articulate it, so thanks for that. I think the challenge is that there are a bunch of CEO’s out there in the mainstream, you almost have 2 camps of people. You have people who get it. They get culture, they see either as being good people and they see the link between doing it the right way and the results, or you have the people that say we are making money anyway, I don’t have to care. I have VC’s, investors etc. to care about so why do I need to change. So I think it’s great to be able to educate the people in the room because we are all in it, but the challenge will be with the very real people who only care about one currency, that being growth and profit, the challenge is how do we get outside of our organisations, how do we get more people on board?
PC: I think that is an excellent point? Do people agree? I do think you are right. I meet lots of different people and business leaders, you can see a community that get it and can see it’s important, and you can see a lot of people who say ‘I am not really sure, tell me what the problem is, look at my profits.
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PC: Yes that is a very interesting point. Have you heard of workplace democracies and helocracies? There are examples like Zappo's which is one of people’s favourite examples. They are an online shoe retailer and the Chief Exec doesn’t want any rules, they want people to turn up, do what they are passionate about and so on. They very quickly had to create a rule, the first rule was something along the lines is that you can do what you are good at and passionate about and what I am prepared to pay you to do, because everyone wanted to be in marketing or product creation and no-one wanted to do accounts. You are right; it’s about context as well. If I go to the Civil Service and say we have this great idea, what you need to do is democracies the work, take away all rules and all processes and you can all get on with it, they would look at you with abject horror. It’s not how they think. It’s a culture where they like process; there is nothing wrong with process in the right context. So you are right, it is about understanding the balance and the context.
A final thought I would leave you with is that there is no such thing as best practice. We have for long lived with a mantra, this is how you do this stuff, this is how you write processes, this is how you write rules and policies and organise things. HR has been particularly good at this, this is how you do performance management etc. The answer is there is no such thing as best practice. It’s about what is best fit. What works best for you in the context of what you are, the kind of organisation you are, the culture, the people and all those other things and what you are trying to accomplish. And you work from principles and understanding the outcomes you are trying to drive and make it work for your context. But of course, there are some common values and ideas which I have tried to talk about – what it means to be human, how you engage people and those should be common things but the way in which we organise and structure work is very context specific.
So thank you, I hope you have more discussion on your tables but these are big themes and we need to carry them forwards and I think your point at the end there is spot on. We can be evangelists right? So we may be preaching to the choir but what a great space to be. Evangelise! Thank you very much.