While there is a lot of talk about robots replacing workers and artificial intelligence (AI) replacing human intelligence, we believe the emergence of new definitions of “work” and “workers” brings immense opportunity for organizations. In a sense, it’s what HR professionals and leaders have always excelled at – leveraging talent and creating competitive advantage through people. Now, we are actually in a position to make a quantum leap forward in terms of impact.
This post examines why HR leaders should consider what needs to be done to take full advantage of the opportunities that are already occurring and look to the future with optimism. The changing work landscape requires new paradigms, many of which are developing or aren’t yet known today. But one thing we do know is that the future of work is not something to plan for. It’s happening now.
The changing nature of ‘jobs’
In short, the whole construct of what actually defines a “job”, and the nature of talent as a result, is rapidly changing. This will require a new and broader approach to designing for the combination of work, skills, talent and rewards, as well as rethinking the entire organizational structure.
HR leaders are now managing a plethora of solutions to get work done, including different talent sources and automation as a means to augment human performance and productivity. This has brought on a huge disruption around elements such as: what constitutes a work day, how the work gets done, who does the work and from where. Defining roles will take a back seat to defining the skills needed to get the work done. And those workers who can deploy those skills within this new definition of roles will be the ones that are in highest demand.
Moving from jobs to skills
The traditional notion of a 9-to-5 job that requires certain tasks be accomplished at the same place and by the same type of employee is already obsolete. This legacy approach has not kept up as organizations increasingly need to solve for disruptive technologies and competitive threats that demand new product or service innovation, or adopt business level changes at a faster pace.
For example, one insurance organization currently has more than 45 high-priority agile projects underway. It has also established work ecosystems to solve for important business processes and new areas of client service. These work ecosystems are based on legacy functional talent, now combined in cross-functional work teams along with freelance talent.
Increasingly, these organizational changes also point to different types of schedules and workers, whether they are contingent or part-time, working across time zones and from different locations – all part of the gig economy helping to get work done in more efficient and smarter ways. And this trend is expected to continue; some predict that by 2027, more than 50% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers.
We advise organizations to embrace these changes through a holistic approach and not just consider “human resources” as a silo. Nor is it strictly within the purview of technology or operations or re-engineering – it actually means the business, IT, HR, risk, and more, all collaborating as never before.
A new “Talent Value Proposition”
One way to manage this disruption is by considering an evolution of the “Employee Value Proposition” to a “Talent Value Proposition” – which may be different for each workforce segment. As you think about the different types of talent you may wish to engage in terms of how they work (e.g., full time employees [FTE], contingent, consultant) or what they do (e.g., operations, sales, administrative), you should consider a set of benefits and rewards that would be most impactful for that segment. As with other workforce trends emphasizing personalization and customization, there is no one-size-fits-all value proposition to entice all talent. That’s why organizations need to think more broadly about creating one that is differentiated, and then deliver on its promises throughout the full employment or work assignment cycle.
Our research shows that employers are considering a number of elements to differentiate their Talent Value Proposition including health and well-being programs and benefits. For example, one way to offer a distinct value proposition to contingents as a segment is to offer access to benefits such as income protection and tax advisory support, or elder care support services. Organizations that rely on top talent, including contingent workers, can create a compelling proposition that will increase the likelihood of retaining this talent when needed.
Demand for social skills, emotional intelligence to increase
For many workers, automation isn’t going to make their jobs obsolete; it’s only going to make certain skills obsolete. So in order to remain relevant, organizations can encourage talent to learn new skills that will keep them engaged and thriving. Additionally, demand for social skills such as emotional intelligence, empathy, coordination, relationship building and cross-cultural sensitivity, will become some of the non-technical skill sets that HR leaders will be seeking out more in prospects. At the end of the day, we’re talking about a new mix of skills – still anchored in the very necessary “human” component – that will define how we work in the future.
A focus on work redesign means there may be more opportunities for often overlooked segments of the population – such as stay-at-home parents, disabled individuals, returning veterans, rehabilitated prisoners – to make a contribution. Identifying, assessing and training in “the new work order” could in and of itself present an array of skills that expand the role of HR as they develop new toolkits for calibrating reward schemes, managing performance and coaching.
The future of work also presents new avenues for workforce longevity. As people live longer, healthier lives, they will likely work longer in a variety of arrangements. Unpacking jobs into the focus of work can help facilitate more people remaining active in the workforce for longer periods of time, at their own discretion. Companies that can effectively leverage their technology assets and their people – coupled with talent that can adapt their skillsets to help organizations – will be the most poised to thrive. And that leaves plenty of opportunities to move beyond a legacy mindset as each organization paves its way forward amid the complexity.
Next in this series: 10 reasons to reconsider Total Rewards
Doug Friske – Global Head, Talent & Rewards Business, Willis Towers Watson
Tracey Malcolm – Global Future of Work Leader, Talent & Rewards Business, Willis Towers Watson
Clare Muhiudeen – Managing Director, Human Capital and Benefits, International, Talent & Rewards Business, Willis Towers Watson