Technology and digitalization are powering convergence, blurring traditional boundaries in industries, organizations and everyday life. Look no further than your smartphone — born of the convergence of tech, media and telecom — that today can serve as an on-the-go office.
HR leaders are experiencing first hand how digitalization is blurring many conventional boundaries in work and the talent experience.
After all, it’s their role to lead the workforce through this digital transformation. The challenge is to understand the fundamental shifts in the way work gets done and how to effectively adopt automation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace.
The following key considerations can help HR leaders as they look to uncover growth opportunities in the world of convergence.
1. Understanding what the future of work looks like in an increasingly automated digital world
There’s a misplaced assumption that workplace automation and the introduction of artificial intelligence will have a largely negative impact on workers and jobs. Yes, we can say that applying automation to certain repetitive tasks can reduce the human labor required. But technology can also augment talent and create new work for humans, as we have seen over the last three industrial revolutions. Jobs that require critical thinking, empathy, creativity and agile thinking will grow in demand and new ways of working will emerge.
Many jobs that are familiar to us will look very different as automation simultaneously substitutes, augments and creates human work. We’re already seeing premiums placed on some skills and discounts on others. This skills dichotomy is creating the need for new skill pathways within organizations, as well as adding complexity to talent, reward and engagement strategies.
Every day, jobs are being deconstructed into component tasks to be completed using a range of work options, from automation to contingent workers and reconstructed into new jobs. HR has a special role to play in helping organizations thrive amid this change as they shift from being the steward of employment to the steward of work. In this role, HR must be prepared to engage all talent (employees, gig workers, alliance partners, vendors, etc.) around their organization’s purpose.
2. Leading and transforming the work ecosystem
A world of rapid convergence requires a new type of leadership. Leaders must guide their people in the ongoing reinvention of work, deciding where, why and how to optimize the combination of human and automated work. This requires ongoing retooling to keep up with technological advances. For example, leaders need to be able to assess the changing impact that AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things will have on their organizations.
Core roles and behaviors that have always been critical to leaders — like collaboration and shaping culture — also require a shift in mindset and approach. For instance, leaders must collaborate with talent in innovative ways as work is constantly reinvented, and shape pathways to help workers keep up with new skill requirements.
Reskilling pathways for individuals should be based on both their existing skills and their willingness to be reskilled to meet future requirements. Leaders must also create a safe culture in which workers feel comfortable sharing ideas for new ways to use automation without fearing negative consequences such as dismissals.
In addition, leaders must continue to empower all talent through compelling rewards, and inclusion and diversity programs. Today’s diverse, multi-generational workforce increasingly expects a personalized, “consumer-grade” work experience, enabling them to connect with the organization in meaningful ways.
3. Sparking digital innovation
To succeed in adopting new ways of working requires collaboration, from both inside and outside of an organization. In fact, many organizations are pursuing partnerships with starts-ups and corporate venture capital firms or incubators in an effort to develop new digital capabilities.
These partnerships enable organizations to bring innovative ideas in-house, leverage technology that couldn’t quickly be developed internally and work with top talent. In some instances, these partnerships are also viewed as a way to pilot new technology before committing to full-scale implementation.
Underpinning it all is a growth mindset
To thrive in the world of convergence requires a growth mindset. For workers and leaders, this means a mindset of continuous development. And for HR, it’s envisioning new ways to combine human talent and automation to help the organization prosper.
Suzanne McAndrew is a Global Talent Business Leader at Willis Towers Watson.
Ravin Jesuthasan is a Willis Towers Watson Managing Director, Author and Futurist.