Not Another Predictions Article For 2020
I love to make and read predictions as much as the next person. I love to envision the future, and game how predictions will play out. Our current conversations and predictions are around people, technology and data. This is because in an effort to comprehend what is possible, we have created the most extreme scenarios for our future. We see it in books like George Orwell’s 1984, movies like Minority Report and IRobot, and television shows like Years and Years and FEED. This is not to say these predications have not, at least in part, come true. We all know about dictators who use social media to push their personal agendas, only to turn around and shut it down when people share the truth. We also know about governments who have created propaganda machines and hacked their opponents’ elections. To prevent these end of world scenarios we have created for ourselves, however, we need prescriptions not more predictions. To that end, this is not another predictions article. It is an expansion on my “letter from the founder”, written when I originally incorporated my business years ago, wherein I offered prescriptions for the world of business to rethink how it operates, and to put information and decision power back in the hands of its people. This is, afterall, the only solution to combat tyrants who wish to misuse technology and information. To be clear, technology and information are not the problem. People who use them to subjugate others are the problem. In fact, information is the great equalizer, and technology democratizes information. It makes it available to everyone, and an informed people are an empowered people. Technology is not going away. It’s changing the world, as we know it, in every way. It is on us then to make sure the changes are for the better of the human condition.
When technology has all but taken our jobs, it becomes our mission to prove that humans are a capability, a resource, an asset like no other. When asked “people for what purpose”, never forget that our ideas, our relationships and our contributions are the stuff that business is built on, the fuel that success is made of. Machines only do what they are programmed to do. The real value add, the real differentiating capability, is the chemistry between people. Yes, technology has taken jobs, but it has also presented humans with an opportunity to do what humans do best — create. As technology automates and augments our work lives, we have an opportunity to design more creative work, roles, relationships and measures. Three areas of the business where we can create anew are the C-Suite, Human Resources and the workforce.
For too long, the real drivers of performance (humans and technology) have taken a back seat to support functions (finance and marketing). Fortunately, the future is still being written and it is in our power to direct the conversation and shape the future. If the current conversations around people, technology and data are any indication, and people and technology are drivers of performance, which they are, then we should restructure the C-Suite to consist of a CIO, CHRO and CTO. In a world where information is queen and data becomes ever more central to business decisions, the Chief Information Officer in all her wisdom should replace the Chief Executive Officer. The CIO together with the CHRO and CTO can decide what and how the work is to be performed and structured. They can decide strategy and shape policy. They can decide what work will be performed by technology and what work will be performed by humans. They can decide what capabilities, competencies and potential are required to achieve success. Then they can use their future talent management and HRIS technologies to locate the most qualified individuals, teams or firms, from inside and outside the organization, to perform the work. Lastly, Finance and Marketing, who once held C-titles, can sit under the CIO as they are data and information driven support functions; with their resources brought to bare in support of the business’ performance drivers.
The recent wave of companies changing their Human Resources titles to ‘People’ titles, while hopeful, is short sighted. They do this because they have decided to start to put people at the center of decisions, only ‘human’ has always been in Human Resources. To be fair, the ‘People’ title is relevant where it applies to managers who work directly with individuals in the organization, but the future of Human Resources in the future of work will involve more than people management. I believe firmly that people must come before profit, probably even before most other functions of the business. The fact remains, however, that when a company or organization is started, it does not start with people. It starts with the mission, the work, and the strategy. If we as Human Resources professionals want to continue the momentum we have as partners to the business then we have to understand that the job of Humans Resources is about more than people. It is also about strategy, what course we are on and why, and about work, how work is structured and distributed, and about data, how people data is collected and for what purpose. With the CHRO as the head of Human Resources, and technology automating the functions’ lower levels, we can start to create real human-centric roles for Human Resources. In the way that we already have payroll and benefits specialists, executive and performance coaches, L&D and change experts; we can create other HR roles like talent scouts and talent agents, data governance managers and data analysts, and organizational anthropologists and consulting psychologists. Think of the implications for employee experience, engagement and wellness with more of these types of roles. Especially since, according to research, the same technology that makes it easy for us to connect and communicate is making us more isolated, depressed and self-hating.
There has already been much published on the subject of ‘the future workforce’. In short, the future workforce in the future of work will be one that is strategically dynamic, differentiated and distributed. It will include, in large part, remote workers and teams (both permanent and contingent) who will be supported by technology that removes the distance between people. This new workforce, regardless of their task or work agreement, will report in to Human Resources. Imagine, Human Resources can finally see collectively, the big picture and the long view, to connect dots once unable to better address talent threats and opportunities of the entire workforce.
As with any decision, prior to investing in technology, make sure you ask the right questions that tie the investment back to your business strategy. When asked “technology for what purpose”, the only right answer is to augment work and support people.
Technology needs to make collaboration and communication between remote people and teams effortless, as in the example above. This is where digital, IoT and XR technologies need to be adopted. Let us not forget the chemistry between people is the real fuel for success. Technology then needs to be designed, assembled and integrated for the purpose of creating an experience for workers that promotes relationships and enables humans to do their best work.
Technology also needs to socialize and personalize the employee experience, and secure and protect people data. If technology is to promote engagement, we must make sure it has the same ease of access and attraction as our current social tools. Unlike our current social tools, however, our people data needs to be protected, not sold to the highest bidder for advertising purposes. This is where cybersecurity, encryption and blockchain technologies come in to play. Otherwise, you will surely lose the trust of your workforce, likely see a decrease in retention as people jump ship and find it nearly impossible to attract new talent to your company.
Lastly, technology needs to provide the capability to access and analyze real people data in many different forms, at a moments notice, as opposed to our current systems that take days if not weeks to acquire, compile, organize and analyze data from disparate sources across the organization. This is a job for a technology that does not yet exist. I am talking about reinventing our talent management and human resource information systems. I am talking about creating a whole new information architecture that measures not only our current HR and human capital metrics, but the company’s true wellness, health and fitness on three levels: the organization, the team, and the individual.
When performing data science, as with people and technology, we need to ask and answer “data for what purpose”. In our future, where the CIO has replaced the CEO and data has become central to both business success and the health of the workforce, we must make sure our structures, policies and practices exist for exactly that, and not for the manipulation or subjugation of others. In addition, we must make sure we do not manipulate data and information to serve our own personal interests or to support a decision we have already made.
This would be abusive and unethical. There are three areas where we can measure human data points in order to hold business leaders accountable for the overall health of their organizations: wellness, health and fitness. Let me say, I have read the research that states the organization has a greater impact on business success than the individual. Except, this is not a fair argument because you do not have organizations without individuals. Organizations exist when individual capabilities are brought to bare in relationship to others. Put simply, without individual capabilities, you don’t have an organization or workforce, you have a crowd. And a crowd only becomes a workforce when you organize individuals by their competencies and capabilities in service to a common cause.
Measure employee experience and the health of the workforce
Our current metrics for measuring human capital and HR are great. They brought recognition and credibility to the HR function and got us a seat at the table. Now, though, it is time we move away from a view of people as units and dollars (eg. cost per employee, revenue per employee, etc) and toward a more human approach that looks at individual competencies, capabilities and contributions. While we have evolved in the way we value people — skills over experience as currency — we are not done. We wont be done until we are able to measure and value human potential. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to humans. It is only when we factor in personality, intelligence and priorities that we can really personalize the employee experience. Only then too can we measure wellness, health and fitness in any meaningful way. While these three areas sound similar, they are, at least in how I define them, different. In addition, the example data sets I suggest to measure are by no means exhaustive. You can be as creative as you want, as long as they are relevant to your strategy.
Wellness refers to the state of one’s personal (physical and mental) health. Habits, stressors, thoughts and feelings affect this part of our selves. To those transactional managers who right now are wondering why they should care — we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on health insurance and other benefits each year to repair us; yet sick days and mental illness are at record highs. This issue has become so important that the conversation has turned from ‘healthcare’ to ‘welcare’, in an effort to address preventive measures to medical conditions. This is a problem for a population that spends more of its time engaged with work than any other activity. We can track this area with an index that measures employee opinions and perceptions of, and satisfaction with, people, work, culture and diversity, inclusion and belonging. We can collect this information from surveys and reviews, 360 assessments, focus groups and round tables, and hotlines. For best results, create analytics that look at these data points in relation to complaints, grievances, hours worked, ‘always on’ indicators, absenteeism and turnover. Once you have performed an examination of organizational symptoms and diagnosed the problem and identified areas for improvement, whether physical or mental, you can then prescribe remedies: psychologists or therapists; nutritionists, personal trainers or gym memberships; a safe room where individuals can mediate conflicts, meditate and reflect, or power nap; and/or business, life and financial ‘guidance councilors’. I know snack bars and bean bags are cheaper but you get what you pay for. To use a data science reference, the quality of your output is only as good as the quality of your input.
Health refers to the state of one’s current professional health. It refers to our competencies (knowledge, skills and abilities), our capabilities (facilities, resources, relationships) and our contributions (past achievements). With various assessments, we can identify and measure styles of work, communication, management and leadership. We can track successes and failures, and behaviors like engagement (interactions) and incidents (accidents, conflicts), and distrust (lies, theft, sabotage), and relationships with others both inside (interpersonal) and outside (community and crowd) of the organization. To understand and harness the chemistry between people, create analytics that look at relationships and interactions in relation to achievements. To understand and prevent unhealthy work environments, look at relationships and interactions in relation to incidents and distrust. After all, it is people who create healthy or unhealthy workplaces, environments of innovation and risk taking or fear of failure and discipline.
Fitness refers to an individual’s ability to affect change in both themselves and in their sphere of influence. It refers to what one is capable of, their future potential. Potential is represented by the combination of personality, intelligence and priorities. Once again, these can be identified and measured easily with existing assessment tools. Once we have quantified these data points, we can measure items like risk appetite and risk approach, as well as, decision styles and mental models.
With this information, managers can create teams with greater chances of success, and know to whom it best to assign certain tasks. In addition, a more self aware workforce can hand pick work that flexes and stretches their capabilities, and engages and challenges their whole selves.
Measure business performance and the health of the company
We already discussed people and potential at the individual level. Once we have measured individual wellness, health and fitness; we can aggregate the data to create metrics for the organization. Together, these three areas create the ‘workforce health index’. Except, companies should also be measured by their purpose (mission, vision, objectives and strategy) and by their pillars (beliefs, values, principles and policies). These two areas can be measured by how well they hold up under scrutiny, how they are perceived by stakeholders and by how aligned the organization is on them. These two areas create the ‘company health index’. We want to distinguish between the organization’s reputation and the company’s reputation. You can then create an analytic to view and analyze these two new health indices in relation to your company’s current Corporate Responsibility Indices to learn how the former index influence the latter.
We can also create a ‘human capital index’; a true representation of your total human capital investment. To be clear, the purpose of this human capital index is to track investment in, not cost of, our people. In addition to current human capital metrics, it can include metrics for innovation capital, social/relationship capital, intelligence capital, and reputation capital. Calculate these items by aggregating totals for all individual measures; then view and analyze this new ‘human capital index’ by team, department or whole organization. You can also view this human capital index in relation to your new health indices to learn how investment in your workforce affects the health of your workforce.
Think of the incredibly exciting things we can do with this data; new human capital statements and a new stock exchange where people can invest in a company’s human health and human capital. It could follow on the heels of the recently approved Long-Term Stock Exchange (LTSE) that allows for people to invest in the long term potential of tech companies. Lastly, think of the implications this information has for your customer and employee value propositions. I want to reiterate three points now. First, you do not have organizational capability without individual capability. Second, you must put the information back in the hands of your people. Third, you must, at all costs and above all else, protect your people’s data.
When we ask the question “for what purpose”, whether about people, technology or data, we must always come back to our mission, our work, our strategy. Imagine, if you will, a world where companies exist to better the human condition, a world where people only ever join companies whose causes they value and missions they believe in, a world where companies are measured as much by their purpose, people, potential and pillars as by their financial performance, a world where an individual or company’s good deeds determines their growth.
What a wonderful world it can be.