As people in the people business, HR professionals are no strangers to the rapid and profound shifts that are reshaping the world of work. Whether we specialise in talent management and attraction, learning and development, recruitment, organisational development or employer branding, there are strong forces that are changing our operational reality and necessitate a response.
It has been my pleasure to accompany the Randstad team on a national world of work breakfast series in September to launch and profile the World of Work research across the country. During that time, I’ve been struck by the passion and creativity with which people in HR are responding to these forces and overcoming the challenges they present.
In this short article, I capture and categorise some of the key insights that have come out of the breakfast series, with the aim of providing either a ‘snapshot summary’ for those who attended, or a new and fresh insight for those who could not be with us in person.
1 – Big, BIG data
It is hard to quantify just how ‘big’ BIG data really is. The size and scale of the numbers that describe the explosion of information blow the mind of mere mortals like you and me. To put today’s information overload into perspective, consider:
- Facebook has, on average, over 1,000 pages worth of personal data on every single user (now numbering more than one billion)
- A week’s worth of New York Times newspapers contain roughly the same amount of data as the average person from the 18th century would have been exposed to in their entire life
- Between the dawn of recorded history and 2003, we created roughly five exabytes of information in total (as a species). We now create that same amount every 48 hours. That is, we create a new human history’s worth of information every two days.
You could add another thousand crazy bullet points to the list and not even scratch the surface.
But beyond all the hype and brain-expanding statistics, it is how this data is being used by organisations that has the most relevance to us as HR professionals.
Companies are already using sophisticated datamining and integrated CRM technology to link what they know about their customers (‘data’) to their customer engagement strategies. In the USA, Target, for instance, was able to build an algorithm that told them ‘if a customer buys this particular group of products, that means they are pregnant’, which is a piece of data-driven insight that has allowed them to build a hyper-customised marketing strategy to capture the lucrative maternity and prematernity market. If you’re a Qantas Frequent Flyer, you’re already receiving customised emails (rather than a generic EDM) that tailors the special offers and promotions that you see based on what your customer data leads Qantas to believe are your likely preferred holiday destinations.
These are consumer market examples, but for HR professionals there are also examples of how data is being used inside organisations to take smarter, evidence-based approaches to talent management.
We know of one software company, for instance, who have built a computer model that takes into account a massive variety of factors about your employees (things like their home address and the distance from there to their place of work, duration of their tenure, seniority, level of education and qualification, past performance, salary etc), and can give you a prediction (to within a startling degree of accuracy) as to whether that person is likely to still be with your organisation in 12 months’ time. This kind of ‘predictive power’ is a massive boon for talent managers who can now rely less on intuition of subjective appraisals, and more on evidence and data to inform their planning and strategies.
Importantly, according to some compelling Randstad research, only 24% of companies in Australia are currently using data as part of their HR strategy (compared to an Asia-Pacific average of 34%, and more than 50-60% of companies in markets like Singapore, Hong Kong SAR and China). This has ‘competitive advantage’ written all over it; the companies that move now will still be in green field in the local market, and can seize early mover’s advantage.
2 – Beyond data: in a world of information overload, collaboration is king
As researchers into innovation and how value is created in business, we’ve often puzzled over the question ‘why didn’t Sony invent the iPod’? Conventional wisdom, mostly inaccurately, argues that it was some sort of deliberate strategy to slow the onset of digital music and protect legacy business models in content distribution that stopped Sony winning in digital music. But the reality is, Sony, as a business, was trying to win in the space, and lost out to their competitors primarily because, as one Sony senior executive is said to have put it: ‘no one at Sony talked to each other anymore’.
That is – despite their expertise, their position as incumbent market leaders, their wealth of knowledge and experience – they lacked crossfunctional, inter-silo collaboration. And they missed the invention of the decade because of it.
As markets are becoming more and more complex and more commoditised (and as data and information are running out of control), businesses are being forced to innovate in both their product/ service streams, and in their core business model. Their ability to connect their best and brightest people in collaborative and creative environments will be central to their success in making that happen.
Small wonder that 24% of CEOs cite ‘increasing productivity and performance of my people’ as their biggest challenge, and 60% cite ‘increasing collaboration’ as their number one strategy to achieve that.
The evidence linking increased collaboration with increased performance is genuinely astounding. An IBM Global CIO survey found that only 20% of dollar-productive innovation inside companies came from deliberate R&D, and that 80% came from spontaneous collaboration between staff. That is, people bumping into each other around the water cooler (figuratively) and finding areas of synergy or potential for collaboration was the most important driver of enterprise innovation.
One of my favourite examples comes from the US consumer electronics giant Best Buy, who under the stewardship of the legendary leader Julie Gilbert, implemented a company-wide collaboration platform for young female staff called WOLF Packs (WOLF standing for Women of Best Buy Leadership Forums). In this platform, young female staff were encouraged to come together to share ideas around innovation, new products and services, attracting female customers, increasing staff engagement and the like. Since their inception, WOLF packs have driven literally billions of dollars in increased category sales – and have massively increased the number of women in senior and executive leadership positions.
At the centre of the strategy was the simple belief that collaboration drove results, and that connecting people was worth the time, money and energy that it took. Well, in fact it turns out it’s not just ‘worth the time, money and energy’, it actually makes you money, and saves you time and energy in the medium and long term.
3 – Work is not a place anymore
If BIG data is the ‘quant’ trend reshaping the world of work, and collaboration is the ‘qual’ trend, then ‘digital disruption’ is the game-changer that is shifting the entire workplace ecosystem.
We have seen the radical impacts of digital disruption (with particular emphasis on the dualforces of mobility and social media) on market after market. The major banks are right in the thick of the disruption now - Young and Rubicom data from America showed that 43% of Gen Y Americans would open a bank account with Amazon (not a bank, by the way!), while only 34% would do so with Chase bank, 31% with Bank of America, and a paltry 23% with Citibank. On the same list of companies that Gen Y would happily open a bank account with: 25% said Google, 21% said Apple!
This makes sense when you think about it. For Gen Y, digital disruption has meant their first transaction experience is no longer going into their parents’ bank at age 16 to open an account, rather it’s buying a song on iTunes at age 7, or on PSN at 10. For them, ‘bank’ has a whole new meaning. Crucially, for them, digital disruption means ‘bank’ is not a place – it’s a thing you do (normally online).
Supermarkets are soon to be ‘no longer places’, too. In South Korea, Tesco has pioneered new technology called Homeplus - they have bought advertising space at South Korean subway stations, and instead of putting ads on the wall, have put digital pictures of supermarket shelves stacked with products. If you download the Homeplus app, you can walk up to the wall while waiting for your train and take photos of the items you want to buy, which are added to your virtual app-trolley. The kicker…? By the time you get home, your shopping is on its way to be delivered to your house!
64,000 customers signed up in the first month for this service, and almost a million (out of a city of 10 million) in the first year.
And we shouldn’t even start on schools! Over 250,000 students are already signed up to online high schools – run by world-class educational institutions like Stanford University, who charge over $14,000 in school-fees for students to digitally attend their online high school.
So digital disruption means that schools, supermarkets and banks are not just ‘places’ anymore, and so it is the same with ‘work’. Digital disruption means that work is not a place. It’s put beautifully in the World of Work report from Randstad: work is changing from a being place that you go, into a collaborative process.
Some of the obvious effects of this are already clear – flexible working arrangements, remote teams, virtualisation are becoming de facto norms in many organisations. Although it is also worth noting that there is growing evidence that management capability is not keeping pace with the changes in work style (many managers, for example, are used to managing teams by presence and visibility, which obviously doesn’t work when your team is remote, and must be managed by productivity and output!).
Some of the effects are more subtle – in the same way the digitisation is allowing people to customise their shopping, consumer and market experiences (everything from their coffee to their shoes to their cars), there is a growing demand from talent to customise their work experience, be it through their own devices, their day-to-day working reality, or even more radically through crafting their own career paths within organisations and having a more active say in the direction of their growth, development and promotion.
4 - Never a better time
There has never been a more exciting (if not a little scary!) time to be in HR. Every CEO I know is putting ‘talent’ squarely and firmly in the middle of their strategies to succeed in these rapidly changing times. That creates unprecedented opportunities for us to become key strategic partners in reshaping what our world of work looks like.
The forces of change are happening to us, but as always it is the quality and creativity of our response (not the forces themselves) that will shape the future.
After all, the future is not somewhere we are going, it is somewhere we are creating.
For further articles and advice on employer branding, strategic talent management, employment trends and employee engagement and retention, visit Randstad's knowledge centre workforce360 today.