Today people are living and working longer. No surprise there! But by 2020, there’ll be five different generations in the workforce for the first time. I was reminded of this startling fact during a recent 20-Minute Master Class on the theme of ‘Workforce 2020’.


Kara Walsh, Senior Vice President of HR at SAP, kicked off a new series of Master Classes with the impact of global trends on the changing workforce. It was very thought-provoking about how our world is reshaping our working lives – and what it means for HR professionals, like me.

Some things never change

Despite ‘game changers’ like the proliferation of mobile devices, empowered consumers, and the information revolution, Kara was careful to point out that not everything will change.

In fact, she cited an Oxford Economics study on Workforce 2020 which suggests that despite generational and geographic diversity, what workers want hasn’t changed – and isn’t likely to. For example, money still matters most, followed by achieving career goals, a work-life balance, and personal meaning in their work.

While deep-rooted desires will not be that different, how organisations engage with a multi-generational workforce definitely needs to change. Kara explained how this has guided the HR team at SAP to respond to the challenges of our new world.

_0000_WeekOne.jpgNew rules of engagement

In the session, Kara grouped the Workforce 2020 priorities that every organisation must address into three topics – people, leaders, and HR. These are the main pivots for change.

First, it’s about your people. Recognising “everyone is a talent” captures the value of diversity in the workplace. Real-time data is increasingly important to understand what’s really going on in your workforce communities and how people want to engage. For example, SAP communicates when and how the workforce wants to, on any device and via ‘Jam’ SAP’s social collaboration platform. This people-centred, circular engagement model is far removed from outdated hierarchical communications.

Secondly, leadership is under the spotlight. Empowering leaders requires a greater focus on their behaviours as opposed to their competences. The Oxford Economics research echoes this – it found executives and employees agree that leadership is lacking – as is leadership development. Moving back from the ‘leadership cliff’ by focusing on creating accessible leaders who are in tune with their workforces is vital. Again, social channels and data are in play at SAP – as are “synchronized watches” with a single, global timeline.

Last, but not least, HR must play a pivotal role. In Kara’s words, “let’s get out of the weeds”. Being closer to employees – and their changing needs – will help you be a true business partner who develops talent and adds value in ways that align with the goals of the organisation. The task for every HR team is to make HR simpler, strategic and more fun. In short, “it’s time to get hip”.


If you missed the session you can watch Kara Walsh’s 20-Minute Master Class on demand. I’m looking forward to the rest of the 20 Minute Master Classes.  You can sign up here.

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