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There’s a rumble in the atmosphere as technical advancements of the last three decades convene together upon something larger than themselves.  Enter the workplace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution where the data points we have carefully collected over the past several decades are now connected in ways that would be the envy of The Jetsons.  Like those “Capital One” credit card commercials that ask, “What’s in your wallet?” I want to ask “What’s in your HR vision?”

JETSONS 2020.jpgIs HR going to remain a complacent absorber of the experience or an active channel for change? We’ve been digital for a long time – so what’s transforming, anyway?  We should be transforming. 

My vision: Reshape Human Resources Management into WORKPLACE ENABLEMENT.

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution we will still need to pay people, manage the daily functions of “hire to retire,” attract the right talent and maintain competitive compensation and benefits.  But it’s time for a reimagined department that is focused on enabling the business to excel. 

Imagine a future where we are managing more than Human Resources. Robots are already a very real part of the workforce. Earlier this year, a new hotel opened in Nagasaki, Japan, that is run almost entirely by robots.  What impact does that have on HR?  Fewer physical workers?  Yes.  Retraining existing workers?  Yes.  Hiring a different kind of worker?  Yes.  And – to get into the nitty gritty – what about scheduling workers?  I mean – what happens when the robot calls in “sick?”

The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – where true Digital Transformation propels the business – will rely upon HR leadership to make it successful.  And that is precisely why we, in HR, need to care about what’s happening with technology and the possibilities of the future workplace.

Here’s five things we need to excel in our organizations’ journey to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

  1. An agile org structure with the ability to create focused teams that are given the time, space and resources to achieve success in creating a digital workplace.  The traditional hierarchical model will not provide the flexibility or empowerment needed to support rapid decision making, appropriate levels of risk taking, acknowledgement that transformation is an investment that cannot easily be assessed through traditional cost-benefit analysis.
  2. A flexible workforce – one that can integrate and adapt quickly to change; a workforce that can shift their skills from a fixed function to constantly changing models for meeting business objectives.  Think less in terms of “Jobs” or “Positions” and more in terms of “Capabilities.”  Create a recruiting strategy focused on the ability to adapt and change more than on textbook knowledge.
  3. Continual learning, assessment and adjustmentof capabilities as the new norm. For many workers in business, necessary capabilities in the workforce will be in a constant state of flux.  Profitable management of capabilities will require an agile training program, with tracking and measurement of individual success.  High turnover may actually turn out to be a valuable metric in this capabilities driven workforce.
  4. A modern technology infrastructure and strategy.  You will want to spend less time administering, creating and maintaining complex rules and platforms and more time enabling success in your business units; helping to predict and manage to future needs.
  5. Engagement with others who are future focused, who encourage a future focus, who challenge ideas and are disruptive creators.  Immerse yourself with other thought leaders.

Right now we need to pause and imagine how we will work 2 years from now, 5 years from now and more.  THAT’s the future we’re talking about – because the pace of change has accelerated exponentially in the last decade – and is only going to be more rapidly disruptive.  If you cannot imagine the future, there’s a good chance your company won’t be in the future. 


There’s a great statement by Nassam Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile: “Difficulty is what wakes up the genius.” I don’t plan to wait for things to get that difficult…how ’bout you? 


On February 11th, Mike Ettling, President of SAP SuccessFactors will share his views on Architecting HR to Meet the Needs of a Digitally Transformed Workforce*.  ASUG members can Register here. This event is also open to non-members who should register using this link: Non-Member Registration

Find other webinars in ASUG’s Recharge HR Program (rechargehr.asug.com) or at www.asug.com/events

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