The 5 future trends that HR needs to embrace

Technology is getting smaller

As a child of the 70s and 80s, I know all about BIG technology. Seriously, guys these days don’t know they’re born. I had to wear a back pack for the batteries to support my first Walkman (yeah, I know…..what’s one of those?) and that’s before I talk about my first mobile phone…..which was great. As long as you were within three minutes of a charger.  Not forgetting that it used to take a small army to return the TV to Radio Rentals when you wanted to upgrade to push button technology.

But here is the thing. Whilst hardware has got smaller, so has software. Smaller and a hell of a lot more powerful. There is a platform or solution for almost every single thing you do within the HR department. Hell, thinking about it there is probably even an app that mopes about having a seat at the table too. We should be engaging with this new small technology, seeing where it fits into our business, deploying it effortlessly and through it creating a better employee experience.

Employees are getting pickier

Which brings me on to the next point. Things are picking up out there and people are starting to think about whether they really want to spend another five, ten years dealing with the same rubbish that they’ve had to put up with since 2008. Just being big is no longer going to cut it, just being the market leader is cute, but doesn’t get you a cigar. What is it that you have that makes it a different experience for employees?

You can’t guarantee a job for life, or a gold-plated pension scheme. You probably can’t even promise decent career progression because you’ve been so busy flattening your organisational structures to take out management layers and cost. So what do you have to offer? What is it that makes you REALLY different? Why on earth should anyone work for you?

Talent is getting broader

Fortunately for you, talent pools are getting bigger. You just haven’t worked it out yet. But that’s ok, that’s what I’m here for. You can thank me later. So here’s the thing, the “war for talent” has never really been about talent, that’s just the label they put on it to scare your CEO. It was a war for qualifications and in some way skills. But that’s all about to change, because qualifications are going to become more or less obsolete.

Why? Because the things that you learn at school, at college, at university are great, but they’re going to be irrelevant to the workplace almost as soon as you graduate. Instead what you need to be looking for are the adaptable, self-learning, flexible, curious people who won’t come in to your business expecting everything to be like it was at business school. Because they never went. And these people, are everywhere, you just need to open your eyes and look differently.

Culture is becoming realer

Which brings us on to culture, or, “how things happen around here”. Because you know what? It really makes a difference. I’m not talking about trying to be Zappos or Google. You’ve got more chance of waking up alongside your secret crush of choice. Which is exactly the point. We’re all different, we like different things, we have different looks and we want different outcomes. And so do our organisations.

Being real and open about who you are as a business, accepting your lumps, bumps and blemishes, but being proud of your good bits (no matter how soft a focus is needed) is going to deliver a better performance.  Identifying who you are, getting your senior team comfortable with that and dropping the pretence of being something you’re not. Enough of the authentic leadership babble, we need to start talking about authentic business.

Reward is getting harder

Well, there had to be something that was a bit of a suck in the top five. And this is it. Because the way in which we pay individuals has been pretty static for the last fifty years. The way in which we structure reward is archaic and no longer fit for purpose. I’m not just talking about the cash that you take home to pay the bills and buy the monthly takeaway, I’m talking about the entire reward and compensation framework.

When you look at new entrants to your market, they’re offering entirely different compensation terms. And if you want to compete with these guys for the best people, then you’re going to have to think about how you pay and reward. People aren’t interested in a job for life, the benefits that you offer were drawn up by a 50-year-old white guy, some time in the 80s because they frankly just don’t cut it. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the “what we offer” of most corporate websites and then tell me how inspired you are. Then think about change.

Government doesn’t make bad employers

Before the election I was asked to write a piece for HR Magazine laying out my dream policy. The sad fact is that whichever party had come to power the idea of providing free cheese and wine to HR Directors was never really going to get any traction. We can but dream. But, if you’re really interested, you can see the series of articles here.

Since the election, I’m hearing a lot of noise from left leaning, liberal, tree hugging, social media loving types, highlighting the risk to the world of work and employee rights from a right of centre government. And whilst it isn’t surprising (we all know the pantomime lines after all) it does seem to neglect the power that organisations have themselves to create good work and a good working environment.

There seems to be a perspective on organisations that “if you allow them to do it, then they will” which I find patronising and naïve in equal measure. The fact is, that lots of us work incredibly hard year in and year out to make work better AND make profit. That doesn’t mean that we always get it right and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t dodgy employers out there either.

The irony is that the same people who preach trusting employees in the workplace, reducing policies and procedures and placing the emphasis on adult to adult relationships seem to change their tune when it comes to CEOs and their relationship with Government. Employees should be treated like grown ups, but companies? Heaven forbid.

I’ve been involved in the Good Recruitment Campaign, a brilliant initiative from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation supported by many, many large employers who want to ensure high standards in recruitment. I’ve also been involved in the superb Learning to Work initiative from CIPD, which also has many, many high-profile businesses working to help reduce youth unemployment and connect the unemployed with opportunities in their businesses. These are just two, I could go on.

Beside these organised initiatives, there is also good practice going on in organisations up and down the country. Leadership and management teams that are trying to run their organisations well and responsibly and also provide shareholder return. After all, we all benefit from successful companies.

We have it in our power to be either good or bad employers, to treat people well or to treat them badly, to be supportive or attritional in our working relationships. No-one makes us do anything and ultimately we have the choice. The Government doesn’t have to set the agenda for HR, we can set it for ourselves. Instead of whinging and whining about matters beyond our control, let’s get back in to our businesses and make the argument for doing the right thing, regardless of who is or isn’t in power.

The blame game

I understand your hurt,
And your disapproval.

I understand why you want to bring this to my attention,
And I’m grateful.

I understand why you’re upset,
And and I can see your anger.

I understand why you feel we could do better,
And how we could be more.

So I ask you.

What did you do recently that could have been better?
Where could you have done more?

When did you upset someone?
And how did you deal with their anger?

What did you learn about how you could be better?
And how did you take that?

And, most importantly, how do you feel,
When you hear disapproval?

Each time you complain.

Each time you forcefully make your views heard.

It’s unique.
For you.

But if you’re the person on the phone.
Behind the desk. In the office.

If you’re the person paid to listen.

You’re just another one.

Nothing special.

So what could YOU do. To make that experience difference?

To make it beyond the ordinary.

To really make YOURSELF stand out.

The purpose of work

Over the years I’ve read and heard a lot about meaning in work. Finding purpose in what you do and how happiness can be found in almost anything that we want.

I’ve never completely been convinced about these arguments. In the same way employee engagement wants to make me poke out my own eyes with a rusty nail, the whole premise seems contrived. Because not all work can have meaning and not everyone wants to find meaning in their work. What worries me more about these things is that the argument feels patronising and explores work through a middle class, middle-income, professional lens.

If you’re holding down four temporary, part-time jobs, the last thing on your mind is finding meaning in the organisational vision and strategy. You just don’t want to get shafted by your employer, see your hours reduced, get charged for your uniform or have any losses deducted from your wage. You want to have some level of guarantee that you know how much you’re going to be taking home so that you can pay the bills.

But this isn’t just an economic argument. Even in the seemingly more stable office environment, some people want to come in, be treated like an adult, be allowed to do the job that they are paid for and get that pay and go home. In the same way that for many organisations, employees are faceless and interchangeable, for many employees organisations are similarly homogeneous.

This doesn’t mean that the world of work has to be grey and boring and impersonal. Far from it. By recognising that some people don’t give a flying fig about your company purpose or meaning, you’re recognise that they are individuals in their own right. If they want to get pay from work and meaning from their stamp collection, or saving small baby seals from being clubbed to death, that’s their choice. And choice is individual, and recognising individuality is the first step to creating a healthy organisation.

Instead of trying to deploy some sort of weird, HR Jedi mind control tricks, we should focus instead on making sure that there is a fair deal for all employees within our organisations, allowing them to prosper and enjoy life in whatever (legal) ways they chose to do. To use a favourite phrase of mine, we are there to create the theatre that allows our employees to make the performances of their lives. But we need to recognise that for some of them, that performance will be nothing more than a job.

Because our role is not to help people find purpose in work, our job is to make work better. Finding meaning and happiness is personal choice.