Unlocking people's potential: attracting, developing and engaging the workforce of the future

October 31, 2019

More than 150 HR and business leaders gathered at Landing Forty Two, in central London on 29th October 2019 to attend the exclusive launch of our latest Human to Hybrid research, focusing on the vital role people will play in the future of work. 

Opening the morning session, Capita's Nicole Dorskind presented the key findings and the challenges facing organisations as they make the shift from a human to a hybrid workforce. 

She said that technology such as AI, machine learning and robotics is entering a rapidly changing workplace, but people still play a crucial role. How can organisations attract, develop and engage the the workforce of the future, and unlock their people's potential to gain a competitive advantage?

With the move to a hybrid workforce the number one challenge across the board, it was important to ensure organisations put plans in place over the next 12 months. And it was critical to focus on people. If this could be done right, businesses could build a highly engaged workforce that leads to better business outcomes. 

A new workforce dynamic, focused on skills rather than the traditional linear career path, had started to emerge. Who are the people organisations need to have at the right time and where do they find them? This dynamic would change both the resourcing and general employment model as organisations change their approach to accessing talent and building over buying skills become a priority.

"What we know through our research is that people are really keen to learn and have organisations invest in them," said Nicole. "They want the flexibility to work in different roles, teams and locations, so we as organisations need to provide that."

The five key enablers of an optimal workforce identified in the Human to Hybrid research are: 

  • Access to high quality skills on demand
  • Control and visibility of the entire workforce
  • Agile processes and technology
  • Compelling and relevant benefits
  • Culture, leadership and vision. 

The top five skills organisations need in the hybrid workforce are:

  • Leadership
  • The ability to balance human and technological solutions better
  • Strategic thinking
  • Technology / specialist skills
  • Critical thinking / problem solving

"We need to start thinking about what we need to do now, and there are three key levers here." Nicole concluded. "Firstly, we need to think about leadership and having the right leaders in place to drive change; we have to make sure there's a clear and consistent journey and a roadmap for that change. We need to think about skills, about how we're going to upskill and reskill our workforce and how we're going to acquire talent. And then culture, so critical because people need to be part of something, and they need to come on the journey with you. There's a real opportunity that, if you can codify that culture and take people on that journey, you'll create better outcomes."

The future humans' guide to the workplace - Monica Parker, HATCH Analytics

Monica Parker, founder of human analytics and change consultancy HATCH Analytics, delved more deeply into the skills and culture that people and organisations will need in the hybrid workforce. 

She conducted a straw poll among the audience of whether humanity's best days were behind it or still to come - there turned out to be more optimists than pessimists in the room - and then asked why people would believe the worst when statistics show life is actually getting better.

"Why do we have the negativity?" she asked. "It's down to the duality of being humans."

Bad news - such as a terrorist attach or natural disaster - dominated the media because it sells and happens suddenly and singularly. Good news, on the other hand, happened more slowly and incrementally. It simply doesn't have the same "punch".  Evolutionary psychology meant we latch onto scary things we need to be aware of and avoid; motivated reasoning meant we search for information that supports our world view when it's challenged, no matter how mistaken our view may be. 

The duality of disruption also plays a part, said Monica. AI, globalisation, mobile technology and neuroscience all have the potential to be used in good and bay ways - from bringing billions of people into the global economy and reuniting thousands of lost children with their families to exerting societal control and putting democracy under pressure - and this affects how people perceive the world. 

A major disruptor in the future workplace would be the focus on skills at the expense of jobs, and people's willingness to change employers if they weren't satisfied in their roles. And with this switching focus, what are some of the new approaches to development? One was to train people in the "clusters" of skills that could be used in a range of similar roles. For example, "informers" could learn skills that fitted them for roles as teachers, presenters, consultants and communicators.

Once you have the cluster of skills, she said, "you can go wherever you want to go. It's an amazing future".

In the future workplace, people would need to be able to learn and unlearn regularly, clearing their brains of old skills to be replaces by new skills, and empathise with colleagues so they could learn from them. 

Passion and purpose would also be important. "When robots take our jobs, what's left is what gives us our purpose. When we create jobs that are purpose-driven, when we tap into people's purpose, they'll act more ethically," Monica concluded. 

Helping leaders to thrive - Lucy Adams, Disruptive HR

Lucy Adams, CEO of Disruptive HR, shared her thoughts on how HR professionals should support business leaders in thriving in the new digital world. She also talked about her experience as Head of HR at the BBC and gave examples of how leading organisations have succeeded in a disrupted world, created agile teams in a connected world, dealt with loss of trust in leadership, a changing  workplace, financial pressures and disruptive technology.

During her five years at the BBC, the Corporation had to deal with a complete transformation in the way people consumed media, spearheaded by Netflix and Amazon. It "completely transformed the skills we needed and the relationships we needed" as the BBC strove to digitise its output. 

The BBC faced four key challenges:

  • Creating an environment in which people can be more agile and responsive to change
  • Change becoming less well defined and more constant and complex
  • Leaders creating an environment in which people can welcome and respond to change
  • Becoming less siloed and more collaborative

"We need more innovation, more creativity - people to be disrupting the market, to be responding  to disruptions in the market, creating new realities and - finally - being more productive," Lucy said. "As leaders and as HR professionals trying to create these conditions, what do  we have that can help this?"

HR processes hadn't kept up with the changing workplace and the function needed to adopt an innovative approach to equip leaders and employees for the hybrid workplace. 

The EACH model (Employees as Adults, Consumers and Human beings) is a new way of thinking about how to engage and develop your people, she said. Organisations have to stop treating employees as children - either wanting to protect or restrain them - and treat them as adults with the ability to make judgements and the intention to do the right thing. Netflix's expenses policy and Legal & General's dress code were good examples of the adult to adult approach in action.

Organisations should give employees the same kind of experience at work as they receive as consumers at home, using marketing techniques such as regular feedback and segmentation. Through this they can really understand employees' needs and offer them tailored, relevant career development opportunities and benefits. Starbuck's approach to talent management was a good example of treating employees like consumers in action.

Organisations should "go with the grain of human behaviour" to really engage employees and to avoid creating processes, such as the annual appraisal, that get in the way of human interactions between line managers and their teams. HR can help organisations become more fluid and agile by replacing unresponsive and unproductive systems with simple and intuitive ones.

"We're going to cope in this digital world that's so full of scary challenges by helping our leaders be better human beings," she said.

To view all the latest findings in our Human to Hybrid campaign, download 'The human difference': Transforming resourcing, Building learning culture and workforce agility and Wellbeing in the future of work.

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