12 Coming Disruptions That HR Needs to Understand and Prepare For

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth of 12 essays from the new book, The Rise of HR; Wisdom From 73 Thoughts Leaders. It’s compiled by Dave Ulrich, Bill Schiemann and Libby Sartain, and sponsored by the HR Certification Institute.

By Seth Kahan

Below are 12 significant and powerful changes that will impact the world of work over the next five to 10 years. HR professionals need to take these into consideration to be effective in both today’s and tomorrow’s business worlds.

Society is undergoing massive shifts that are difficult to imagine. We are all familiar with change and its increasing presence. It is now clear that this change will continue to not only increase but also become more powerful and complex.

The speed of change is increasing

In the recent past we have mostly experienced episodic change: Episodes of turmoil followed by periods of stabilization in which we could adjust, learn the new skills, become proficient in the new processes, and stabilize. For example, when a new tool came out, like the fax machine or typewriter, at first it would be challenging but soon everyone would have mastered basic functions and how to take advantage of them for their work.

Then came continuous change — change that did not stop.

We have had to learn how to incorporate moving targets, dynamic relationships, and fluid protocols in every aspect of work. While we used to have five-year strategies, executives now talk of ongoing strategy in real time. We have become accustomed to one change initiative after the next, though we often complain about the lack of a chance to let things settle.

Today we are experiencing exponential overlapping change. It is exponential because the speed is increasingly faster, and it is overlapping because every change impacts the other changes, each rippling out to touch others in ways that create cross-currents and interference patterns.

We may yearn for the day when we can sit back and once again feel that we are in control, but alas that day is never coming. Instead, we need to build our tolerance for complex adaptive systems that never stop and never cease to influence the ways we work.

How exponential change takes place

Exponential change is difficult to comprehend. It goes on for a long time with no apparent rise. It feels flat, like nothing is happening.

Then it begins to accelerate, slow at first and then faster. The speed continues to increase until it achieves a vertical climb that is extremely rapid and powerful.

Think about communication as an example. For tens of thousands of years, we had oral communication. Nothing changed until we began to write. Writing was the most advanced form of communication for about 6,000 years.

Then there was block printing, which was born in Asia around 200 AD. That continued as the biggest breakthrough until movable type — the printing press — in the 15th century. The press took less than 300 years to propagate across most of the world. And so it goes.

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Today new technologies come out in parallel. Advances include simultaneous wireless breakthroughs like LTE Advanced, last-mile copper network acceleration, and 5G.

Why is this increasing change important for HR professionals? Because talent development and acquisition is the critical differentiator for strategic achievement. Further, knowledge is enabled by and embedded in every aspect of the work environment.

The 12 disruptions that HR needs to prepare for

iIn that vein, here are the 12 disruptions that every HR professional will need to understand, prepare for, and be ready to deliver against:

  1. We will need both “dots” and “dot connectors.” Because the market will continue to grow more complex and nuanced, there will simultaneously be an increased need for two types of workers: those who are highly specialized (the dots) and those who can connect multiple specialties, bridging their value streams to realize ever greater influence and impact (the dot connectors). Each requires the other for maximum value realization.
  2. Technology and innovation will accelerate exponentially. This will be seen in three areas: smart objects, artificial intelligence, and new HR tools and applications.
    • Smart objects – All staff members will need to understand the “Internet of Things”—connected and communicating objects that collect data and aggregate it.
    • Artificial intelligence – Software, which already runs a great deal, will insinuate itself into every aspect of work, requiring professionals to understand programming as pervasively as the ways we have required workers to keyboard today. Everyone will interface with smart systems continuously.
    • New HR tools and applications – HR workers will use more and more advanced technology to understand and deliver their work. This will include everything from more advanced employee cost calculators that take into account knowledge and expertise to assessment design, strategy development, and outcome benchmarking tools.
  3. Multiculturalism will take on new meaning as value is derived from a more diverse cultural ecology of frameworks and mindsets. The developing world will come more fully online in the next five to 20 years at an increasing rate. New ways of working that connect people in new parts of the world will be required. There will be deeper penetration where now there is only shallow connectivity. As a result, we will need workers who understand the nuances and potential of developing-world penetration as well as those who can integrate the differing mindsets and leverage the value they offer.
  4. The business world will increasingly convert from an “old boys’ network” to a true meritocracy. We will see dramatic progress in the next five years due to technology leveling the playing field, providing opportunity to anyone who can find it, and delivering better measurable outcomes.
  5. Economic parity for women will be achieved in the U.S. within five years and on a global scale within 10 years. Diversity will take on new value and be mined for its ability to yield growth. There will be correspondingly significant changes in leadership and culture. This will include increased economic performance and greater mission impact.
  6. While the rich will get richer, so will the poor. The number of people living at subsistence levels will dramatically decline. This is already happening today, with the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day dropping from just under 2 billion in 1990 to under 1 billion in 2010. This means the overall standard of living is rising on a global scale, which will have marked impact on both priorities and economies.
  7. Knowledge execution will become the most valuable core asset in the world. The ability to execute on knowledge will trump profitability, which will trump politics. Nation states and their governments will continue to be important — but not as influential in international relations and global engagement as corporations. Corporations will continue to grow but be fundamentally transformed by knowledge and the capacity to execute on that knowledge.
  8. There will be a blending of nonprofits and the private sector, opening up new markets and opportunities for mission-driven organizations and priorities. The false distinction between nonprofits and the private sector will mostly dissolve in the next 10 years, with mission impact becoming the final focus.
  9. Terrorism will be largely disrupted, contained, and eradicated within 10 years. New technologies will make it possible to quickly isolate individuals and events, enabling immediate retaliation. We will finally start destroying terrorists faster than we are fostering them, which will lead to inevitable extermination. While the world will never be fully free of terrorism, it will diminish to the point of negligibility and an inability to disrupt millions of people.
  10. Customer service will take giant leaps forward. Just as social benefit has become a requirement for doing business, there will be a similar expectation for customer service. Organizations that today do not have to make customer service an asset will be forced to develop this competency and do so with excellence. This will be due to customers wielding big data, which will follow the drop in cost of processing power and rise in access to information.
  11. Management will transform twice in the next 10 years. Management 2.0 will arrive within five years on a grand scale, completely changing today’s hierarchical leadership protocols to decentralized, self-organizing, and rapid prototyping because of its ability to stabilize and dramatically grow organizational profit. Management 3.0 will arrive within 10 years, humanizing corporations and fostering corporate cultures that are inspiring, innovative, and creative. This will come not as a result of altruism or good intentions but by necessity, as work will be fully integrated with life. Organizations that have adopted Management 3.0 will thrive and excel visibly and undeniably in every bottom line that is being measured, including wealth, social benefit, and ecological.
  12. If work today is 50 percent integrated with life, it will become 95 percent integrated within five years. The integration of work and life that began with the internet—and has been accelerated through wireless technology and smartphones — will continue to accelerate, making it possible for work to be done anywhere, anytime, by anyone. The tradeoff between doing work everywhere and being able to have a life will reach optimum resolution without being limited by technology.

Changes that will make for a different world

These 12 changes — and others that result from the same forces — will make for a very different world in the coming decade. Because the pace of change will pick up, becoming more complex and disruptive, an entirely new mindset will dominate the workforce.

HR will be called upon to play an increasingly important role to midwife workers and the business environment for the best possible outcomes. It will be a dramatic challenge and a profound opportunity that will call into question many sacred cows as new value is unearthed.

Because talent development and acquisition is the critical differentiator for strategic achievement, HR will be accountable for market success in every sector. Therefore, each of us must take on the mantle of responsibility, develop ourselves and our field to our greatest capacity, and engage fully.

This is our call to action. This is our time.

Compiled by Dave Ulrich, Bill Schiemann and Libby Sartain, and sponsored by the HR Certification Institute, The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Thought Leaders is an anthology of essays addressing the critical issues facing business and talent professionals today. The full eBook can be downloaded @ www.riseofhr.com. Reprinted with permission of HRCI.

Seth Kahan is a leadership and performance improvement authority specializing in change leadership. He has been designated a thought leader and “Exemplar in Change Leadership" by the Society for the Advancement of Consulting, and has been called a “visionary” by the Center for Association Leadership. Kahan has worked hand-in-hand with more than 125 leaders and executives since 1996, and has also been involved in a $20 million initiative with Royal Dutch Shell. Stories from his work are highlighted in his most recent book, Getting Innovation Right, and on his two websites, VisionaryLeadership.com and AssociationTransformation.com.