Disruption Has Another Name and It’s Called ‘Opportunity’

‘”Every disruption is an opportunity.”

That was a quote from Roel de Vries, corporate vice-president and global head of marketing and brand strategy at Nissan.

That is what I call the silver lining approach. Yes, disruption is the new normal, but on the flip side there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for everyone. Within our organizations, whether you are in marketing or human resources or some other department, you are in or headed into a disruptive space.

Your career is being disrupted

My daughter graduated from Penn State back in 2008 with a degree in marketing. In one of our conversation she told me that the entire profession has shifted into the digital space. It is a totally new field.

I recently read an article concerning the auto industry being under siege. This article I use in my strategy sessions that I conduct about understanding your industry. This article listed the major disruptors facing this industry

  • Internal combustion vs electric
  • Car ownership trending downward
  • Governance over emissions
  • Auto sales trending downward
  • Trade war
  • New technology
  • Factory manpower model

The exhaustive article gave a clear indication of how this industry will have to fundamentally change and reinvent itself or become obsolete. But the auto industry is not alone. Think of banking, manufacturing, transportation, etc. No one today is immune.

HR is being disrupted

But flip that and you see tremendous opportunity. I often tell HR people that you are no different from the factory worker who will be obsolete within a few years. Alibaba facilities are largely robotic as are Amazon’s warehouses.

Johnson & Johnson overhauled its entire talent acquisition process, automating much of it while improving both the candidate experience and hiring.

I have a client in Asia that is automating its HR processes, but with the intent of downsizing the department. They viewed disruption a way to downsize the workforce and not as an opportunity to retrain and enhance the workforce. The conversation still has me shaking my head.

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HR needs to be disrupted out of our stupor as the complacency of our profession has caused all this “seat at the table” crap. Remember sitting at the table requires output that guides the organization with strategic insight.

Reinvent from the inside to prepare for the outside

Disruption however, provides an opportunity to move an organization to the proverbial next level. And the key to this is people – a workforce lead into a new realm of skills and capabilities.

While the future of work will create challenges, it will also create a number of opportunities for everyone. By embracing these disruptive forces, organizations will benefit from tremendous gains in efficiency and productivity in both customer delivery and business services. From the HR side, time intensive processes like recruitment, onboarding and a myriad of other duties will be reduced from days to a matter of minutes in many cases. These disruptors will force HR to become nimbler, responding to the needs of the applicants and employees who are the customers.

Learning & Development step up

Organizations should review their entire L&D strategy to make sure they it is driving the upskilling of their workforce. Amazon just released a huge initiative to upskill its workforce to the tune of approximately $700 million.

There is no doubt the future of work will disrupt business, government and society, however if the challenges are embraced as an opportunity to transform our organizations for the better, rather than being perceived as an obstacle to navigate around, then upsides will follow.

Approach this as an opportunity to develop a new level of workers whether it is in marketing, IT, finance, etc. Everyone will be affected. We in HR must lead this drive as this is in our area of expertise. But keep this in mind: We are no different than the factory worker who needs new skills.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.