HR futurist Jason Averbook's new vision for work
When it comes to technology, consumers have always been faster to adopt new ideas than their workplaces. But HR futurist and founder of the US-based LeapGen consultancy Jason Averbook says the gap is now growing at an alarming rate, and it is up to HR to bring their organisations into line with the expectations of their workforce.
LinkedIn tends to know more about individual workers than their organisation’s HR departments, Averbook says as an example, noting that this is happening because many workers do not currently trust their HR teams with their qualitative data.
Averbook says solutions are available, but they all involve HR getting out of its comfort zone and seizing the opportunities that technology and the digital landscape can now provide.
THE NEW VISION FOR WORK ON SHOW
Jason Averbook will deliver a keynote presentation to HRM Asia’s highly-anticipated HR XLR8 Summit, taking place in Singapore on June 26 and 27. With four different conference streams across HR Strategy, HR Transformation, Workforce and HR Analytics, and Organisational Development, delegates will hear from Averbook and a wide range of other international speakers, including Facebook’s Ross Sparkman (see: Page 35-37 of this issue), Google’s Nandini Jayaram, and many more.
They will be sharing about the latest strategies and best tools to drive business results and take full advantage of the new world of work. Find out more at www.hrxlr8summit.com
20 years of strategic thinking
Averbook has been researching and developing solutions for these sorts of problems – essentially building the connections between HR and technology – for more than 20 years. As a senior marketing professional with plenty of business savvy and a specific interest in workforce development, he co-founded the Knowledge Infusion consultancy in 2005. This went on to be sold to Appiro in 2012. Averbook then served as the acquired company’s CEO and then Business Innovation Officer at the new parent.
Averbook also led The Marcus Buckingham Company as CEO between 2014 and 2016, before leaving to concentrate on his thought leadership and consultancy work.
That resulted in LeapGen, which he co-founded with like-minded technologist Mike Brennan. Together, they offer a broad set of services to client organisations, from big-picture strategy and change management, to education and ongoing sustainability. Averbook says it is all about helping to knock down some of the strongest silos between HR, IT, and the rest of the business.
Satisfying the “attention community”
It is the millennial generation that is forcing many organisations to take that uncomfortable path, Averbook says. They have led the development of what he calls “the attention community” among workforces.
“Attention is what drives engagement, and we always have to prepare for the next-generation.” he says. “(But) the millennials are here now and they’re expecting challenges as they enter the workforce.”
That is a big responsibility for HR, which has traditionally been in charge of the employee experience. More and more, that experience is going to be built around or integrated with technology, and Averbook is concerned that only a handful of HR leaders are themselves ready for that change of focus.
“We (HR) haven’t focused on the shift from HR technology to experience,” he says. “Most HR people think of three to five year windows as when they do upgrades. But as analysts, we’re talking about three to five years where technology comes, and is then extinct.
“So we have to step on the gas and pick up the pace.”
Instead, HR is often being caught napping when the senior leadership of an organisation wants to know what its plans are for taking advantage of these new ways of working.
“I think that’s the biggest threat – we’re building a technical debt that we will have a hard time digging ourselves out of.”
"Attention is what drives engagement, and we always have to prepare for the next generation"
These technology aides that Averbook alludes to are many and varied. From new performance management systems that predict development demands, to artificial intelligence and bots that can execute much of HR’s traditional transactional work, to enterprise software solutions that can take whole teams and organisations mobile (and still connected to each other), there is a world of opportunity for HR, Averbook says. But the task is much more complex than simply adding on an exciting new platform to existing legacy systems.
Averbook warns HR can often be tempted to “put frosting on a mouldy cake”.
“I’m talking about organisations that are saying they are going to look at the ‘next big thing’,” he explains. “But all of those things require a foundation that’s got great processes, great governance, and great data – clean data,” he says.
“What’s happening in this space right now is that we have a lot of people looking at that frosting, but not a lot of people realising that what they have underneath that is a mouldy cake.”
Instead, he advises HR to “put the processes in the hands of the workforce” – allow workers to help build the solutions that they most want to work with.
“That’s what is going to get us better data, and that’s what is going to help these new-age applications be successful in the enterprise.”
Four things to start doing today
Averbook will be a key part of HRM Asia’s HR XLR8 Summit in June, where he plans to deep-dive into some of the strategies that HR leaders in Asia can use to avoid many of these workforce technology issues. But he does offer some basic advice that organisations can begin following immediately to start changing their organisational cultures with respect to technology applications.
His four tips for making the transformational shift toward effective use of the opportunities available for digital HR are:
“Focus on creating an amazing, solid data set, as well as effective data governance.” These firm foundations are crucial if companies want to take advantage of digital transformation and artificial intelligence, he says.
“Focus on user experience.” This is much more than simply having a good user interface, Averbook says. It’s about reimagining how HR can deliver services to employees.
“Make the mindset shift from ‘automation’ to ‘digitisation’.” HR needs to move away from simply automating transactional work and thinking that is the end goal, Averbook says. It needs to be changing the way HR itself works.
“Build new skills.” If HR is to take the lead on building the digital workplace, it needs to understand how the applications work, Averbook says.
Averbook says that whether HR likes it or not, the role is set to change significantly in the next few years. “If 70 percent of the job today consists of finding the talent and 30 percent on keeping it, soon it’s going to be 50 percent at least on keeping the people.”