Fourth Industrial Revolution brings challenge and opportunity

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution taking place and transforming every aspect of businesses today, how can HR evolve in its role?
By: | February 4, 2020

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived, and it’s blurring the lines between people and technology, fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds. That’s the primary finding of a new study, HR 4.0: Shaping People Strategies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, conducted by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Saudi Aramco, Unilever and Willis Towers Watson. According to the study, the 4IR’s impact will span all industries, economies and societies, redefining work and the way businesses produce value. The implications for HR are significant, according to Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director of talent and rewards in the Chicago office of Willis Towers Watson.

“Many of the constructs that we’ve gotten used to, the idea of a person being in a job, are rapidly changing,” says Jesuthasan. “It’s a pretty dramatic pivot from where HR has been since its inception to what’s going to be asked of it now.”

Specifically, HR is shifting from being a “steward of employment”—recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, and administering pay and benefits—to being a “steward of work,” helping the business orchestrate how work is done, whether it’s being done by a person in a job, a person augmented by a machine, a gig worker or an employee of an outsourcer, explains Jesuthasan.

While HR might feel overwhelmed by this significant of a shift, Jesuthasan looks upon the 4IR as a unique opportunity for HR to redefine its mandate and further advance the function.

“As the Fourth Industrial Revolution plays out across companies, it’s creating this space for us to express our true humanity, empathy, creativity and ability to communicate with emotional intelligence,” says Jesuthasan. “There is a truly unique opportunity for HR to help companies make so much more of their human talent than might have ever been possible.”

The report lays out six imperatives that HR must work alongside business leaders to implement for the organization to successfully meet the challenges of the 4IR. These include developing new leadership capabilities; managing the integration of technology in the workplace; enhancing the employee experience; building an agile and personalized learning culture; establishing metrics for valuing human capital; and embedding inclusion and diversity.

For HR to execute on these six imperatives, Jesuthasan says, the function will need to develop a “much better” decision-making framework. Increasingly, that will require HR to develop new data and analytic skills, as they assume new roles within the function.

“Their own understanding of technology is critical, as they look out across the changing world of technology to figure out what are the new technologies, how are they applicable to both the work of HR and the work of the organization, and what does it mean for the human work that is currently being done or that might be done in the future,” says Jesuthasan.

Julie Cook Ramirez is a Rockford, Ill.-based journalist and copywriter covering all aspects of human resources. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com