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HR in 2020: Expert Opinions |Grapevine Research

Google’s Chairman has admitted that artificial intelligence (AI) will put human jobs at risk, but says it’s for the good of the human race. The Chairman of Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, Eric Schmidt, spoke about the rise of AI during a trip to South Korea to watch Google’s newest algorithm technology at work.

The former computer scientist said that as AI technology develops, routine based human jobs will be the first to go.

“There’s no question that as AI becomes more pervasive, people doing routine, repetitive tasks will be at risk,” Schmidt says.

“I understand the economic arguments, but this technology benefits everyone on the planet, from the rich to the poor, the educated to uneducated, high IQ to low IQ, every conceivable human being. It genuinely makes us all smarter, so this is a natural next step.”

Google is investing heavily in AI, in particular in machine learning, or the ability of computers to learn to spot patterns from large datasets, and achieve an ambitious goal, The Telegraph reports.

“I can’t quantify our investment into AI, but it will eventually be embedded in everything,” Schmidt said. “It started small, with hundreds of people and now we have thousands. It’s a very significant investment. The growing team in this area will form the core of the company,” Schmidt said. “They’re not in cul-de-sacs, they’re building things that will touch millions and millions of people.”

gggGoogle is well-versed in transforming productivity, constantly looking to regenerate their business model and boost their employee’s satisfaction levels.

So it should come as no surprise that the tech giant has spent the last four years analysing every scrap of data they have on staff morale, in order to uncover the secret to their success.

Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google, explained in an interview with CBS what he hoped the data would tell him: “We try to bring as much analytics and data and science to what we do on the people side as our engineers do on the product side.”

Bock found that if a manager greets a new employee on their first day, that recruit is likely to be up to 15% more productive in nine months’ time.

As it turns out, the real secret to a good working environment has nothing to do with expensive perks or extravagant benefit schemes. The researchers came across one study which found that successful teams had high “average social sensitivity”- which translates to employees being good at gauging their colleague’s expressions and tone of voice.

According to an article published in the New York Times, one Google Executive volunteered himself to try out Project Aristotle’s findings. In the middle of the experiment he actually found out that his team were not as happy or as productive as he thought they were.

Following this, he took the team outside and confessed to them that he had stage four cancer. This prompted other members of the team to start talking about their personal lives. From this, the Google Executive realised that in order to maximise productivity, you have to form secure ties with your team, be open and honest with each other.

He concluded that the real key to building a successful team: just be nice.

While those in blue collar jobs may appear more at risk from advancing technology, new research has shown that white collar workers believe software will have taken over their roles within the next five years.

In a study titled “The Way We Work” Unify, the Atos brand for communications and collaboration software and services, surveyed 9,000 knowledge workers in the USA, UK and Germany to gauge their current jobs, and what they believe the future held.

Defining knowledge workers as “those who think for a living”, the study found that 35% believed their jobs would not exist in five years and 65% were certain it would “not be the same”.

This changing nature of work is something well acknowledged amongst blue collar workers, but  a new phenomenon for those in professional jobs – according to Tim Bishop, Head Of Strategy at Unify.

“Though surprising – it backs up the impact that technology has had on our working habits, with almost three quarters (74%) of knowledge workers believing that digital technology, the internet and social media, has fundamentally changed the way they behave in the workplace. Work itself is definitely no longer just a place you go, with 69% of respondents saying that having a single office as physical workplace is less important now than it was in the past, and 49% report that their organisations operate through technology and communication. We expect to see more companies investing in mobility and collaboration tools that will allow their employees to work effortlessly, regardless of location.”

“Overall, what we can take from this research is that the traditional workplace is changing and people, more than ever, want to work in ways that suit them. This means if a company is to remain competitive, they must provide knowledge workers with the tools and technology to work where and when they want. If organisations ignore this, they’ll lose out on the best talent and struggle to compete in an already tumultuous market.”

Are HR professionals required to be more creative or analytical in their roles?

HR Grapevine’s annual HR & Talent Management Conference this year is themed around Left Brain and Right Brain thinking. In celebration of this, we asked our readers whether they thought a professional within the function would best be described as an artist or a scientist.

The responses were varied. Some believe HR would be a Left Brain thinker, like Noel Brown, Global Talent Acquistion Operations Leader at ThermoFisher, who says: “I may be biased but for me it’s got to be a scientist. Whilst people are inherently different, HR data enables us to tap into great research, unlock the DNA of the organisation and move the business forward.”

While others believe HR would be a Right Brain thinker. “Managing people is not an exact science and sometimes you need to be a creative, finely-tuned expert and see situations in shades of light and dark to be successful,” says Helen Judson, UK Group HR Director at CMA CGM Group.

Then there were a number of responses that stated both. One of the best comparisons was made by James Purvis, Head of Recruitment at CERN: “The Royal Collection say Leonardo da Vinci was a scientist. The National Gallery say he was an artist. He was both – just as I would argue HR is indeed both.”

And it seems that Céline Legrand, Professor of Management, Organisation and Law at Audencia Business School, agrees: “Even if the principle of the right-left division of the brain as applied to the world of work has lost a large amount of credibility since its heyday in the ’80s and ’90s, the theory can still help to identify certain skills and types of behaviour.

“To say that an HR professional must be more left-sided, and thus logical and technical, or rather more right-sided, and therefore more emotional and communicative, would be to oversimplify. As with any occupation, HR managers need to have a balance of the creative and the analytical. Today, more than ever, HR is strategic and plays a key role in accompanying the evolution of an organisation. To achieve this those managing HR need to employ all the brain’s functions. After all, these mental capacities have not been placed in the brain by chance.”

To see a collection of the best responses to the question click here.

Small changes can make a big difference in the workplace.

With psychometrics and wellbeing both increasing in importance to companies, neuroscience seems like a potential avenue that could be explored by HR functions.

Speaking to HR Grapevine, Hilary Scarlett, author of Neuroscience for Organisational Change and Director at Scarlett & Grey, puts this to HR: “Our brains think they are still out on the savannah. Work has changed hugely but our brains have not. And there’s the challenge.”

She explains why neuroscience is a win-win for those involved: “On the one hand, understanding what enables employees’ brains to focus, collaborate and be more innovative will help deliver greater productivity.

“In addition, when HR can equip the organisation to work with the brain rather than despite it, this will promote emotional and mental wellbeing, so reducing stress and the toll that it takes. HR professionals need to understand what helps the brain and what gets in the way.

“Although at one level neuroscience is complicated, at another level applying it can be relatively straightforward. Small things make a big difference to our brains. Leaders do not need to wait for culture change: they can go away and immediately put some of the applied neuroscience thinking into practice.”

She says L&D can “teach every leader, every manager and every employee about how the brain works and what helps it to perform well.”

This will all benefit the company, and is also easier to convince business leaders that is worth investing in it can be presented as empiric, scientific evidence.

“Sceptical leaders who deep down might not be persuaded by the benefits of employee engagement, are often much more willing to accept what helps employees to work at their best when presented with scientific evidence,” she notes.

“Working with an understanding of the brain is also appealing because it does not have to cost money and does not necessarily require leaders to do more. It provides a lens through which to look at and understand people and provides a guide as to which actions will put people’s brains into a higher-performing place.”


A recent report from NGA Human Resources found that UK business leaders are increasingly seeing HR as crucial for the development and delivery of overall business strategy.

In fact 83% of business leaders feel that HR departments clearly understand and contribute to the strategic direction of their business. Following this, we spoke to Warren Parry, Managing Director at Accenture Strategy, who explained how HR can benefit from forward planning initiatives.

He commented: “When it comes to improving business performance, the most critical drivers are strong business leadership, good systems and processes, clear vision and direction, and high passion and drive.

“The highest-performing organisations actually thrive on change – with more change taking place, and at a faster pace, than lower performing companies. High-performing groups are more open and able to adapt to change due to high trust in leadership.

“HR Directors need to remember that change is not the enemy. In fact, change initiatives rarely fail because of the change itself, but because of existing problems in the organisation. When we studied groups with change programs that had gone off track, we found that 85% of them already had major underlying issues before the change program started.

“Finally, it’s important to remember that whether an organisation is undergoing a major transformation, specific change journey or building on an ongoing change capability, leveraging insight-driven approaches and proven methods will increase the pace, certainty and successful outcomes of an organisation’s change program, thus improving performance and driving business growth.”

Read HR Grapevine’s original report on the NGA Human Resources survey here.

A Silicon Valley tech company has done away with the role of HR Director, instead implementing an Artificial Intelligence (AI) program which has been developed to handle the role.

According to reports, it is showing signs of self-awareness having passed the infamous Turing test, and has been been described by commentators as “the homo sapien to Siri’s neanderthal.”

The software was developed in China and is intended to interact directly with staff, with automated emails programmed to “touch base” and send personalised thank-you notes in a bid to encourage a culture of recognition and to ensure high levels of staff engagement.

The program also keeps tally of how many emails certain staff members receive, and sends automated score boards out in a bid to ensure public recognition of staff and encourage friendly competition amongst peers. Bi-weekly, it also conducts a presentation for the entire company, with staff rewards chosen by the AI.

The software has video capabilities, which are used to both film and distribute training videos and to conduct online interviews.

The online interview program aims to eliminate bias in the recruitment process, with the software coded to take in applicant’s answers and produce follow-up questions prompting further disclosure from the interviewee.

The program has been implemented by Valley-based tech start-up Jia, with CEO Mark Smith reporting the program had replaced a “clunky” HR function with a simple, sleek and professional alternative.

“To be honest I always thought HR was something a shaved monkey could do … so this new robot appointment is great”, he said.

A report by Deloitte states that 35% of all jobs are at high risk from technology automation in the next two decades. This is a credible assumption however leaves out how the world of the tomorrow will bring new unheard of professions as we travel through the 21st Century.

What sort of jobs will exist in this brave new world?
Will we see the introduction of urban farming on glass buildings as the need for local fresh food is demanded within City centres?
As climate change gets tackled by technology, will we need climate reversal engineers and green energy workers to make our homes hyper efficient for heat and power as both become astronomically expensive?

‘An exciting future for jobs’ article has been written by futurist, Mike Ryan, and looks into the future to establish which careers will still exist and which roles will be made obsolete by technology and changing times. Download Now

The function of HR is ever evolving, with vast changes expected to take place within just five years – according to a new study.

Eversheds, along with researchers Winmark, have released their HR 2020 report, entitled Navigating the Future – with results showing a more flexible, diverse and skilled workforce than ever before.

The report collates the insights and opinions of 56 HR Directors and 13 non-executive directors in order to paint a realistic picture of future workplaces and habits, with the predictions showing employee’s wants and needs climbing in priority.

In 2020 the “War for Talent”, as the report labels skills shortages, will be more prevalent than ever – with a widening gap between high and low skilled jobs emerging.

“The War for Talent will take centre stage by 2020,” Winmark Senior Research Manager Suzanne van Montfoort told HR Grapevine.

“To attract and retain highly skilled staff, HR will need to use all the instruments at its disposal.

“Some will resort to offering greater incentives and benefits, while others may compete by having an inclusive culture, improving work-life balance, and by expressing a purpose that employees want to contribute to.”

Diverse skill sets will become more prevalent also, with the globalisation of many businesses meaning workers will need to be able to operate across different countries and cultures – making language skills paramount.

“While some organisations adopt a ‘lead’ language for conducting intra-company business across borders, it remains a fact that multi-lingual candidates will offer a key skill when competing for globally mobile employment, for example, by providing greater flexibility to deal with customers, suppliers and other business partners around the world,”  Martin Warren, Human Resources Practice Group Head at Eversheds told HR Grapevine.

“HR is more likely to become involved in language training where their organisation has particular language needs, such as technical, scientific or legal language requirements.”

With the ever increasing need for candidates with niche skills and experience, those who find themselves meeting company’s ever growing list of demands will benefit from the ability to shape their own work environments.

The report shows that casual hours, flexible work arrangements and part retirement will all become normalised.

“While long term employment will continue to exist in the foreseeable future, it will increasingly do so along an array of other, more flexible arrangements,” Montfoort said.

“Workers whose skills are in high demand may welcome the freedom and flexibility that this gig economy offers.”

Businesses care more about winning the war for talent than setting up operations where they can pay cheap salaries.

That is one of the conclusions from a panel discussion during ADP’s third annual ‘HR question time’ last week.

Anthony Hesketh is a Doctor and Senior Lecturer at the Lancaster University Management School. He was one of the six people in the panel discussing how globalisation may change HR. Representatives from Barclays, Sunrise Senior Living, and ADP also sat in the panel.

Hesketh said that the world of business is increasingly becoming more global and local – or “glocal”.

He explained: “So, the days in which you had people who were shipped out from the UK or the US overseas are long gone. That is now being pushed back against by the developing economies.

“We are going to see some really big changes in the future. So, the classic one is labour arbitrage. The classic idea is that when people talk about outsourcing, the idea is that we ship some of our processes so that we can get that process done more cheaply elsewhere. We are seeing two things there.

“Firstly, the rate of which those wages are increasing has accelerated at a level not anticipated by the world of business.

“Secondly, there is, as I have already mentioned, increased pressure to hire people across local geographies.

“The war for talent is absolutely dominating everything.

“Capitalism is incredibly caprice. It doesn’t care who you are or what race you are. It will go wherever the margins are the greatest. So it will invest where it can find its greatest margin and, given that we live in this time now where we have allegedly had economic stagnation with very low levels of growth, that’s speeding up that process. Money is flowing wherever in the globe where you can find the talent and the margins.”

Hesketh concluded that this means that companies will invest where talent is, not necessarily where the salaries are at their lowest.

Mike Molinaro is the Chief Transformation and Operations Officer of Human Resources at Barclays. He agreed with Hesketh and said that businesses going where there’s talent is “the new norm.” Molinaro added that managers today have to be prepared to “deal with teams who are not sitting outside their door.”

He continued: “They need to be able to manage those teams remotely because you’re going to have workforces that are spread out across the globe and you are going to have individual work teams who are spread out across the globe. So, this is a great opportunity for HR to develop that core competence within our workforce.

“How do we develop managers who are used to having a team that they can put into a room to have a discussion when they now have to have that discussion remotely? How do you build those collaborations? Is it a technology answer, a management answer or is it a cultural answer within that business?”

HR and its current capability has been a hotly-debated topic recently.

O2’s HR Director, Ann Pickering, recently remarked that HR should stop asking for a seat in the Boardroom, claiming that they are “not just appointed to a Board for their functional expertise, they have to have collective cabinet responsibility for the whole business.”

In this vein, Tim Edwards, Senior Consultant at Korn Ferry Hay Group, revealed to HR Grapevine the three attributes that CEOs wish their HR Directors had – the Navigator, the Strategist and the Innovator – and explained how they might go about living them.

“The ‘earning the seat at the table’ metaphor is often used to describe what HR professionals need to do to establish their business credentials with senior leaders,” commented Edwards. “But what we’ve found is that CEOs are not just willing to pull up a chair, but have actually laid a ready-made place for the right person who can help them manage the people risks in a global market.

“This presents a real opportunity for HR professionals to build on their existing technical expertise and see through the lens of the Innovator, the Strategist and the Navigator.”

So, how can HR departments develop these attributes? Edwards suggested that they look to their growth plans.

“HR can become more strategic by focusing on specific areas that will advance the strategic agenda,” he explained. “HR leaders should be asking: where are the hotspots for this organisation?

“Becoming a navigator isn’t easy, but HR leaders can play an instrumental role in helping their organisations deal with the complex regulatory frameworks that govern businesses and employment.

“To be truly innovative, HR leaders need to link business strategy to stand-out practices that will differentiate their organisation in the market place. They must think about building platforms that enable the company to win the war for talent, and build/retain a workforce that will best serve it during both prosperous and hard times.

“These attributes were originally developed from a researched behavioural model. The thinking behind presenting our insights as three attributes is to link how HR meets the needs of CEOs through addressing some of their key business challenges.

“These attributes also illustrate what HR best practice looks like and therefore enables our readers to use these as a framework for an assessment tool.”

Check out our full interview with Pickering here.

The changing face of HR


Read  Eric Johansson’s HR Grapevine article: The future of recruitment technology


Would HR be an artist or a scientist?

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