How ready is HR for AI? Here’s the bad news…

While AI is grabbing the headlines and beginning to change the workplace, Jason Averbook, co-founder and chief executive of consulting firm LeapGen, sounds a note of caution:

I wish I could say AI  and bots will ‘band-aid’ the sins of the past, but that’s not going to happen. It’s not that easy.

There’s a hell of a lot of solid foundation work that needs to be done first, before AI can make a difference, he argues. Without those solid foundations, AI is going to disappoint.

That’s because AI, says Averbook, a long-time thought leader on HR and the future of work, is just one aspect of the much larger digital transformation story. And digital transformation is more than a technology refresh; it’s a total reload. He expands:

We’ve gone from the mainframe to DOS to Windows to client-server to web. For the most part, in five generations of technology, I’ve been really doing the same things, only on a new piece of technology. This isn’t that. This is not doing the same thing on a new piece of technology. This is actually changing the way work is done and doing things completely differently.

This transformation (in hearts and minds as well as technology) in the way we work is a requirement, not an option, says Averbook. HR has no choice but to step up to the mark with digitization and AI:

We already know what the end of the story looks like. The consumer world has already played that out for us. It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, it’s a question of how do we get there and when can we get there? We’ve gone from people thinking HR technology was only for HR people to people truly believing that the concept of workforce experience has arrived.

By workforce experience, Averbook is referring to the idea that the experience of employees at work, from the moment they join to the moment they leave the company, is important in the same way that the customer experience is important. Employees are not interested in a new module, or care about department silos, they simply want to have the right tools to do what they need to do and that process needs to be as seamless and easy to do as they are in the consumer world.

Four requirements

There are four things required for this transformational shift to be successful, says Averbrook:

  • Focus on creating an amazing, solid data set as well as data governance. These firm foundations are crucial if companies want to take advantage of digital transformation and AI.
  • Focus on user experience. This is much more than simply having a good user interface; it’s about reimagining how you deliver services to employees.
  • Shifting the focus from automation to digitization is vital. To be able to leverage AI and bots and create new value, HR needs to move away from simply automating transactional work to changing the way HR works.
  • HR needs new skills to take advantage of the digital workplace, and AI.

As for just how pumped is HR for the challenge,  Averbook has some serious doubts:

We’re not ready. We haven’t focused on the shift from HR technology to experience. As analysts, we’ve been talking about it for three to five years, but most HR people use three- to five-year window when they do upgrades and 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.

The danger is that HR will be caught napping when the exec team comes knocking and wants to know what HR’s plans are for this new way of working:

I think that’s the biggest threat – we’re building a technical debt that will be hard time digging out of.

It’s vital that HR looks at the bigger picture and not consider this another technology project, says Averbook:

We find most HR organizations have a product plan on how they are going to upgrade to the next version. Very few have the holistic plan that includes: how are we going to re-skill the functions? How are we going to change how we deliver services? And how are we going to leverage technology to fuel the changes with AI and bots?

The starting point for HR is actually knowing the end point. What does the organization want to look like? The complexity comes in because what will work and be the best fit for one particular organization may not work in another company. If HR is viewed by the board as a transactional center, whose job is to keep the lights on and minimize risk, then the shift from HR technology to workforce technology is probably too much of a jump straight away.

Only when that commitment, vision and strategy are in place are companies ready to begin the journey, says Averbook:

I think of it like a puzzle or an air traffic controller that has planes taking off and planes landing, but has to make sure that all these moving parts work together. So it’s about creating that program plan – not a project plan – this is a program with lots of different projects.

The idea is to put the same effort into employee experience as has been put in (or hopefully put in) to customer experience:

Now is the time to say we’ve put all this time and effort into digital transformation and focus on the customer experience, but how do I now put all that time effort and energy into the workforce experience? I spend a lot of my time convincing executives why this is important and one of the first things is that you can’t think of it as spending more on HR technology.

HR professionals in this new world need to be moving away from answering questions from the business to problem solving. AI will be able to answer the basic questions from workers, but HR will need to deal with complex scenarios or where empathy is important.

They also need to move from what Averbook calls process design to “conversation design”. Instead of thinking about the HR processes, the idea is for HR to think about the conversations bots will have with people.

If the focus is on experience, then HR needs to find a way to measure that experience, which is why, rather than people analytics, Averbook talks of the analytics being tied to experience. For example, looking at the experience of the workers and where that breaks down, understanding why people abandon processes and finding out how they feel and then quickly taking that information and using it to continuously improve their processes.

By getting such, what Averbook calls, “lower case analytics” in place first, then this can feed into the ‘capital’ analytics of knowing about your people:

That’s why analytics with a capital A hasn’t worked until now. The data has been incomplete and people haven’t trusted the data.

Using AI and bots can help gather the data needed. Analytics has often failed to live up to expectations because HR isn’t using strategically yet. Marketing is already doing sentiment analysis, while HR is pleased that that they can measure whether someone logs in at home or at work.  This is all part and parcel of HR speeding up not just its adoption of technology, but also it’s understanding of changes in the way we work.

My take

Digital transformation is a given. It’s not a question of whether, but when. Jason Averbook is clear that, for the most part, HR still needs to up its game and speed up its adoption of technology. But more importantly, he argues that they need to think more strategically about the impact of AI and digitization.

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Salary negotiation tips from Uber executive Bozoma Saint John

Just because you may know your worth doesn’t mean you know how to ask for it. Asking for the salary you want can be a stressful negotiation at any stage of your career. We know that our starting salary in one job can set the tone of how much we earn in another. No one wants to have a botched salary negotiation follow them throughout their career.

To get the best possible outcome for your paycheck, you need to arm yourself with knowledge about best practices. As part of your battle preparation, consider the advice of Bozoma Saint John, a powerful brand executive who has been given the monumental task of re-hauling Uber’s tarnished brand image:

1) Say a number first

Prior to working at Uber, Bozoma Saint John ran advertising for Spike Lee and worked as an Apple Music executive. In a CBS interview after being hired at Uber, she shared her best tips for salary negotiation with Gayle King.

“Give the number first,” Saint John, the Chief Brand Officer at Uber, told King. “Make it high as hell because then you can be lowballed.”

Saint John’s advice is backed by science that finds that the first number given in a negotiation becomes the anchor for the rest of the conversation. Take control of your career by putting down the first anchor.

2) Do your homework

Of course, before you can shoot your shot and aim for the salary of your dream, you need to do a reality check of what are industry standards for your salary. Before giving a high number during negotiations, Saint John advises employees to walk in prepared: “Do the work. Don’t just call a number out of the sky.”

Discussing salaries can be difficult, but ask trusted colleagues what they are earning, so that you can have a ballpark number of what you should be earning. And if your colleagues are not forthcoming, turn to the internet: The Bureau of Labor Statistics has average salary data for over 800 occupations. And in some industries like media and entertainment, employees are sharing anonymous salary-transparent databases online.

Knowing what numbers your peers are earning allows you to shoot above them, Saint John says: “Know the range and then exceed the range, because then you negotiate down just a little bit. But if you allow someone to give you the number and it’s too low, there’s no way for you to go back up.”

3) Bring your whole self to the table

Doing the work is not just about the research and stats you learn, but it’s also about how you present this information. You may think you need to perform as someone else to do the work, but to get rewarded with the salary and job you want, you need to discuss your unique attributes.

For Saint John, doing her job well means not playing games and being her whole self at work:

“Bring your whole self to work. I think it’s really important … because bringing your whole self is a very human thing,” she told Glamour magazine. “This is not the resume, this is the stuff that makes you, you. It’s what makes your story interesting and unique. Bringing your whole self to work is the mantra for me as I sit in my office and do the work.”

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Which Type Of CEO Are You, And Which Do You Need To Be?

If you boiled leadership down to two primary styles, you might find something like this: 1) the “hero” leaders, like Steve Jobs and Lee Iacocca, who are exceedingly smart and driven, with a clear vision and strategy and who, while perhaps lacking bedside manner, always get the job done; and 2) the “guide” leaders, like Kenneth Chenault and Mary T. Barra, who excel at communicating, inspiring others and encouraging cooperation among team members to strive for a common goal.

Those labels are, at least somewhat, oversimplifications.  In reality, there are no pure heroes or pure guides, Ted Bililies, management director and chief talent officer for AlixPartners, told attendees at a roundtable sponsored by the management consulting firm. “But there are certainly CEOs and CHROs and people that we’re interacting with and reading about every day that tend towards one or the other.”

So which is better? The short answer is: it depends. “It depends on the state of the organization at the time that person is in position,” says Yvette Segura, vice president and general manager of USAA, a financial services association serving members of the U.S. military. “Do they need more collaboration? Do they need to better leverage the talent of all the folks? Or do they need somebody in there who’s going to be that smartest person in the room and say, ‘No, this is what we need to do’?”

Susan Jacobs, vice president, HR & administration of Newport News Shipbuilding, pointed out that her company is currently undergoing a transition period and has a new CEO leading them through it. “She is, without a doubt, a hero [leader]. She’s really very dynamic, very engaging. And she makes you believe you can do this really huge thing. I think that’s really important, especially in a time of transformation,” Jacobs said. “But I can also understand why the guides tend to be more effective in the long run.”

Heroes are ideal in times of disruption, agreed Jorge Quintana, director of human resources for Champlain Cable. “But in a general daily sense, I prefer guides. But you need balance. Balance is a wonderful thing.”

Underscoring that notion, Clark Perry, director, AlixPartners, cited results from a forthcoming study by leadership development consultancy, Zenger Folkman, which compared the effectiveness of each style of leadership based on thousands of criteria and found that guides were, overall, more effective than heroes, but those who had a mixture of the two did better than either one, scoring in the 90th percentile. “The research is conclusive—if they have [both of] those qualities, it has a huge impact on business outcomes,” said Perry.

That made perfect sense to Wayne Johnson, CEO of Accuform, a facility identification solutions company in Brooksville, Florida. “Because that’s exactly what you want. You want a combination of both. When I think about all the great CEOs I’ve heard speak, they all have this crystal-clear vision, and they can articulate it really well. But I don’t think that they think they’re going to go do it. They all believe that they have to inspire people and guide them along the way to get it done and make it happen.”

But it’s a tall order for one leader to have both sets of qualities, said Mike Todd, vice president of operations for Hydro-Gear. “I know the best is a combination person, but it’s hard to actually have it. If you’re a really strong hero, you’re going to be a hero. If you’re a really strong mentor, you’re going to be a mentor.”

Some argued that the leadership qualities needed by the team or the organization really depend on the function. Hero leaders are best at setting strategy, said Johnson. “Because if you have a bunch of guides trying to set strategy, you’re probably just going to get a lot of ‘feel good’ stuff.” But for execution of that strategy, the company might be best served by a guide, said Segura. “For longevity, for succession in an organization, if you have just one or a few people making all the calls, that’s not an effective way to continue the legacy of your organization,” she noted. “You need to do that hand-off to those coming in behind you, and the guide is that personality, the style of leadership that can affect that.”

But therein lies a paradox, said Matthew Robinson, CEO of W.A. Robinson Asset Management: it’s often because of hero-type skills that an individual rises to the top. “And then you’re supposed to automatically have the skill set to take care of everybody else,” he said. “So there’s a paradigm shift that has to happen there.”

Ideally, the skills of guiding a team and inspiring others are acquired on the way up the ladder over the course of a career. Jacobs referred to Jim Collins’s book, Good to Great, which describes the five progressive levels of leadership. “The fifth level is where you begin to be that guide, where you’re developing people who are leaders who are then developing other people. But at different points in your career, at the different levels, you have to be something different. As you go through your leadership lifecycle, you mature, and you should change.”

Robinson said that a CEO really must change in that regard, if a company is to be successful. “I’ll bet you that 90 percent of the people in my company are smarter than me at something. Actually, no—100 percent. Every single person in my company is smarter than me at something. So why would I be the hero and say, ‘This is how you have to do it?’ Where’s the creativity in that?”

Having too dominant a hero at the top can also impede the company’s succession planning and, ultimately, its sustainability. Robinson recalled the period before he bought his company from his father, Wayne Robinson, in 2014. “You know what the biggest worry for investors was before I came along, and even through the transition? What happens if Wayne gets killed? What happens if the hero takes the kryptonite? Who steps up into that role who might not have all of those abilities?” he said. “As I look at this whole hero thing, it’s got some real flaws.”

Grooming Millennials to Lead

On the other hand, much ado is made about the preferences of millennials, and the notion that leaders have to adapt their styles to meet those needs if they want to attract and retain them. Often characterized as the “collaboration generation,” millennials are known for preferring to work cooperatively in teams. “Millennials seem to want the guide approach,” said Todd. “But maybe to the detriment [of the company]. We have to reinstall some heroes among the millennials to take on challenges and take responsibility.” In 2008, for example, companies needed heroes to step in and make powerful, critical decisions. “I think we need to make sure we’re bringing that talent along as well.”

For millennials to grow into leaders with both hero and guide skills, “you have to give them the opportunity to do both early in their career—to be a hero and to be creative; to lead a project, and then to help others,” said Jacobs, adding that, in her experience, millennials do seem to want a coach more than a manager. “They want that person like their parent who is encouraging and telling them they’re great, and giving them an award just for showing up.”

But millennials have also taught their predecessor generations some new tools, Jacobs added. “They’ve taught us to think differently and organize ourselves differently. And I do think that if you give them opportunities early in their career, they’ll be prepared when it’s time for them to step into leadership roles.”

In response to the “engage millennials” movement, Champlain Cable set up teams of 10 people each and gave them each projects to work on together. “We gave them engagement starters, and said, ‘Okay, come up with an action plan,’” recalled Quintana. “There were a few people in each group who ended up becoming the heroes.” Some of those were expected, given their personalities. “But there were a few who really surprised us as part of that. It was very interesting. We’re seeing the collaboration, but we’re also starting to see, not the term hero, but  some natural leaders coming out.”

Todd pointed out that in a flat organization like his, it’s hard to create opportunities for upward movement internally, but that millennials expect that “or they’ll go externally,” he said. “And we don’t want that. We’re investing so much in people.”

As the lone millennial at the table, Rachel Bode, regional HR manager for RailWorks, said that her generation is often misunderstood. They aren’t looking for an easy upward climb, but rather the opportunity to learn. “What we’re looking for is to not do the same thing every day for the rest of our lives. We’ve seen a lot of our parents do that for 15, 20, 30 years and be miserable. We don’t want that. We want to learn, and once we’ve mastered a skill, we want to master a new skill. Does there need to be a promotion every year, every six months? No. But we need new projects and new learning experiences.”

As for heroes vs. guides, millennials may want both. “It is wonderful for someone in the beginning of their career to have a guide,” said Bode. “But personally, I don’t want someone hand-holding me my entire career. I want someone I can look up to, someone who says, ‘Okay, this is what we’re doing. Go for it.’ That’s not really a guide—that’s more of a hero.”

Some felt the notion of hero vs. guide was misleading. “You can’t boil it down into two categories,” said Taylor Goodall, vice president, distribution for Dixon Valve & Coupling. “To me, the whole conversation of which is better, it’s kind of like, ‘decide which hamburger is better,’ because everybody’s got their own preference.” Some will respond better to a guide; others to a leader, he added.

But while it is more complex than black and white, Segura argued, “stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason. It’s because people have the propensity to fall into a description of one versus another.” The key is for CEOs to be introspective enough to know themselves and the camp in which they tend to fall so they can rein themselves in when necessary. “We all know that under stress, we’ll always revert to habits, it’s just human nature,” said Perry.

“That’s where situational awareness is important,” Segura noted. “You have to have that EQ to self-reflect and say, ‘if I have a tendency to just jump out there and start barking orders when things get tough, I’ve got to kind of pull back. I’ve got to recognize that and figure out, if I’m going to really enlist the support, and motivate or inspire my team, what are those things I need to do?’”

Ultimately, the way a CEO is perceived—whether as hero or guide—can influence the company’s image, its culture, and even how it attracts and retains talent, Bililies said. “People do make choices of who they work for and who they will follow based on, ‘Where am I going to get the best training? Where am I going to get the best development?’ At the end of the day, whether it’s perception, reality or some combination of both, people do choose companies to work for based on how they see the leader.”

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Most Workers Would Rather Not Be Managers

When we think about the various ways our careers might progress, it’s natural to imagine ourselves in a position where we’re managing others. But that may not be the most obvious or even desirable career path for most of us. A 2014 Pew study found that 43% of employees don’t want to be managers, and that’s not the only anti-manager data out there. Only 33% of Americans feel that managing others will advance their careers, according to survey by staffing firm Addison Group, and a 2014 CareerBuilder survey had similar results.

Before you set your sights on reaching manager status, you may want to consider some alternate options for moving your career forward. Though becoming the boss might seem like the ideal path to take, there are several drawbacks to management you should know about.

1. More responsibility

As an individual contributor on your team, you’re probably responsible for certain key tasks that impact your company’s performance. Now imagine that you’re one person on a team of 20. Well, guess what? Your manager is ultimately responsible for your entire team’sperformance, and that, frankly, is a lot of pressure. When we talk about reasons to avoid becoming a manager, it’s hard to overlook the stress associated with all of that added responsibility. If you don’t want that burden, then you’re better off not attempting to move up in that manner.

2. More meetings

Though meetings are frequently a part of office life for workers across all levels, managers are even more likely to spend hours of their valuable work time wasting away in conference rooms. In fact, middle managers spend roughly 35% of their time in meetings, according to career site The Muse, and that percentage climbs to 50% for upper-level managers. If you’re not a fan of meetings, then you may want to steer clear of the management path.

3. More tough decisions

It’s often the case that managers are called on to do the dirty work that comes with running a business. For example, if a company is forced to downsize, it’ll be that company’s management team that’s responsible for sitting employees down and explaining that they’ve been let go. Similarly, managers are often tasked with hiring and firing decisions — decisions that affect not just a given company, but also people’s lives. That’s a lot of emotional pressure, so to speak, and it’s the type you may not be equipped to deal with.

Of course, there are plenty of good reasons to become a manager — a chance to build teams, attain recognition, and boost your salary. But if being a manager doesn’t sound like the sort of thing you want to do, don’t feel obliged to pursue that particular path. There are plenty of other ways you can grow your career without having to deal with the accountability and politics that management positions tend to require.

For example, if you’re a graphic designer who enjoys the hands-on work, you might aim to get promoted to project leader rather than team manager. This way, you’ll get to spend your days doing design work and helping other people perfect their skills — without having to write their performance reviews or conduct their weekly one-on-one meetings. In fact, there are plenty of individual contributors who never make it past that level yet manage to have successful careers, so if being a manager sounds downright awful, leave that role to someone else.

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Reimagining The Future Of Work And HR With Connection In Mind

Over the past year, I have noticed an increasing level of discussion around HR’s role in creating workplace connections and connecting person-to-person across organizations. As I’ve attended presentations and listened to my colleagues and others, this has been a recurring theme. It seems as if no matter where the discussion begins (diversity, performance management, data, strategy, etc.) it always segues into how well we are — or aren’t — connecting on a human level with our colleagues.

Don’t get me wrong; engagement, performance management, succession planning and the like are all cornerstones of successful business HR. But while we have been pursuing the data and the science of HR, have we neglected the art? Have we lost our heart and become soulless bureaucrats?

Years ago, we were the “personnel” department (though this is something that is unfortunately still true in many instances). We became the party planners, the team responsible for employee morale and office celebrations. We bravely moved from this mindset by adopting lessons from our colleagues in finance and, later, marketing. These lessons included how to build effective business cases, how to integrate effective marketing and branding practices into our talent frameworks, how to leverage the science of human behavior and motivation, and many other skills that have transformed us from “personnel” to being at the center of our organization’s strategy. As most pendulums do, we have swung from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Recently I left a conference where, once again, the central theme was being human and making a human, authentic connection to our workforce, and I was reminded of one of my favorite HR books by two authors I’m fortunate to know personally, HR from the Heart. Revisiting this work put me immediately back into that special HR space: the one that strikes the right balance between the art and the science of our profession. We create alliances with employees. We leverage that special energy that lies between our organizational objectives and the needs and wants of our employees. This magical connection is what motivates me to continue working in HR and energizes me as a leader.

During my journey to become a leadership coach, I learned a key principle that informs my work as an HR leader: “People are naturally creative, resourceful and whole.” This core principle suggests a useful framework for how we approach our work as HR professionals. It represents a subtle but important shift in our perspective of the capability of our workforce and its members’ ability to develop solutions. Holding this perspective of our colleagues means that our role is to help our colleagues get to the essence of their issue, understand what barriers might exist and develop a plan to move forward. This is more about co-creating solutions than HR reaching into a toolkit to present a solution.

I have seen this principle come to life in the workplace repeatedly over the course of my career. Once I see my colleagues and my relationship to them through this lens, certain practices fall away. I don’t need to micromanage — capable people know how to do their jobs. I don’t need a 22-page policy on how to complete a timesheet — people know how to code their work and can talk to their managers if they need help with something like this. I don’t need our organization to promote leadership behaviors — people know how to “behave” and understand our values. I see people who love what they do, want to do their best and bring their whole and authentic self with them wherever they happen to be, including the office.

I sometimes joke that my role is to make my function obsolete — to create an environment in which employees thrive, have supportive and exceptional colleagues and leaders, can grow and achieve their heart’s desire. I encourage all of my colleagues to take up this cause and let’s bring the outside in. Let’s create a workplace that provides a seamless experience between an employee’s life outside our organization and their life inside.

You might wonder, how should I do this? Start with a simple design thinking perspective. For example, how difficult is it for you to go to an office supply store and purchase a stapler? Then, ask yourself how hard it would be to do the same thing at work. If getting a stapler from within the office is harder, even incrementally, than getting one from outside the office, you have a significant disconnect. Identify the barriers employees come up against and create a smooth transition from the office environment to how we all experience life outside of work. Simplify, de-layer and repeat. We live in a world where an employee can order a stapler with their phone and have it delivered before the close of business. Why doesn’t the same level of ease exist in our workplaces?

The gap between what we experience outside of the work environment and what we experience inside is growing and organizations that understand they need to close this gap will win. Bring the outside in and create human connections in the workplace by designing a workplace that is made for humans.


Algorithmic Bias – What is the Role of HR?

Merriam-Webster defines ‘algorithm’ as step-by-step procedure for solving a problem… In an analog world, ask anyone to jot down a step-by-step procedure to solve a problem – and it will be subject to bias, perspective, tacit knowledge, and a diverse viewpoint. Computer algorithms, coded by humans, will obviously contain similar biases.

The challenge before us is that with Moore’s Law, cloud computing, big data, and machine learning, these algorithms are evolving, increasing in complexity, and these algorithmic biases are more difficult to detect – “the idea that artificially intelligent software…often turns out to perpetuate social bias.”

“Algorithmic bias is shaping up to be a major societal issue at a critical moment in the evolution of machine learning and AI. If the bias lurking inside the algorithms that make ever-more-important decisions goes unrecognized and unchecked, it could have serious negative consequences, especially for poorer communities and minorities.” What is the role of HR in reviewing these rules? What is the role of HR in reviewing algorithms and code? What questions to ask?

In December 2017, New York City passed a bill to address algorithmic discrimination. Some interesting text of the bill, “a procedure for addressing instances in which a person is harmed by an agency automated decision system if any such system is found to disproportionately impact persons;” and “making information publicly available that, for each agency automated decision system, will allow the public to meaningfully assess how such system functions and is used by the city, including making technical information about such system publicly available where appropriate;”

Big data, AI, and machine learning will put a new forward thinking ethical burden on the creators of this technology, and on the HR professionals that support them. Other examples include Google Photos incorrect labeling or Nikon’s facial detection. While none of these are intentional or malicious, they can be offensive, and the ethical standards need to be vetted and reviewed. This is a new area for HR professionals, and it’s not easy.

As Nicholas Diakopoulos suggests, “We’re now operating in a world where automated algorithms make impactful decisions that can and do amplify the power of business and government. As algorithms come to regulate society and perhaps even implement law directly, we should proceed with caution and think carefully about how we choose to regulate them back.”

The ethical landscape for HR professionals is changing rapidly.

On Trend for 2018: Learning and Flexibility

In an ever-changing work environment, courses can become stale as they work to maintain old standards without innovation. When employees see theneed to innovate before learning leaders do but aren’t given the opportunity to do so, tension can rise. This is especially true amid rapid disruption to the workplace brought on by new technology.

Alper Tekin, director of enterprise at online learning platform Udacity, emphasized the importance of continuous learning to stay on top of disruptive technology. “Lifelong learning is the only way for employees and the companies they work for to keep ahead of changing market conditions and stay competitive,” he said.

Frustration brought on by disruption is exacerbated by a younger workforce that is eager for development. Darren Shimkus, general manager of online learning provider Udemy for Business, said that when millennial workers are given the choice between better learning opportunities and other incentives like vacation time or higher pay, “The millennial worker today overwhelmingly chooses the chance to build … skills.”

Focusing on popular skills can offer a necessary jolt to help revive a lacking learning program, giving employees the development they desire and ensuring they are acquiring skills that they can use in the immediate future.

Hot Topics

Udemy’s “2018 Learning Index Report,” which analyzed 18 million learners and polled 263 learning and development managers, discusses various key topics to pay attention to this year.

According to the report, teams are learning skills across traditional boundaries. Soft skills like communication and public speaking have remained consistently important. “People seek out, at all levels: How do I become better at presenting my point of view?” Shimkus said. Technology teams are accessing content to brush up on soft skills, while those in soft skills positions are pursuing hard tech knowledge to better serve their clients.

Udemy’s report indicated that the top four subjects that surged most in popularity this year were project management, Apache Kafka, Kotlin and neural networks (also known as deep learning).

Becoming a certified associate in project management (CAPM) is essential to many managerial roles across industries and, as such, will be a role in increasing demand. According to Udemy’s “Learning Index Report,” “Failure to anticipate this projected demand could result in a loss of $207.9 billion in gross domestic product through 2027.” Teaching CAPM material will be essential to those hoping to promote from within or to polish outside talent to the necessary level.

Apache Kafka is an engine that creates powerful data pipelines and streaming apps. It works in the backend of websites and apps as the wire that connects data and users. Additionally, Kafka stores its data in logs, which can then be referenced. This can allow for better understanding of client needs and behaviors, all of which can lead to more targeted sales and better marketing.

Kotlin, released by software development company JetBrains in November 2017, is a programming language designed to remedy the biggest issues of Java. Kotlin is meant to make coding easier, leading to happier programmers and, hopefully, better code, apps and websites. For businesses wanting to break into the Android market or those wanting to tighten up their existing apps, teaching Kotlin to development teams could be a needed update.

Kotlin mirrors the larger theme of constant and fast change that persists within the workplace. At the beginning of 2017, Kotlin was little more than a toy for developers. Once it was announced Google would support it, Shimkus explained, “You saw the entire Android community shift their focus to ‘How do I learn this new tool?’ ”

Neural networks, computer systems modeled on the human brain and nervous system, can be leveraged for just about any industry, according to Udemy’s report. The provider saw neural network learners increase 58 percent between 2016-17.

Other online learning providers are seeing similar trends.

Julia Stiglitz, vice president of enterprise at Coursera, said they saw deep learning and data science taking the lead. She also said that bots, powered by machine learning and neural networks, are of interest.

Udacity saw tech skills rise as well. Tekin said it was “a breakthrough year for machine learning, artificial intelligence, deep learning and self-driving car nanodegrees.”

“Entire industries are being transformed by AI,” Tekin said.

According to Tekin, AI represents a potential job loss for many workers. “Failure to expand skills in AI literally will mean that companies risk losing their competitive edge to more adaptable competitors,” he said. However, Shimkus said this change can also represent a possibility for growth, as there are new jobs and skills to be seized in anticipation of the shift.

Disruption, Meet Learning

According to Udemy’s study, 78 percent of L&D managers say that keeping their employees’ skills up to speed is their biggest challenge. Keeping an eye on trends and new tech developments can give learning leaders guidance on how to expand their programs. Being able to anticipate changes, either through modification of pre-existing courses or by establishing a learning culture that is always ready to adapt, can address problems before they happen.

One of Coursera’s most popular courses this year is titled Learning how to Learn. “That speaks to the broader trend of the need for continuous learning,” Stiglitz said.

The world of work is constantly changing. It’s important to ensure your learners are ready to react to the next big thing.


Three Trends That Will Shape Leadership Development In 2018 And Why They Matter

Organizations are facing huge challenges today as they grapple with how to better prepare their leaders to steer through unprecedented and rapidly accelerating changes in the business world. The landscape of what leadership means today is changing, as leaders are required to both develop innovative, sustainable businesses for an unknown long-term future and to deliver strong results today. But there is great opportunity as well. Through my work with clients, I see three trends emerging, which, when addressed, can lead the way to success.

1. Organizational structures are being redesigned and flattened, resulting in changes in what is being asked of leaders.

According to the 2017 Mercer Global Talent Trends Report, 93% of companies interviewed rated reshaping organizational design and structure as a top priority and are planning changes. Many intend to flatten their organizations, decentralize decision making and extend authority and control.

Flatter organizations, combined with the onslaught of technological advancements and globalization of the markets they serve, means that a new breed of leaders must arise. The days of command and control are no longer effective or relevant, as there is no way leaders can be experts on the vast array of rapidly changing market factors and technology. Instead, they must focus more on inspiring, empowering and mobilizing the experts in those areas — who are often spread around the world.

Leaders are no longer the smartest people in the room who know the most about everything. To be successful, they now need to be able to surround themselves with experts in those fields who are smarter than themselves, and then they must find ways to motivate and empower those people in order to mobilize them towards a shared vision.

2. There is a scarcity of ready leaders in the pipeline.

The leadership development industry is facing a conundrum: On one hand, the sector has been seeing phenomenal growth with further growth predicted. Harvard Business’s 2016 State of Leadership report stated that over half of the organizations they surveyed planned to increase spending on these programs in the next two years.

On the other hand, worrying about how to find leaders who are strong in the new skills and abilities needed for growth and success is top of mind for many boards and CEOs. In fact, the Mercer report points to talent scarcity as one of the biggest issues facing executives today.

There is a lag between what leaders are being trained for today and what skills will be needed for tomorrow. Skills such as reflection, dialogue, connection and empathy are still finding their ways into the very fabric of corporate structure and business strategy as businesses try to move past slogans and learn how to actually “walk their talk.” Luckily, CEOs such as Microsoft’s Satya Nadella whose “learn-it-all” approach to leading (vs. the traditional “know-it-all”) is modeling and inspiring those that follow.

3. Leadership training needs to change to become more relevant and core to business strategy.

Despite all the focus on leadership programs, few business leaders consider leadership development a strategic priority because they don’t see any impact or connection to results. According to the Harvard Business report, only 19% of business leaders view leadership development programs as relevant to the issues they face today

So, how can we better design programs to make them more relevant? Organizations will need to:

• Better integrate traditional business-acumen skills with more emphasis on coaching and mentoring skills of a wide range of people with different backgrounds, expertise and needs.

• Recognize the individual growth needs for their executives and find ways of personalizing programs and learning experiences.

• Find and support explicit and sustained methods of ensuring that learning outcomes and experiences are brought back, shared and incorporated into the everyday tissue of the organization.

• Find ways to truly focus (as opposed to checking it off the box) on personal growth in areas such as self-awareness, intuition, true empathy and the ability to read a room.

When you are no longer the smartest person in the room, you need to make sure you can understand and motivate those who are, pick up and make sense of weak signals regardless of where they came from, and have the skills to mobilize the rest of the organization quickly to address the issues.

2018 will be an exciting time, with continuous changes and disruption in the business world. It will also be filled with opportunities for great leaders to forge ahead and reshape their businesses with stellar results.


The Here-To-Stay Workplace Trends HR Shouldn’t Fear

There are plenty of articles circulating about 2018 human resources trends. But I don’t view these trends as prognostications. They’re already here. What we will see in the coming years is more of an upswell.

For all of these trends, HR professionals need to be the ones to say, “How can I make this work in my organization? How do I sell it to top management? How do I break down the walls of ‘We’ve always done it this way?’”

The concepts below are all cutting-edge thoughts and ideas happening in the workplace. But they don’t have to be found just in companies like Apple, Amazon or Google. You can implement these concepts in any type of business because they’re about people management, not a specific industry.

Here are three areas HR can embrace to make their companies better.

1. The gig economy and remote work.

Smart companies are already embracing the positive side of the gig economy. HR needs to get past the idea that acquiring the right talent means hiring employees.

Who cares if that person sits at a desk under your roof or if they’re three time zones away? Who cares if that person doesn’t work 9 to 5? The right person is the right person. Who brings the right skillset for the job you need done?

HR struggles with this concept because they worry about the control factor of it. They worry about what happens if a person doesn’t deliver on time and how they will hold that person accountable.

But a contractor-company relationship is actually simpler than a standard employee-employer relationship. There is no 30- or 60-day improvement plan, no focus on training to make them better. If a contractor doesn’t deliver, find another one who will.

We already know that the younger generations are tech-savvy and much more independent. If HR can harness those two things and allow them to use technology to work remotely while doing great work for the company, that’s a game changer.

Smart companies are already doing this. The only thing keeping remote work from catching fire is HR’s unwillingness to embrace it.

Remember, you pay someone to do a job for you, and that means getting results — not punching the clock or sitting in a seat.

With very few exceptions, I think this work comes down to HR’s willingness to look at other types of business models. Remote work and flex work are already here, so let’s embrace them to make our companies better.

2. Upskilling employees.

This is a new term I’m starting to see everywhere. It’s the idea of getting your existing people the skills they need to contribute to the good of the organization.

There are thousands of articles online of people lamenting that they can’t find talented workers. But don’t you have some good people working for you now? Why not retrain them to get them moving up the ladder? Why wouldn’t you invest in the people you have to get them the skills they (and you) need?

The challenge for HR is that HR has traditionally viewed talent management and learning as classroom training. Classroom training has a place in some regards, but it really is becoming a thing of the past.

Individualized talent management is the focus. What does Angela need? What skills does she need to meet her goals and benefit the company? How can we personalize a learning and development program so we all achieve our goals?

Why isn’t HR adopting this? Well, it’s certainly more work. The average HR person would much rather throw an entire work group into a meeting for an hour and check a training box. But as fast as business is changing today, that kind of training doesn’t really work anymore.

There are a few exceptions, of course. Tomorrow, I’ll be spending all day doing sexual harassment training with a client. That’s not individualized, so it’s fine for everyone to do together. But career development? For it to be effective, you have to know what employees want out of their career and tailor a program for them to get the skills they want and the company needs.

3. Power to the people.

We’re starting to see more of people driving brands and company cultures. Smart companies have started using online collaboration tools so employees can do different things on their own time. Companies can design individual career development plans, but that doesn’t have to mean they deliver all of the content. Maybe employees use some of their own time at work or at home to take online classes and do webinars.

Technology today allows for that level of collaboration. There are so many great tools that allow people to work on different projects and from different time zones.

The idea that everyone has to sit face-to-face is really becoming a thing of the past. On the heels of that is a concept that progressive companies are using called gamification, making business results into a game.

Think about when you go to a grocery store. What’s the first thing they ask you at checkout? Do you have a bonus card?

If you do, you use that card to get savings and cash back. That’s great for the consumer. But why does the company do it when it costs them money?

They’re monitoring buying habits. They learn what products and quantities you buy. The big data they get can be huge for the HR world if we’re willing to embrace it.

How can we bring the gaming culture the younger workforce is used to into our companies and use it to solve real-world business problems? Building that kind of culture and brand would mean bringing the best and brightest into your workforce.

What are your thoughts about these concepts? Is your workplace implementing any of these ideas? Comment below and share.


How to build a culture of diversity and inclusivity into the workplace

Diversity and inclusivity have been big business buzzwords now for a while. Diversity is now a basic element of the modern world; more and more women are taking up executive positions in business, same sex marriage is legal in 26 countries, and mass immigration has added another dimension to Western societies.

There’s also a growing awareness of how companies can benefit from building a culture of diversity in the workplace; both inherent – age, race, gender; and acquired – experiences, networks and people living with disabilities. Among employers surveyed by recruitment firm Robert Walters, 85% said that increasing diversity in their workforce was a priority. So, as we see the impact of this trend on business success, should we look at how we’re enabling diversity and supporting inclusivity in our workplace environments?

A diverse workforce is defined as one that is made up of individuals with a wide range of characteristics and experiences. Inclusivity is commitment to working as a team, while recognising that everyone comes from different backgrounds. The business case for diversity and inclusivity is a strong one, with the benefits far-reaching.

A survey by the Harvard Business Review found employees at companies which focussed on inherent and acquired diversity, were more likely to out-innovate and out-perform others. The report also revealed employees in a ‘speak up’ culture were 3.5 times more likely to contribute their full innovative potential.

There is evidence that suggests companies with more females in top positions are more profitable than those their male-dominated rivals. It proves ‘the presence of women contributes to superior performance via functional diversity’. Many countries, like Norway, have realised this and have implemented gender quotas for women on corporate boards.

A diverse group of problem solvers can out-perform a team of the most intelligent problem solvers, according to a study by the University of Michigan. It suggests that if the best problem solvers tend to think about a problem in a similar way, the group may not be as effective.

It’s a simple game of numbers. By including employees from across the board – different genders, ages, countries, backgrounds – businesses can increase their access to a wide variety of perspectives and expertise. A diverse workforce can help companies open up new opportunities and explore new solutions.

Most of these are obvious points as to why diversity should form the backbone of any company’s culture, however much of the time, management teams tend to overlook the physical aspects of their workplace environment when considering how to improve and encourage diversity and inclusivity.

For example, the UK’s average retirement age has risen almost two years for men and three for women in the last two decades, meaning we’re now spending more of our adult lives in the office. However, there’s a current trend of businesses designing their office spaces specifically to target young hipsters – e.g. with ping pong tables and a warehouse aesthetic – potentially pushing out the older generations before they’re ready.

If business managers truly wish to be diverse and inclusive, they shouldn’t just design their workspace for the stereotypical worker, they really need to think about who their users might be.

In my opinion, London is also lagging behind in terms of mobility and accessibility for office workers. This is largely due to the poor quality of inherited building stock, as well as the fact the average city worker now spends an entire working week commuting every year, which we know can leave them more vulnerable to chronic stress or burnout. We also still have a fair way to go when it comes to improving the commute for people who use wheelchairs, with only 72 of the 270 Underground stations step-free.

Of course, business operators can incorporate elements of inclusive design into their physical workspaces that will help them to tackle these challenges and achieve greater diversity and inclusivity. As Roland White, Global Director of D&I at Microsoft says, ‘Inclusive design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. You’re designing a diversity of things so everyone finds a way to participate’.

An easy place for businesses to start is to work on improving their employees’ journey into work – i.e. helping to reduce their commute time, therefore improving their work-life balance and overall happiness. Relocating your office to an area with easily-accessible transport links, or with a volume of affordable housing so workers could walk to their office, would go a long way to addressing this problem. I’m proud that our new IQL development at Stratford can deliver both, with residential buildings on the doorstep, and public transport access to all major airports in less than 60 minutes.

Building design should also reflect ease of movement, with centrally-located staircases, barrier-free access points, large lifts and wide, accessible doorways. We design our commercial places that way because everyone – no matter their mobility capabilities – should have equal access to all parts of the workspace, both inside and out.

Opening up and engaging with the world outside is another way business leaders can drive a culture of diversity and inclusivity. Our tenants are increasingly interested in how they can build networks with their neighbours and benefit from the exchanging of ideas. So we’re creating layers of workplace at IQL at the ground floor and outdoors, designed to invite neighbours, like university students, in and encourage diverse interactions.

The proof is in the research – diversity and inclusivity can help businesses increase profits and retain staff, as well as work smarter and more innovatively. However, building a culture of diversity involves not just hiring talent of various ages, sexes and backgrounds, but also using inclusive elements in office building design to make everyone feel equal so they can deliver their best work.