Striving and thriving in the face of disruption – the key theme of the 2016 AHRI National Convention

The winds of change aren’t so much coming as already blowing a gale, and with them a mind boggling workplace transformation.

It might all seem a bit daunting, but the good news is that smart and adaptable Australian HR professionals are likely to be in high demand for years to come.

Some of the smartest were recently in Brisbane at this year’s Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) National Convention where, through globally-renowned speakers, they gained access to the closest thing to a crystal ball the HR industry has about what lies in store for it.

We’ve brought that crystal ball to you, with some key take-outs from this year’s event

The future may be robotic, but it won’t be predictable

Australians will be living, and working, for longer; some will be replaced by robots (at work at least); and much of what they will be doing hasn’t even been imagined.

In short, we’re facing disruption, disruption and more disruption as technology shifts, flexible and contract work increases, and automation looks likely to have as big an impact on 21st century offices as it did on 20th century factory floors.

To succeed, employees will need to become life-long learners prepared to experiment and transform themselves throughout their careers, while HR professionals will be focused on personal development and building an employer brand that attracts applicants of the highest quality and recognises people at all stages and ages of their career and life.

Adaptive HR will help employees power through disruption

Over time, as automation becomes more prevalent, and disruption impacts how people thrive (or not) in their work, HR will play an increasingly important role in ensuring workforce stability.

London Business School Professor, and Founder of the Future Work Consortium, Lynda Gratton, says this will mean HR policies previously built for single breadwinner families must be transformed to meet the needs of dual-career, non-linear, multi-state career paths.

With many people born today likely to live more than 100 years, Professor Gratton’s keynote speech drew upon new research to show that corporations can play a significant role in ensuring these long lives are supported with flexibility, a real understanding of the new ways of working and the new definition of a ‘career’ over a long life. Adaptive HR that understands the changing employment trends will be at the heart of it all.

Surf the wave, don’t get in its way

Good HR requires good processes, fair enough. But what if some of them, or even HR itself, are “speedbumps” in the path of the inescapable tidal wave of disruption we’re all facing? This was the difficult question asked by AHRI Board Member, Rhonda Brighton-Hall, and one that requires some serious soul searching – and action – if HR doesn’t want to end up out of its depth and left behind.

KPMG’s National Managing Partner of People, Performance and Culture, Susan Ferrier’s, answer to the problem of keeping up with the wave of change is to surf it – digitally that is.

Ferrier told conference delegates that she searches out and downloads a new app every month to make sure she’s abreast of new technologies and ways of working.

So, when things get scary and technology changes rapidly, it’s time to let go of the fear (and bumpy processes) and start to think like the technologists helping to make it all happen.

Whether it’s big data, digital behaviourism, gamification or any number of other burgeoning trends, HR professionals need to be aware of what’s emerging around them.

Be agile, collaborative and take the rough with the smooth

Ask most HR professionals about how to deal with disruption and they’ll tell you that agility is key. But what does that really mean in practice?

To answer the question, it’s important to understand that being successful in the face of increasing disruption requires taking more risks than ever before, and with risk comes occasional failure.

The problem is that most corporations don’t like risk, and failure even less, which means HR professionals have a big job on their hands to help review the current state of their companies and bring in a culture with the insights to tolerate failure to support risk-taking.

When you have the right employees and they know they’ll be supported, even if they fail, they will take chances they wouldn’t have otherwise, and achieve the best results possible.

Even then, the sheer pace of change may mean no single business has the resources to move fast enough, so building networks and partnerships will also be critical.

As seasoned company director and Melbourne Business School Associate Professor, Dr Nora Scheinkestel, put it: it’s what they’re already doing in Silicon Valley ­– and we’re all going to have to do it soon to succeed.

SEEK was the ‘Employment Theme’ sponsor for the 2016 AHRI National Convention.