Humans turning robotic – robots becoming human

I enjoyed being part of an engaging panel session at the CompTIA Annual Member & Partner Conference in London where we talked about skills and employability, and how employers continue to struggle to find the people to meet their needs.

Well how about the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) and Generation X (born 1965-1976)? We have the time, wherewithal and the experience, and more often than not the resilience to compete. That determination is manifesting itself by standing our ground – we won’t give in easily, to age or to retirement plus we can handle the demands placed on us.

I suppose technology isn’t helping us, but is it really tech’s fault? Haven’t we brought this on ourselves? Are we just obsessed with being online and staying connected for more and more hours throughout the day, waking at 4am for a sneak peek at email and responding to the last of the day’s messages with drooping eyelids 20 hours later? Moreover, if you are in a business that covers all time-zones of the world, does it ever stop?

We need to remind ourselves what humans are good at and take a good look at the work and roles that machines cannot do as well as humans in future. We need to reassert and take control, yet isn’t it ironic that we have become robotic in automating our lives, at precisely the time that robots endeavour to become more human.

People are our biggest problem

A lot is being written about robotics and the impact on the workplace, as well as the form and structure of tomorrow’s workforce.

I think we are all in agreement that technology is increasing the pace of innovation and forcing us to think differently: be more customer centric, open via multiple channels to customers, and collaborate more and differently. But what underpins this is that it is always people that companies need to drive that change – exceptional, creative people.

However placing an even greater responsibility on people means the pendulum can quickly swing from people as our greatest asset to our biggest problem. My Pearson colleague Andy Stockinger, Manager of our Product Strategy Team and I presented this at the eATP conference last week. Technology is impacting how we work and disrupting old ways of doing business, so people have to change too, but you can’t simply retrain staff – an organisation needs to think and operate differently, with an entirely new attitude.

With that comes changes to how people learn and how we assess their suitability for the job. We will need to understand how technology has changed their role day to day, and figure out how to reach them accordingly, most likely introducing learning as part of their daily work, integrating training-module updates at more regular intervals and in smaller bite-sized pieces; and then testing and assessment will follow suit, quite possibly taking place live in the workplace.

Finally, let me add: Gen Z, iGen, Next Gen or however we label them, ultimately want the same thing as other generations such as Millenials and Boomers before them, namely job satisfaction, decent pay and career development.

Does your company have a fusbol table?

fusbol

I read a stat recently that said 24.1 per cent of start-ups have a fusbol (football) table in their office. Is this the new silver bullet, the difference between company success and failure? Are we missing out?

We have all seen the images of the coolest offices in Silicon Valley or Old Street with young hipsters in torn jeans and suede boots, mismatched colours painted on the walls and a corner set aside for unpronounceable coffees, portrayed as the best places to work, fuelled by leading-edge technology. But how real is this?

Does a fusbol table really attract the right people? I don’t think so. Aren’t the old values of making a genuine contribution and a clear career plan still the most important factors, regardless of generation? I believe they are.

Non-technology

Be present slideTo end a busy week and help lead us into the weekend with some downtime (a term I had never heard until technology made its play on our time), I’d like to call out two things to help focus us away from gadgets and devices.

The first relates to this great little photo (on the right). A crowd has gathered to watch a parade, a celebrity or some runners and everybody has jumped to their phones to catch the moment. But isn’t it interesting that nobody is actually watching the event unfold, nobody except one little old lady who is very content to take in that special moment. The look on her face speaks a thousand words. Occasionally, leave your phone in your pocket and just be present.

The other item relates to something I posted on social spaces earlier in the week that received a most positive reaction – handwritten notes. Despite all the wonders of technology most electronic communication lacks the personal touch and if valued, lasts only a short time. Instead people truly value and often keep a handwritten note. I first read this during the 1990s when a famous rugby coach left handwritten notes under the door of each team member before a crucial game. It rallied the troops to great success.

So go on, send somebody a ‘Thank You’ note today. It will please you as much as it does them.

 

Humans: a case for the opposition

humansThe Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum highlighted that over 7m jobs will be lost to redundancy, automation or disintermediation, although they did also state that some of this loss will be offset by 2m jobs in new areas.

We know that as industries evolve and technology puts its arms around a business model and disrupts it, that jobs are created elsewhere, just as retail and services have replaced the factory and manufacturing, so the message to us as employers is invest in the skills of our people, rather than hire more workers, as the key to managing disruptions to the labour market long-term.

Jobs aren’t going away, they’re just changing. We know that softer skills like empathy, communications and prioritisation are essentially human. The future of work is not about jobs going away, it’s about redesigning what we do to make better use of the tools and technology at our disposal.

My point? Robots and technology are already in place. They trade on the stock markets, they drive cars in some cities and they are persistently recommending what we buy next. What they can’t do is serve the delicious loaves of bread in St Albans market with a chat on a Saturday morning or provide that extra bit of care and attention when you’re not feeling at your best – so work with the humans in our teams to find the things they are good at, the tasks and roles that require thinking, judgement and emotion.

Finally, is Nike really launching self-tying shoelaces on sneakers/trainers? Isn’t learning to tie a shoelace an important step in our childhood?

Be a hedgehog

160309-hedgehogThe CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff said “Speed is the new currency of business.” It certainly is, and the rate of change continues to disregard political upheaval to drive ahead.

The adoption rates for recent technologies are almost vertical – social media, smartphones, tablets to name but three – and the pace of disruption staggering. For every 100 people in the world there are now 95 mobile phone subscriptions and 40 internet users, plus new apps are reaching 100 million users increasingly quickly WhatsApp in 3 years and Instagram in 2).

So how do we take control of this change? We do it via filtering and through our people. Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry and now head of Apple Retail, states:

“The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we need to go back to the basic fundamentals of human communication”

It is very easy to get distracted and pulled from pillar to post, especially as we suffer from information overload, overflowing Inboxes and streams of messaging via apps. So my route to handling this, which applies both to myself as well as my team, is to be a hedgehog.

The hedgehog only does a few simple things, but it does it with a laser focus. The fox on the other hand, changes plans and strategy to try and catch the hedgehog, but almost never does.

So be a hedgehog: define what you are good at, and deliver it with increasing quality and a bucket-load of passion.

School as base camp

subbuteo

My team co-hosted a great seminar with the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN) this month, and it underlines what technology will never replace – the benefit that people gain from being in a room networking, asking questions and sharing best practice with each other – in other words learning in the real world.

In his book, Open, David Price talks about learning becoming authentic when it has a specific purpose, impact beyond schooling and supports a student’s communities.

What is school about, if it isn’t helping prepare young people for the real world, however small the steps of progress? My daughter returned from her Duke of Edinburgh trek this weekend tired, frazzled and aching from the backpack which stood almost as tall as her. But the experience was priceless and taught her how set up camp, prepare food and work in a team to navigate walks and hazards to reach their destination – the greatest challenge for them was the intermittent phone signal.

Education has to reflect what industry is looking for in skills. It has a tough time keeping up as it is, with first year degree material becoming out of date before graduation, so there has to be a genuine link between what is taught and its relevance to the real world – after all, kids are already more engaged via devices and the online world than we ever will be.

I do wonder, however, how these kids would have coped in the 70s; with just Subbuteo, a bicycle and local park to contend with.

Final score: People 1-0 Spreadsheets

tea

I recently returned from a trip where I met with the most senior heart surgeon in the country and I was hugely impressed by his humility and leadership. Very few possess the combination of exceptional business acumen plus the people skills to lead from the very top. He certainly had those and he was also keen to innovate and lead from the front. Meeting him and his team, being encouraged by them, talking about the past and visions for the future, are what makes business tick, but also why people never fail to inspire.

Working in a technology-led business it reminded me of the importance of fundamentals in doing business and why people can never lose out to tech in the development of relationships. We have a philosophy which is when you are seeking long-term business relationships (contracts, agreements, partnerships), you have to earn the trust of the economic buyer (read: Miller Heiman selling skills) in some cases a year or two before they have even decided they want to make a purchase.

Technology can certainly go some way to impressing a prospect buyer that you have the tools and the solution to their needs, but in a world where we will see more contractors around the table, more crowdsourced services and just about most things moving to mobile, it will be the people telling the stories, shaking hands, drinking tea and building rapport that ultimately win the day.

This has been going on since time immemorial. Tech can’t match that.

The Number 1 Skill for the 21st Century: Empathy

left brain right brainI read an interesting story recently of a company that dismissed a very competent technician because he lacked the soft skills that was in keeping with their twenty-first century thinking. I delved deeper.

A vice president at a global IT company proclaimed, “Empathy is the critical 21st century skill.”  I agree with that, but has it really changed over time? The CEO for Retail Banking at Barclays said in a television interview that the internet and digitisation agenda is bigger than the industrial revolution. People are not designed to do the same thing again and again, and that we must utilise people where it requires the mind and the application of judgement.

Research  by Oxford Economics asked employers what skills they will need most in the next 5 to 10 years and they said they will not be looking for business acumen or analysis, but instead their priorities will be relationship building, teaming and creativity.

I think this is great news – the left-brain roles and functions will be taken over by technology anyway, so we can go back to using more of our right-brain in social interaction and doing what differentiated us in the first place: being human.

Dispel the Myth

75 per cent of next gen

Within 10 years, 75% of the global workforce will be from the ‘next generation’, so are we prepared for a different style of management, perhaps a different type of human?

A number of studies have looked into the workplace needs of the next gen and it is reassuring to learn that they are not that much different to previous generations preparing for work. Yes, they have grown up in the digital era, and yes, they live and breathe social media, plus there is a new emphasis on corporate social responsibility magnified by social spaces and platforms (not such a bad thing) but are they allergic to being managed the traditional way?

In reality, the race for talent is no different than it always was, except that there will be fewer skilled people to take the ever increasing number of jobs, and the millennials’ attitudes to work are as conventional as they ever were.

They want to be given a chance and they want to be rewarded for their contributions. So what is the formula for the future? Combine the classic reward system with openness and transparency, help them attain skills that are relevant and give them the opportunity to flourish. And because they are so good with technology, allow them to be creative with it for the betterment of the business. And as my friend Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor and President of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, always told me – companies that ask, “What if I train and certify my people and they leave,” you have to reply, “What if you don’t train and certify your staff, and they stay!”