Hey HR, your children will be…… PORTFOLIO NOMADS

Whaddya mean, there's a ban on twitter here ya big HR gobshite....

Whaddya mean, there’s a ban on twitter here ya big HR gobshite….

My dear Irish mother, in her 70s and knowing only of the exploits of her own working generation, thinks I’m Frank Spencer. 

To those not of a certain generation he was the main character in a weekly UK comedy show and was a hapless idiot whose jolly capers in a new job would involve both hilarious mishaps and calamities and of course the inevitable day one sacking. Personally, having spent nearly a decade as a one company man the idea that I could then fly through employers at will was far too much for my dear mother to comprehend. I just don’t tell her anymore and she never asks. It would shame her to tell her circle of friends her son had interim tendencies, a flexible working deviant in her eyes.

As a father myself now, it made me think about how work in 20 years time will look and the conversations I’ll have with my kids. I aim to be slightly less confused than my parents generation but I’d be a fool if I thought it would look like it does today – good old steady ‘perms’ versus ‘interims’. Straight down the line. You know how you meet different people dealing with different categories in HR recruitment agencies. They both ask the exact same questions and make the exact same observations and of course when I come to buy talent from them as a client I’m met with two people asking me the exact same questions !

Anyway, who is our guide to understanding the implications of the future world of work ? Those people who’ll chart our present system to that of our children’s world.  Well of course we could turn to the futurologist who claim to have a canny ability to predict the future. I met one of these charlatans once and he looked hard pressed to be able to make it to the end of the week. A dishevelled being, his Imagineering (for that’s what they call it) sounded utterly depressing to his packed audience and when in doubt he threw in the obvious terminator-style, robotic imagery for good measure. 

Well of course unless you are a shamen or a time traveller then nobody can predict the future but in front of our eyes is yet another opportunity within our own function to take the lead in an agenda that is central to the success of every enterprise and could help both shape the world ahead of us and give something back now we have our proverbial seat at the table. So who is going to help our organisations transform as society undergoes rapid transformational change ? At the moment BigCo HR’s response to the enormous issues in developing in front of us run depressingly a bit like this :

– The workforce configuration debate should be a collaborative effort with estates to define how best to organise ‘work’ going forward. It’s an employment brand issue, an engagement issue and a generational issue. Instead, today it centres on who at the top of the organisational tree with the right combination of SVPs and MD letters gets an office ! That’s right. Stick our leaders in a glass cage of emotion away from their team and call it a perk. Absolutely priceless.

– The flexibility debate should be about the ability to create dynamic organisational structures across boundaries, complete with underpinning engagement and collaboration agendas. Instead currently it centres on whether I can have ‘FTE’. Good old FTE, the illegitimate child of the numbers-centric, ‘humans are resources’ era we find ourselves in at BigCo. If you’re on a permanent contract then stand over there with your annual employee opinion survey, your dental care gleaming white teeth and an invite to a once a year Performance Review. As for the interims, contractors, consultants, non-FTEs, part-timers, flexi-workers, job sharers, maternity leavers, RPO types, outsourced staff and all other misfits who help deflate what is reported to the analysts and don’t really exist, then file over there under the sign ‘no engagement required’ and prepare to be banned from the christmas party for fear of co-employment issues. Mind boggling !

– The gender debate stands still despite the overwhelming societal issues around a highly educated female talent pool leaving school / university in greater numbers than their male counterparts. There’s a tsunami of highly talented women entering the workplace to increasingly challenge male domination. They will surely seek out the organisations who can fulfil their career aspirations and those who take on this agenda will prosper as a result. Meeting the challenges of boardroom representation would be a start as well as lobbying about the archaic laws of the land that hamper talented women after maternity. As a father to 2 girls I’m on this like a rash !

– Finally, the world of social has re-emerged, fuelled by the technology advances brought on by this current social revolution, giving us boundless opportunities to collaborate, making our decision-making richer, shorter and more meaningful. The current organisational response has been reactive and fearful as this rich social democracy threatens the demigods of the control and command culture and an outcome has been a steady stream of depressingly paternal social media policies and blocks on IT systems as trust breaks down.  My kids can navigate an Ipad at 2 years old yet the organisational technocrats seem comfortable with making the vision of work ahead as 1984-like as possible.

There is an opportunity (there always is), based on some grounded empirical data out there, that should help inform how we lean into these enormous developments in the world of work. Sadly the debate too often isn’t surfacing and the shortcomings of the modern HR world in Big Co is failing to grasp the opportunity and I fear the consequences for our profession.  In fact, it’s so bad that now every time Bono claps on stage a CEO gives up on HR. 

There is a deep unease at HR that’s becoming louder. Others will fill this leadership vacuum (some great external organisations are doing that just now) to bring the CIO together to design a BYOD (bring your own device) strategy that meets the enhanced expectations of an emerging connected generation, to assemble the estates people to adopt a working environment beyond the soon-to-be-dead concept of the office that meets the increasingly complex set of intra generational requirements at play.

When my kids are ‘at work’ I hope we still have a collective profession called HR, much changed and free from the shackles it currently holds. The ‘interim’ contract classification at work will most likely be a well-loved bygone derivative of what will be a knowledge and interest-based ‘fulfilment’ career, involving a portfolio of loose but interesting activities with little connection to just 1 employer, and is inconsequential to the contractual label we obsess with today and which causes my dear old mum so much confusion. Portfolio nomads will be to the fore I predict and it looks a great concept. Bring it on !

Or less interestingly, and according to the crazed futurologist with the whiskey breath, crumpled linen suit and BO-stained shirt I met once, I could blog about us all working for robots in a soulless, metallic world where HR is just a big hologram that is summoned whenever a work-related question is being put to it. And that hologram will be female and will be called Marjorie.

I could have blogged about that, but that sounded just too 2013 🙂 

Until next time….

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