Changing at the speed of light – more workplace trends


The last few weeks we have been blogging about workplace changes: the contingent (contracted) worker economy; new platforms acting as “match-makers” for project-based workers and companies; future worker skills and abilities. As if this was not enough change, the two most recent issues of the Harvard Business Review surfaced even more: blowing up HR and working with an augmentation mindset. My world, and my head, are spinning!

photo from:

In December I blogged about the Association of Training and Development changing its name to the Association of Talent Development. Many members of ATD are in HR departments, and provide in-house or contracted workplace training. This shift reflects some of the suggestions in the “Blow Up HR” article in HBR July-August 2015 edition.

As work is automated, and machines get smarter and develop artificial intelligence, workers are already and are going to continue to be displaced. Augmentation, according to HBR in the June 2015  edition, is

seeing smart machines as partners and collaborators in creative problem solving

The article states that augmentation will usher in a new era of work as humans and machines meld.

How is blowing up HR and learning to partner with machines connected?

Both trends emphasize that individual talent development is the key to successful organizations and business. HR departments of the future will concentrate less on policies and procedures and more on talent development and talent procurement to fulfill organizational needs. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the majority of promotions were in-house. Today, companies prefer to hire from outside of the organization. The smart HR department will identify organizational needs and trends before they are critical needs, bring it to the attention of the leadership team, and hire those who are a good fit before they are critically needed. Organizations that are in the Dilbert age will be left behind.

Dilbert cartoon:

Augmentation requires new ways of identifying those that are a good fit for the human-machine partnership. As machines do more of the work, humans will be responsible for the creative and sense-making aspects of mining big data that machines produce. The HBR article, Man and Machine: Knowledge Work in the Age of the Algorithm by Thomas H. Davenport and Julia Kirby, states:

To be sure, many of the things knowledge workers do today will soon be automated. For example, the future of humans in financial advising isn’t fully clear, but it’s unlikely that those who remain in the field will have as their primary role recommending an optimal portfolio of stocks and bonds. 

A financial analyst states in the article:

“Reading scripts is obviously something a computer can do; convincing a client to invest more money requires some more skills. I’m already often more of a psychiatrist than a stockbroker.”

In the financial industry, the new HR would recognize this trend and look for those who had the requisite education, experience, knowledge in financial markets, but more importantly, had empathic people skills to make the sale.

Machines, including smart devices such as smart phones, are also changing the landscape. Doris bookmarked in our WLS Diigo group Why Web Design is Dead from UX magazine. Included in the list of why web page designers are irrelevant is:

Automation and artificial intelligence are already doing the job. There’s a new trend of automated web design services to build basic websites which makes design decisions—semantic ones—based on artificial intelligence. It analyzes your content to detect the best layouts, colors, fonts, and extra imagery for your site. Using cleverly chosen design basics (made by humans) as the foundation, it’s hard to go wrong with it, and the result will probably be better than what an average web designer can do.

When something can be successfully automated, it means that its practices and standards are established enough as not to need much human input. And this is obviously the beginning. There will be a fierce competition about which service can deliver better designs, faster, and with less human intervention.

And all these touchpoints need to be designed, planned, and managed. This is a job that will continue to exist, regardless of the channel. We will still need cohesive experiences and valuable content across smart climatizers, virtual reality devices, electronic contact lenses, and whatever we invent in the decades to come.

In fact, as technology fades into the background, all we can see is the value transmitted by it. The designers who want to stay in business need to be experts in managing content and value across channels.

Like the financial planner, web designers must gain the expertise to do their new job not of designing, but of managing digital content for client ROI.

As a worker today, how do you navigate the speed of light changes roaring across the work universe?

photo from Nasa of comet ISON:

Davenport and Kirby have outlined five steps to consider to change the mindset on the part of both workers and providers of work:

  1. Step up: there will always be jobs for those who can be big-picture thinkers on a higher level of abstraction than computers. Pursue a higher degree or certification, network with other big thinkers in your job field.
  2. Step aside: use mental strengths to draw on. The article cites the work of Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences to focus on what you do best, whether it is interpersonal or intrapersonal:….. knowing how to work well with other people and understanding your own interests, goals, and strengths….using mental strengths that aren’t about purely rational cognition. Machines can’t do that. Explore your strengths and what you bring to the table, and develop them further through online courses, groups, and networks.
  3. Step in: artificial intelligence is designed to analyze facts. Sometimes, the facts analyzed don’t match the real story. Humans who are able to see beyond the algorithms set things right. Learn all you can about your field and how your ability to use big data for results fits in. Use online resources to home your abilities.
  4. Step narrowly: find a specialty within your profession that wouldn’t be economical to automate. Think of the financial analyst and the web designer changing what they concentrate on. Explore other companies who have incorporated innovative HR practices, augmentation processes, and business practices to see where your innovations fit in. Visit web sites, professional associations, and other online groups (such as those on LinkedIn or Facebook) to explore your ideas and meet others who are stepping narrowly too.
  5. Step forward: construct the next generation of your field, whether it be a machine or a not-able-to-be automated process. Research the trends and future forecasts for your field, and connect online with others interested in the next generation as well.

HR professionals can use these steps for themselves, but certainly can look for the appropriate talent to fill organizational needs by identifying who is needed (ex: we need a step narrowly person or a step forward person). Those in the workplace, whether contingent worker or fully employed by a business or organization, can decide how to tackle their next career step, while staying ahead of the automation of everything trend. Online, Do-It-Yourself learning is a key to taking what ever step you decide. As Harold Jarche says in his blog post, Literacy of the 21st Century, June 11, 2015:

As I have noted before, as standardized work keeps getting automated, the only work left for people will be complex and creative. This type of work requires a culture of continuous learning. We are moving into an era where it will be impossible to run a company where everyone is not constantly learning. This does not mean everyone will be on a training course. The network era workplace will require constant independent and interdependent learning by doing. In the very near future, those who cannot learn will miss out on employment opportunities and will be ineffective in self-employment.

Are you seeing a shift in HR? Is your field being impacted by automation? What trends are you seeing?


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  1. […] learned so much writing my blog, Changing at the Speed of Light – more workplace trends about the new partnership of machines and people. As more and more tasks are automated, people will […]

  2. […] blogged about automation and work in Changing at the Speed of Light – More Workforce Trends a few weeks ago, and quoted an article in the Harvard Business Review that agrees with The Second […]

  3. […] blogged about automation and work in Changing at the Speed of Light – More Workforce Trends a few weeks ago, and quoted an article in the Harvard Business Review that agrees with The Second […]

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