“We all agree about the need to change the work place. We share your conclusions on the future of work. But tomorrow we, HR, go back to our companies and try to create a burning platform within our management teams. But we won’t succeed. What to do?” asked a participant after the keynote of Lynda Gratton and the debate. Professor Gratton is the leading lady of HR, professor of management practice at London Business School & author of bestsellers as ‘The Living Strategy’, ‘Glow’ and ‘Hotspots’. She came to Antwerp and presented for a full house of HR managers & experts her book ‘The Shift’ about the changing work place.
Gratton knows how to deliver the message. She’s warm, direct and adds a personal touch to her story. She immediately set the tone by starting to laugh when the host of the afternoon introduced her in a formal and extensive way. Her messages shone as diamonds cut out of years of research rocks and polished by creative communication specialists. 5 forces, 2 possible futures, 3 trends: the technology, globalization, end of fossil fuel, societal changes and demography create a perfect storm that changes our world as dramatically as during the industrial revolution. The future looks bleak with isolation, fragmentation, exclusion and addiction or bright with transparency and more self-actualisation. The bright future is for the people who move from shallow generalists to serial masters, from isolated competitors to innovative connectors, from voracious consumers to impassioned producers.
The audience was not shocked, as the messages are not new. HR is pretty good at picking up the new trends. “The shift. So what?” opened David Ducheyne, HR manager at Securex the debate. HR in the room answered quickly in a prescriptive way: “We must come out of the comfort zones”; “We have to change;” “HR needs to put this on the agenda”; “HR must start managing talent and developing leadership”. Few questions were clear and unbiased. Other HR voices showed self-pity: “we don’t have the attention of our management”, “we don’t have enough resources.” HR as usual.
Gratton listened with empathy and mildness to the comments and questions and cut with a few sharp observations through the HR speak. “HR is not good at embracing technology. If we say that technology is shaping our future, we should become better at it. HR needs another set of competencies. Another example: successful innovators are good at scanning the environment, organizing experiments, stopping fast with practices that don’t work or scale rapidly if it works. Research shows that HR is not so good at this.” The evidence based HR adepts in the room started glowing.
“We have to be realistic,” Gratton said at one point. “The cosy network of CEO’s that raise their pay behind closed doors make it difficult for people on the shop floor to care about the revenues for the company. Same thing about gender balance. 50 % of the graduates in companies are female, 30 % of the managers, 10 % of the directors. All over Europe. This hasn’t changed in 10 years. Change is hard.” Jesse Segers from Antwerp Management School added to that realism: “Big companies become bigger and they organize work through standardization and control. Who will want to work there? And are generations X, Y, Z that different? Do they really want balance and self-actualisation?”
How to merge this sense of reality with the need for action? How to get out of the ‘paralysis by analysis’? These are questions that only find answers situation by situation, person by person. It’s not about HR. It’s not about the leader. It’s about each and anyone of us. It was a missed opportunity that so few questions were sincerely open, aiming at a better understanding of the research done by Gratton and her team. Adaptation as also leadership starts with true curiosity for the unknown territory.