Talent Strategies 2012 Day One: Meet the Workforce of the Future

This morning signaled the official start of Talent Strategies 2012 at the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, where industry leaders gathered to share their perspectives on where the industry is headed and what’s moving it forward. The underlying theme unifying today’s keynotes and sessions is predicting — and understanding — what the workforce of the future will look like.

Don Tapscott, co-author of Macrowikinomics, kicked off the event by dutifully noting that organizations today need to move to a different talent management model – one that isn’t based on the hierarchical, command-and-control one that emerged out of the Industrial Age. In fact, schools and universities continue to follow the Industrial Age model where teachers are the only ones with the knowledge and are expected to fill the empty vessels (students). These techniques are outdated in today’s age of collaborative learning.

Think about it: If by 2020, 50 percent of the workforce will be millennials (a statistic Talent Management blogger Jeanne Meister threw out during a panel discussion) and millennials have been known to prefer collaboration when working or learning, then organizations that don’t have inherently built collaboration structures are bound to be left behind. In fact, one of the principles for this age of networked intelligence that Tapscott cites is collaboration – the other four are transparency, sharing, interdependence and integrity.

Now, change is being driven by factors such as the Internet revolution, the technological revolution and the social revolution, he explained. But it’s also incumbent upon human capital leaders to be proactive in facilitating change.

For instance, traditional talent management processes need to be entirely revamped. For example, recruitment shouldn’t exist in its most fundamental sense as it does today. Recruitment of the future involves starting early – reaching out to potential candidates and offering them internships and summer jobs so they become familiar with and connected to the organization far before the traditional recruiting stage.

Similarly, learning and development should no longer adopt the one-sided, empty-vessel model; instead organizations can adopt techniques such as reverse mentoring, which undermines the traditional assumption that those at the top of the food chain know best. Also, talent managers must put an end to supervision in its most traditional sense and instead focus on building collaborative work spaces where information and knowledge sharing occur freely.

In keeping with the topic of change, futurist and trends and innovation expert Jim Carroll began the day’s second keynote session with this conundrum for human capital leaders to ruminate on: Seven out of 10 preschoolers will work in jobs or careers that don’t even exist today, so how can talent leaders plan for this?

The way Carroll described the velocity of change that’s occurring in our society and our organizations today can be likened to this analogy: Digital camera makers have barely three to six months to sell their gadget before it becomes obsolete. “This is a defining trend that’ll challenge our assumptions and show that we need to keep up in [the] human capital [space],” he said.

His speech was rife with forward-thinking — almost eerily futuristic — technological innovations that are or will become reality in the not-so-distant future. A connected thermostat that can be controlled from any location; a smartphone that’s also a credit card; and a therapeutic robotic animal were just a handful of examples he cited.

“We have to completely rethink what we’re doing with human capital because the same rules will not apply in the future,” he said. Yet, many or most HR leaders default to the mode of deferring decisions about future because of the uncertainty that exists in today’s economic environment. It’s what Carroll calls “aggressive indecision” when it comes to implementing talent strategies – “I’m not going to make decisions [regarding HR] because I don’t know when the economic recovery will occur. In the meantime, our competitors are making decisions that are going to position them for the future,” he said. Keeping up with the rapid pace of change, then, is good business sense because it helps organizations maintain a competitive advantage.

And with that mostly optimistic outlook, it’s in the hands of human capital leaders to become more proactive in creating the conditions for which the workforce of the future can thrive. All in all, attendees were given a lot of food for thought – not to mention actual food (including scrumptious New Orleans-style beignets!).