What a year we’ve had! Probably the last thing you want to hear is that you should prepare for more change. But experts are united in their view that disruptive change will continue to happen at an increasing rate.
As an HR professional, this has implications for your practice. How will you align your people strategy with the business strategy? How do you acquire and build disruption-resilient talent?
In this article, we take a closer look at how pervasive disruption has become. And how businesses should approach it.
As recently as three generations ago, you could have expected your life to be very similar to your parents’. Disruptive innovations came along irregularly; centuries apart at first.
Five thousand five hundred years ago, we domesticated horses. It changed the distances we could travel, how we cultivated food and the nature of wars. China invented the compass in the 14th century. It forever ended the isolation of different world cultures. And the magnifying glass developed into microscopes and telescopes in the 16th and 17th centuries. It opened up worlds that were invisible to the naked eye.
The Industrial Revolution
From the 18th century, we see the pace of disruption increasing. The centuries that followed have become known as a series of “Industrial Revolutions”. It all started with the advent of the steam engine in the 18th century. And later, incorporated the large-scale rollout of electrical power. Then came the computerisation of the late 20th century. Every few decades, significant innovations occurred and changed the way humans lived and worked – for better or worse.
The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)
At the dawn of the 21st century, we are witnessing the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR). It’s characterised by artificial intelligence and robotics, augmented reality and cloud computing. And disruption can be observed within months and even days.
Consider the impact of these modern-day “legends”;
- Uber and Airbnb disrupted the taxi and hotel industry, respectively. Their apps ushered in the “shared economy”. They allowed millions of people to earn income from their under-utilised assets. The pandemic has knocked both companies. However, the impact on them compared to their traditional counterparts has been minimal. They have been spared financing and maintenance costs by not owning assets.
- In 2009 Alibaba broke e-commerce records with their “Singles Day” (11/11) sale. They changed the way Chinese consumers shopped and leapfrogged their western idols like Amazon and eBay. Now they’re changing the way western brands sell too. And “Singles Day” is less about discounting than access to international brands. Not only high-street brands, but during the pandemic, new boutique brands leveraged the platform.
- Zoom went from 10M to 200M daily active users in three months. The app has so revolutionised our lives that it’s been paid the ultimate accolade. Not only has “Zoom” become a verb, but also an adjective as in “Zoom towns”.
It’s Not All About The Technology
The examples above talk exclusively to technological solutions. But technologies on their own are seldom disruptive. When they are deployed, coupled with a new business model, we see things turned upside down.
Uber and Airbnb addressed the needs of customers who weren’t traditional taxi and hotel users. They responded to a workforce excluded from or dissatisfied with, mainstream employment. Gig economy workers that were happy to be employed for once-off “gigs”. And Alibaba’s success has raised the possibility of new antitrust legislation in China. As the World Economic Forum points out, the 4IR brings with it issues of ethics and identity, agency and trust in addition to technological advances.
Building a Disruption-Ready Organisation
Why does the detection and response to evolving customer needs and behaviours so often fall on startups? One theory is that it’s because the structures and processes of mature organisations actively work against innovation. Employees who question and fight against established protocols are regarded in a poor light.
Management consulting firm, Accenture, says companies can no longer play it safe. They advise clients to “disrupt from the inside”. Suggestions include creating specialised entities to focus on innovations – “innovation labs” or “digital factories”.
For HR professionals, this can mean employing two very different profiles of employees. You want your innovators to be inspiring risk-takers focused on a long-term vision. At the same time, those employees focused on maintaining core current processes must be passionate about efficiency and scalability.
Implications for HR Systems and Processes
HR needs to be seen to be leading innovation by example. The pandemic exposed the flaws of old-fashioned paper-based, non-real-time systems. Businesses that adapted quickly under stay-at-home orders were the ones already operating in the cloud.
Integrated, cloud-based HR management systems like JustLogin, allow employees to clock in and track attendance remotely. Routine processes like leave application are handled seamlessly every step from request to approval online.
Post-pandemic workforces are likely to be increasingly dispersed. And the gig economy is being factored in by progressive companies who wish to retain talent with demands for flexibility. Even when the workforce returns to the office, it is likely to be a hybrid version of the old workplace. Hotdesks with contactless check-in procedures to take temperatures and check masks could be the new order.
Innovation is a state of mind. A robust organisation should hold itself open to and adaptive to change. Actively embracing and engaging with change will be what allows us to pick up the signals of our changing environment.
For happy HR, bosses and employees, you want a platform that can help your team remain productive and focused, while providing excellent employee experiences that impresses and retains talent. JustLogin is the HR employee experience platform that delivers both through a comprehensive suite of HR applications.