Workforce Consultants Tackle Future Phobia
BY LIZ DEVI TO
There is a great deal of fear-mongering in the main- stream media about how technology, and artificial intelligence, in particular, is poised to disintermedi-ate humans in the world of work. The sentiment is shaping
an international discourse of anxiety fueled by forecasts
that automation will lead to an economic dismantling resulting in joblessness and wage erosion. It is also infecting
politics, as can be seen in one person’s bid for the White
House in 2020. Andrew Yang, the New York-based businessman and tech entrepreneur is hoping his campaign
slogan—The robots are coming!—will mobilize voters to
support his platform calling for universal basic income.
While we like to think that business is ruled by calmer
heads, there is enough research to prove that the future of
work is a leading cause of sleepless nights. The impact of
automation on how and where works gets done, as well
as who will do it and what skills are needed are all top of
mind. Talent attraction and retention, leadership development, and cultural transformation are now perceived
by CEOs as key to successfully adapting their organization to a digital business paradigm.
While the sense of urgency is new, talent has been the
elephant in the C-suite for a long time, historically side-stepped in the face of more pressing concerns. McKinsey’s
1997 paper on the war for talent was a momentary wake-up call for CEOs to take a longer-term view. At the time,
however, it did little more than position talent as a tactical
matter of labor supply and demand brought on by a workforce of aging baby boomers inching towards retirement.
The paper’s greater impact was to raise providers’
consciousness that consulting on people issues was about
more than payroll and benefits. This realization launched
an era of corporate development and investment in strategic human capital consulting services, shaping what has
grown to become a multi-million dollar market. Nearly
all providers across the consulting spectrum offer some
element of talent and workforce management consulting,
if not a full service capability, which brings us to today.
The start of 2018 finds workforce consulting at a turning
point, where providers are redirecting consulting philoso-
phies and service offerings towards a holistic approach for
helping organizations navigate a rapidly evolving employ-
ment landscape. Under the future of work banner, many
are shifting service delivery to an integrated model, where
the discrete capabilities of talent and workforce manage-
ment consulting are not only better connected, but also are
part of a broader transformation solution that is technolo-
gy-enabled and embedded with analytics.
Although it is still early days, the leading providers
are placing bets that an organization’s ability to plan for
changing workforce dynamics will only increase in importance and that their investments in new services, solutions, and assets will provide meaningful differentiation
for their own and their clients’ businesses. The trends certainly seem to point in the direction of increasing demand.
While no one would argue this is the first time in history that technology innovation has changed the nature
of work, the pace and content of the change feels different this time. This is largely due to a host of factors
outside an organization’s control that are converging to
transform work, e.g., geopolitics, the gig economy, and
of course, digital disruption.
Even more powerful is a fear factor that pervades the
sensibilities of stakeholders anxious about their vested
interests. Employees view the impact of cognitive technologies on labor models as esoteric corporate strategies, at best, and life threatening, at worst. Managers
resist paint-by-numbers headcount reductions that often
transpire before technology has a chance to establish
new ways of working. Meanwhile, the C-suite struggles
to develop a plan of attack that will put all the pieces of
the puzzle together in an organization design that is both
adaptive and connects talent to value creation.
The challenge is complex, and as neuroscience explains, the human brain can really only concentrate on
one thing at a time. This is metaphorically why most
organizations continue to approach workforce management as a siloed activity, abandoning the bigger picture
to more immediate needs. Workforce consulting providers are changing the stakes, however, with services that
help clients make sense of the media hype foretelling a
workforce apocalypse and map a coordinated strategy for
keeping pace with the future. All said, it’s not a moment
too soon for leaders seeking to outsmart the trends.
Liz DeVito, Associate Director, Consulting Research,