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Babies born in the UK today are expected to live past 100. It is unlikely they will go to university when they are 18 for three years, work for two or three employers then retire with a pension at 66. The way we work is rapidly changing, shaped by new technology and evolving business models, there are now more flexible employment options than ever. For example, in a survey conducted by the RSA, it was estimated that there are 1.1 million people in Britain’s gig economy.

The Taylor Review described the goal of ‘good work’ for all improving the quality of work, whilst retaining flexibility. To achieve these aims, we need to improve the way we match work with suitable and willing workers. There are problems with our recruitment of different types of workers. These include prejudice and bias, lack of visibility of available workers, low levels of trust in centralised social networks, spam and high fees to intermediaries. We now have the opportunity to build the next generation work platforms enabled by technology such as artificial intelligence, mobile and blockchain, the underlying technology behind Bitcoin.

Blockchains are essentially distributed ledgers, which enable secure peer-to-peer encrypted transactions. There is no central database, or intermediaries needed and it keeps an immutable digital record of transactions. Beyond the latest headline grabbing crypto price bubble, blockchain solutions are being built. For example, blockchain solutions are being developed to record property transactions on land registries, logging birth certificates in Illinois and tracking blood diamonds.

There are some key features of a new generation of digital work platforms that have the potential to revolutionise our economy.

First, identity verification mechanisms, managed by individuals and authenticated by independent agencies, could include qualifications, work history and references. I have looked at how such an approach could impact HR and, through the Blockchain Research Institute, have examined the potential benefits of workers managing their own verified career profile on decentralised platforms. This approach is being trailed by the Open University, working with APPII, to place qualifications and accreditations onto the blockchain.  Decentralised career networks will allow people to monetise their own data and efforts and get paid straight away and enables people to have more control over their own career history.

Currently our data is owned and monetised by centralised platforms such as LinkedIn and Upwork. A second design feature – worker-owned networks and incentivisation –could be developed through the use of digital tokens to reward and motivate users. Tokens can be used as a utility to operate within the community where each member has equity in the network. Incentivisation could range from setting-up interviews, to agree to be approached by a hirer or simply for giving a relevant reference. Tokens could be used for democratic votes on how the platform operates and to promote community-based resolutions. These tokens will also have intrinsic value over the longer-term especially if the platform is used by large numbers of people.

Third, more secure and quicker payments to workers can be delivered using digital smart-contracts between client and worker. This can reduce cashflow problems caused by delayed payments to workers and reliance on payday loans. Etch are developing pilots in the UK construction industry, paying contractors almost immediately after they have finished work. Using a combination of technologies including blockchain, the platform allows workers to share wages earned with family, including overseas, with low remittance fees.

Fourth, blockchain can help to reduce transaction costs; it is estimated that decentralised, peer-to-peer work platforms could reduce fees from between 15-35% to below 5% for many categories of workers, as the involvement of intermediaries is diminished.

Finally, a digital work audit trail, which records evidence of work done, in a tamper-proof record,will over time give more confidence to the labour market and help to prevent exploitative work practices such as unlawful deductions from wages. It will also help to ensure legislative compliance, for example with the Modern Slavery Act.

The UK is well positioned to build the next generation of global work platforms on blockchain with interested industries and technology hubs. The UK government has been positive to the benefits of blockchain, and I have given two examples from many UK based start-ups leading the way in developing blockchain solutions for the employment market. Using blockchain technology, for example, in the verification of UK degrees, will send a positive message on UK’s innovation and competitiveness and also develop useful expertise in important new skills.

It is impossible to predict exactly how industries will develop and what type of work will be needed in the future. But we have an opportunity to push a new social contract for good work using digital work platforms and this requires a big-picture approach that includes consideration of lifelong learning, education and taxation.

I am working with technologists, start-ups and early adopters to build the next generation of work platforms; let me know if you are interested in helping and if you want to learn more about blockchain, a good start would be Don Tapscott’s TED talk. If the next generation will live past 100, then we can begin to build the foundations of a better, fairer economy, one block at a time.

This was a guest post for the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) 

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Thirty seven percent of British workers think their jobs are meaningless, according to a YouGov survey, which is a really shocking statistic if you think about it.

In my article, The Campaign for Meaningful Work, I shared some thoughts on the ‘why of work’ and the flaws with our past initiatives around improving employee engagement.  In the absence of a strong causal link between engagement and productivity, my ‘hunch’ was that ‘meaningful work’ is important for our own personal sanity and well-being.

So the question for leaders in organisations and the HR community, is,

How can organisations provide work that is meaningful?

There are different ways of responding to this question and one source of evidence is to look at the scientific research.

I recently met up with Katie Bailey, Professor of Management at the University of Sussex to discuss her research on Meaningful Work.   A quick review of the scientific literature shows that there is surprisingly little research which explores where and how people find their work meaningful. 

As part of the research the team interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations (retail assistants, solicitors, nurses, soldiers, stonemasons, street sweepers, entrepreneurs, priests, artists, writers and academics).  The group was asked to tell stories about incidents or times when they found their work to be meaningful.  

According to Katie, “the overwhelming majority of people seem to find meaning in at least some aspect of their job. In fact, 86% of people said that their jobs were meaningful”.

The team found that there were patterns of work from their research which they categorised as five qualities of meaningful work.

Five Qualities of Meaningful Work

Self-Transcendent, or working for a higher goal

People are more likely to view work as meaningful when it mattered to others more than just to themselves.   From the interviews, an example is the garbage collector who found work meaningful at ‘tipping point’ at the end of the day when refuse was sent to recycling.  This individual could see his work contributed to a clean environment for his grandchildren.

Poignant

Meaningfulness is not always a positive experience.  We don’t walk around in a euphoric state all day at work. For example nurses use their skills to ease the passing of patients at the end of their lives.

Episodic

Meaning can come and go during the working life, rather than an everyday occurrence.  For example, the lecturer “feels like a rock star” after delivering a good lecture, or the stonemasons leaving their mark into a stone that might be discovered in hundreds or years.

Reflective

Meaningfulness was rarely experienced in the moment, but rather in retrospect and on reflection when people were able to see their completed work and make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning. One academic talked about research he had done for many years that seemed fairly meaningless at the time, but 20 years later provided the technological solution for touch-screen technology.

Personal

Work that is meaningful, on the other hand, is often understood by people not just in the context of their work but also in the wider context of their personal life experiences.  An example was an entrepreneur’s motivation to start her own business included the desire to make her grandfather proud.

So, what insights can we elicit from this research?

First, it emerged that the individual feels that they have done a good job and therefore experience a sense of achievement or pride. No one said to us, “Hey, I did a really poor job today, but it meant a lot to me.”  For example, the street cleaners talked of looking back along the street they had just cleaned and feeling they had made an important contribution to the neighbourhood. The stone masons explained that they found their work meaningful when they had successfully completed an intricate carving.

Secondly, in most cases it was important that the individual could see they had contributed to their team, other individuals, or a wider cause. Some talked of the importance of a sense of camaraderie or belonging, others talked of times they felt recognised or valued by clients or the public. For instance, the retail workers talked of helping vulnerable elderly customers.

Finally, the times when people found their work meaningful were often intensely personal.  One entrepreneur had started her bakery business to make her grandfather proud of her. A hesitant author was emboldened to embrace her craft following a chance encounter with another customer in a stationery shop who assumed she was a writer. A soldier talked of the importance of her family being present at a dinner held to celebrate her military service.

Over the years I have shared my ideas about making work more meaningful, including linking the work to something bigger, empower people to organise their own work and ditching that annual engagement survey. 

If you really want to understand what employees think about their job, then ask them.  “Feedback is the killer app” for management, as Josh Bersin says.  New technology makes this possible whether using pulse tools or analysing responses to open questions such as Workometry.

For those who are involved in designing new organisations, managing teams or implementing digital transformation initiatives, then understanding which features  makes work meaningful for people is important.  You might also find this article of interest, "The Seven Deadly Sins Preventing Meaningful Work".  Hopefully we will see more workers finding meaning in their work in the future.  I am looking forward to seeing how this fascinating research area develops.

Reference

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless   Bailey, C. & Madden, A. 2016 ‘What makes Work Meaningful – or Meaningless’.  MIT Sloan Management Review, 57(4): 53-61

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Of all the emerging technologies, blockchain is the least exciting as a technology, but potentially the most impactful on society.  Blockchain doesn’t converse with you, it won’t 3D print your house or cut out your kidney stones with precision while the surgeon has a cup of tea. In terms of technology, it is about as exciting as relational databases.

When you think of blockchain, you might think of Bitcoin.  Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that requires a maths degree to buy and ownership of a laptop that never crashes. Yet Bitcoin is just one of many different cryptocurrencies that uses blockchain as its core technology.  And blockchain technology is also being used outside of financial services.

What Is Blockchain and what is it’s value?

Simply put, a blockchain is a decentralised database shared among a network of computers, all of which must approve an exchange before it can be recorded. Typically if we want to send someone some money, we would need a third party, like a bank to verify the exchange.  The advantage of blockchain is that it stores an indelible ledger of all previous transactions in a string of ‘blocks’, meaning we know who owns what and who can send what to whom.

Individuals and organisations can use blockchain to:

  • Exchange digital assets without friction – a central ledger is no longer required which is why there is so much excitement in financial services. Transactions between people can happen nearly instantly without any third party.
  • Execute smart contracts – documents can be stored electronically, and be verified as authentic. So we have unbreakable contracts.
  • Store digital records – you can have an electronic ID and all sorts of information associated with it, your verified electronic profile.

 

How a blockchain works – FT

To understand more about how blockchain works I recommend this great TED talk from Don Tapscott, “How the blockchain is changing money and business.”

What are the real life uses of a blockchain?

In an era where trust has been eroded in our institutions, politicians and even fellow citizens, anything that can strengthen trust should be viewed positively.  In my article, The Quantified Workplace: Technology vs Trust, I commented that potentially intrusive technology will be introduced in the workplace, but only at the speed of employee trust.

Given its practical attributes of storing digital records, executing smart contracts and as an efficient exchange, there are many real-life uses and experiments. This ranges from fixing broken business models e.g. Intellectual property in music to the more personal, recapturing our identities, so the ‘virtual you’ is actually owned by you.

There are also examples of blockchain systems being developed to solve problems such as human trafficking, tracking blood diamonds and as a land register.

“Blockchains automate away at the centre. Instead of putting the taxi driver out of a job, blockchain puts Uber out of a job and lets the taxi drivers work with the customer.” Vitalik Buterin, founder of blockchain platform Ethereum

As Don and Alex Tapscott argue in their book, Blockchain Revolution, blockchain could be the great economic leveller – a tool to strip out the middlemen from our economy and reward the makers and doers who truly create value.    So there is definitely a group of political enthusiasts who see blockchain as transforming society.

What’s the potential impact of blockchain on HR and people management?

Given the practical attributes of blockchain promising to cut out middle-men and provide unbreakable contract, what might be the impact on people management, organisations and work?

In Japan blockchain technology is being developed to create a prototype resume authentication database for job hunters with the aim of increasing transparency and in turn address fraudulent credentials.

“With a resume authentication database, the verification of official certificates and contracts, which have until now been typically done on paper, could be carried out using the blockchain database” said Osamu Yonetani, CTO of Recruit Technologies.

Imagine having all your employment related details associated with your electronic signature in one block :- security access, insurance, payroll, expenses, work performance, employment history, psychometrics etc.  The employment contracting process would effectively be redundant.  You could work almost immediately, with quick payment.  The role of the recruiter will not be needed, but that’s the least of the disruption.  This raises questions about the nature of the employment contract and the ‘job’ itself. Most of us will then be in the gig economy, enabled by transparent contract and payment mechanisms.

Chronobank.io, an Australian short-term work platform, is developing a Blockchain-based financial system for freelancers or contractors to obtain work and pay them in their own “labour-hour” token. They aim to disrupt the HR, finance and recruitment industries with their upcoming platform.  I spoke with Sergei Sergienko CEO ChronoBank, who told me “Our goal is to make a difference in the way people find work and get rewarded for their labour, doing it decentralised and without the involvement of traditional financial institutions.”  This is potentially transformative, and Sergei’s message to HR leaders was this change will happen, so find out more and work to develop this next wave for your organisation.

As Gary Hamel has said, “our management structures are not suited for a digital age”   In some cases, blockchain software will eliminate the need for many management functions.

Which brings us back to the original question, what’s the potential impact of blockchain on HR and people management?

Blockchain could fundamentally change how we manage people and HR, then the impact on HR is an irrelevant question if some of these predictions come true as we will have moved to very different economic models.

I am looking forward to seeing how this develops, and in our field, and maybe seeing some #disruptHR start-ups pitching blockchain solutions at future HR Tech World conferences.  Be great to hear from anyone out there developing blockchain models and technology in HR.

(This was a guest post on the HRN Blog)

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HR Transformer Blog by Andyspence - 3M ago

The HR Tech Congress, the second held in Paris, was yet again a splendid mix of stimulating speakers, great organisations and brilliant technology.  However, the smell of revolution was in the air…

Professor Gary Hamel made a rallying cry that was so loud it could be heard 17km away in The Palace of Versailles,”Kill bureaucracy and you’ll unclog the arteries of business,” whilst Dr.Daniel Thorniley warned us about the economy, and it was not good news.  Debt, low growth and a rising populist tide in politics means soon we will all be working in the gig economy, whether we like it or not.

How will we survive this extended downturn?

“What will we eat?” they ask.

 “Let them eat cake!” the response of the ancien régime.

(Or as Marie Antoinette did not say “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”. But ‘let them eat brioche’ doesn’t have the same ring to it – anyway I digress)

Gary Hamel told the HR audience to “to stop fiddling at the margins” and take up arms against bureaucracy, the biggest barrier to productivity in business.  Hamel even invented a word for this corporate disease “Bureausclerosis

If you can spell it, surely you can destroy it, right?

The symptoms of bureausclerosis Hamel described were: added management layers, isolation of leaders, longer decision cycles, increase in formalized policies, rule proliferation, increase in power of staff groups, organization becomes primitive, loss of ‘voice’ from staff, increase in legal processes, decrease in risk-taking, and the politicization of it all.

Ready or not, here comes the Gig Economy

If Professor Hamel gave us some examples of what was needed to transform business, Dr. Daniel Thorniley provided us with the big picture on the economy.  We are living in an unprecedented period of low growth where 63% of youths in the Eurozone do not have proper contracted employment.  Many will be forced into the Gig Economy, and this doesn’t just mean a nation of musicians and artisans, but also hosts, drivers, plumbers and (of course) humble HR consultants. Many will struggle to make a living or have the security that the previous generation have taken for granted.  I read Thorniley’s latest 46-page report, Global Business Outlook 2016-2020, with the cheery subtitle, “Why there is no future for your children.”

Now all this makes for gloomy reading and we might expect delegates of HR Tech Congress to dust off their Édith Piaf records and get out the whiskey,

but many could be heard asking, “OK, it all sounds terrible, but does this impact me?”

“Mais oui, bien sur!” (my franglais is improving)

In HR, changing business models and global economic drivers will determine whether we are scrambling for candidates, sweating our employees for discretionary effort, or working on clever algorithms to automate work.  I would guess a larger proportion of the 3,500 delegates will be joining the gig economy over the next few years.

One thing’s for sure, we might not be able to guess where the economy is going, but there are plenty of technology developments to get excited about.

Software is eating HR

So, if our business models and organisations are changing before our eyes, this raises some big questions.

How does this affect the way we think of work, organisations, and society?

Do our old people management practices still work?

How does HR respond to this? “New systems anyone?”

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

This message seems to resonate with the HR Technology industry and is especially true now.

My concern is whether we have the right set of people management practices for the type of organisations that Hamel says will flourish?  Are we in danger of simply crystallising the processes that served us well in the last century?

These and other questions present the challenge for HR and the technology industry today.

I had the pleasure of introducing some excellent presentations in the well-attended HR Tech stream, so could not attend as many presentations as usual.  However, my fellow blog squad comrades have done a great job of sharing what they saw.

-> Reinventing HR: 12 key takeaways from #HRTechWorld from David Green

-> My top 10 disruptHR’ers at HR Tech World Congress from Faye Holland

-> Accelerating Gender Balance in Tech from Dorothy Dalton

-> And this is a great resource – all the presentations from Paris (and previous conferences) in one place: HR Tech World Congress Presentations

I was also fortunate enough to look under the bonnet of some of the latest tech tools, and I am particularly interested in the use of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence in solving business problems.  I saw some useful tools that work as a stop gap for current recruiting/ATS software, e.g. tools that help prioritise recruiters workload using simple algorithms.

There were some nice looking visualisation tools that sit on top of current HRIS systems showing historic data.  However, I was disappointed that I didn’t find any genuine machine learning or pattern recognition in this space, despite some of the marketing claims.   People Analytics is an exciting area in the early stages of its development.  However we need to overcome some key challenges to be successful, see my recent post, “7 Challenges That People Analytics Must Overcome”

Building the new HR Republic

There were many great stories of companies building the new republic, making progress, solving business problems and embracing technology.   Technology is indeed being used to transform whole industries and the biggest impact on HR will not be on how we operate, but on how we manage work in the future.

For those in HR and leadership roles, there is plenty we can do before we even think of buy new software. We can start by asking, what is the evidence that this practice (e.g. performance, talent, hiring, learning, engagement) works in our organisation now, and will do in the future?

It was a dismal economist who gave our profession the name, Human Resources, rendering people as an asset to manage.

Maybe this term also belongs to the last century along with Bureaucracy?

As with many revolutions, there will be casualties, but change can pave the way for a new order and a better approach to people management.

So when managers in your organisation ask about the conference and the impact on their staff, you might mention defeating bureausclerosis, the challenges of low growth and the gig economy.

If they then ask, “But, what will they eat?”, just simply reply,

“Let them eat tech”.

À bientôt.

(This was a guest post on the HRN Blog)

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For the last 19th years, Sierra Cedar have been conducting a survey on HR System adoption.  This demonstrates admirable commitment to a market that ebbs and flows like the form of our star strikers in the European Football Championships (who are only on their 15th edition).  The survey is an invaluable resource to those working in the HR Technology ecosystem – the report can be downloaded here.  In this article I wanted to share some of the findings that caught my eye, but mainly to ask you to complete the survey for your organisation, before 8th July, so that this report is even more valuable next year!

The Big 2 still dominate – I am not talking about the Germany and Spain duopoly in Euro 2016, who have won most cups with 3 each.  In European HRMS adoption, the ‘Big 2’ tech providers, Oracle and SAP, dominate with 83% of the market.   SAP (HCM plus SuccessFactors) make up 52% and Oracle 31%.   ADP, Kronos and Workday make up 25%. This might surprise delegates who were at HR Tech World Spring 2016 in London, for example, noting the highly visible presence of CoreHR and Workday.  The ‘Big 2’ have their legacy customers, the onus is on the many challengers to prise them away and build their market share.

How much does this software cost? For large companies (with more than 10,000 employees), the average license cost per employee per year, is $116 (or €102).   For smaller companies with less than 2,500 employees, this cost is much more at $394 (€348).  This excludes implementation costs.  Now for this amount, you might even get you a ticket to one of the group stage matches in France.  In fact, why not spend the money on football tickets instead, your employee engagement scores will surely increase? *nervous laughter*.  When you have such highly paid employees on your payroll as Cristiano Ronaldo, who has a salary of €21m per year apparently, you want to get the most out of them.

Could wearable technology give us insight into players’ performance? 55% in the survey think using wearables will “increase workforce productivity”.  16% of organisations in the survey are using or evaluating wearable technology at the moment.  According to this article we might see Wayne Rooney cavorting around Old Trafford wearing a tracking device.

The most common pathway to an HR Technology Transformation, with 26.5%, is “Rip & Replace” which is basically moving everything all at once to the Cloud.  This is like selling your 3 most reliable players in a winning team – a tactic that is a bit risky!

Contrary to reading the industry press, not everyone is in the HR Cloud yet, it is estimated that about 50% of core HRMS is still on premise.  This might have something to do with the residual customers of the Big 2 taking their time on the upgrade path and working out options, and a rump of organisations where moving to the cloud brings more security and privacy issues.   One thing’s for sure, whichever country’s team wins in Paris will be in Cloud 9.

As you read the survey report, bear in mind the results are based on an adoption and do not represent market share.   In my view, it’s always useful to read these surveys for good background context.  This survey also highlights some of the trends the analysts are seeing and refers to useful frameworks used.  If you are considering making changes to your HR Systems, always go back a step to understand what your business really needs from HR and how this will support your HR Operating model. This article might also be useful – How to Earn your HR Cloud Tattoo.

Finally, make sure you complete the SURVEY before 8th July and good luck to your team in Euro 2016!

This article was a guest post on HRN Blog

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