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The Future of Talent

Return to treating people like people instead of cogs in a machine, writes CLO columnist Jay Cross.

February 10, 2012
Related Topics: Management, Management Training, Leadership Development, Management
KEYWORDS jobs / management / talent
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Once a year, my friend Kevin Wheeler hosts a retreat focused on the future of talent and major trends in human resources. I’m writing this column in a conference room overlooking the Pacific in Santa Cruz, Calif., sitting with a dozen senior talent managers. I’m going to share Kevin’s top five trends impacting HR leadership and snippets from our discussions about them.

1. Rise of social business. Connecting and sharing are how business is done. This requires trust, the sort of relationships you experience in a village where everyone knows one another. The challenge is how to scale. It’s time to revisit Marshall McLuhan’s global village. “We are not about a product. We are an ecosystem.”

2. Social leadership. The idea that the CEO is running the show is fiction. We’re the boss. Leadership is collective and concurrent. There is no center. Steve Jobs may have been the last solo leader we’ll ever see. As McLuhan states, “All the world’s a sage.”

3. Transparency, analytics and privacy. There are no secrets; “outing” is inevitable. Rather than wring our hands about invasions of privacy, we must rewrite the rules for IP, openness, differentiating our personal and professional lives and contextual ideation. Making sense of oceans of information takes a collaborative effort.

4. Redefining the concept of the employee. Corporations rely on many types of workers. Which ones should be employees? Focus on core and outsource the rest. IBM is downsizing by spinning out smaller, more manageable units. Expect to see fewer “regular employees” in future corporations.

5. Weaving together knowledge from data, people and life. Integrate learning into the workscape. Find new measures of accomplishment for selecting job candidates; grades and most credentials are spurious. The re-rise of apprenticeship is upon us.

We live in an age of unprecedented abundance. That changes just about everything. Instead of struggling to survive, we’re evolving together. People are driven by purpose, not payments. We face choices, not constraints.

What motivates us? For boomers, give me the prestige of a new title. For Gen X, give me $10,000. For Gen Y, give me something I want to do.

I led a session on unmanagement, a set of next practices for 21st century leaders, managers and concept workers. All people have to take stock to identify their own and their team’s potential. Everyone needs to shoulder responsibility for delighting customers and improving the enterprise. Keeping up with the accelerating pace of change calls for rapid cycle times and small, self-organizing teams. People’s quest for mastery and autonomy in pursuit of a meaningful purpose motivates them to sign up for this regimen. The bottom line is a return to treating people like people instead of cogs in a machine.

To get our heads around this new take on the fundamentals of HR, learning and business, we played these thoughts against four scenarios:

1. Fewer young people willing to work for corporations, combined with the rising complexity of work and high level of change, is pressuring organizations. We foresee different ways for people to join the workforce, no longer the yes/no of employed or jobless.

2. Educational institutions’ growing inability to provide skilled workers for the demands of emerging markets puts pressure on traditional institutions for change. If government fails to take responsibility and corporations don’t step up to the plate, students will figure things out for themselves via folk education and do-it-yourself learning.

3. Working in teams, sharing and collaborating across silos and organizations challenge normal ways of work, recruiting and learning. New work communities may replace traditional corporations.

4. Everything goes on the Internet, and the net never forgets. Persistent information and algorithmic processing of big data challenge personal privacy, social reporting and the sanctity of intellectual property. People will develop more sophisticated means of interpreting reviews and information. How this goes down globally is anybody’s guess.

Jay Cross is CEO of Internet Time Group and a thought leader in informal learning and organizational performance. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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