The HR role in organisations has become critical as the basis for competition and competitive advantage. Corporate power has moved away from money and machines to the creativity and skill of the people within an enterprise. CEO surveys constantly put HR issues
(captured as talent shortage, future of work, etc.) as one of the top 3 issues of concern within the corporate world. The HR role is expected to lead in designing and implementing the best employee value proposition to attract, deploy and retain the right talent for organisational sustenance and dominance. Even as the future of work evolves, HR is expected to provide leadership that supports organisations to be at the forefront of changes happening in the workplace. In order for HR leaders to be effective in this process, they must first understand the drivers of the future of work.

Drivers of future of work
The evolution of work has been accelerated by the Covid 19 pandemic. How organisations adapted to get the job done, while staying safe changed how people approach work. At the core of this evolution is the technology that made it possible to live and work in the same place, a phenomenon which was new to millions of workers globally. In Africa, probably, it’s only the corner shop woman who cooked, sold and slept in the same container around the corner. Most professionals live and work in different locations. The Covid 19 pandemic made almost every worker share in the experience of that corner shop woman and most fell in love with this new way of work. Today, many rethink their relationship with work and the workplace, considering the commute time and other deteriorating commute conditions in many African cities.

The technology that enabled workers to work from home when they had to, is becoming mainstream and very efficient. This has given every organisation and talented individuals the opportunity to explore different futures.  This same technology raises another challenge as it upends multiple industries, leading to changes in the required skills that talent need to thrive in the future. Many employers have encouraged workers to be entrepreneurial and develop the mindset of an owner to thrive at work. From this teaching, many have nursed their personal interests and grown them into businesses ready to launch. Some workers, for very practical reasons, have had to manage multiple jobs on the side, to make ends meets. And as Google, Twitter, Facebook and other tech giants expand their operations in Africa with physical offices, more and more entrepreneurs will be empowered to pursue their dreams. They will do this using very efficient tools and resources supporting entrepreneurial ventures at minimal costs. Now it is not unusual to find that a CEO’s PA runs an online shop with a turnover higher than the CEO’s salary. The future holds endless possibilities when we combine the entrepreneurial instincts of African workers with readily available and affordable technology within the global market.

We know what the future of work will not be. Certainly we will not all be ‘freelancers’ or ‘gig workers’ one day. We are all not going to be coding. Not every job will be done by a robot or an algorithm. We will not all spend our time working remotely. These extreme views must be tempered with realism – so inasmuch as the gig economy will increase steadily, remote working will become widely accepted, and artificial intelligence (AI) will become a part of daily work, and a large portion of the traditional way of doing things will remain.

What we know is that by 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42% of global youth. According to the International Monetary Fund, population growth on the African continent means that by 2035, there will be more young Africans entering the workforce each year than in the rest of the world combined. That is a demographic stock that cannot be altered in the next few years.

The World Economic Forum report titled: “Eight Futures of Work Scenarios and their Implications” predict 8 different scenarios of potential future of work states by 2030. The report acknowledges that though all scenarios are possible, none is certain. And the impact will vary from industry to industry. Three examples of such future work scenarios are shared below:

Empowered Entrepreneurs Scenario:
Empowered Entrepreneurs are “skilled, eager, curious lifelong learners,” who have created opportunities for themselves using online platforms that increasingly offer outlets for accessing local and global markets”. Most of these entrepreneurs also have full time professional jobs. The talent of the future has options, with a portfolio of businesses. The business has to give the individual the reason to add the corporate job to their portfolios.

Loss of Africa’s Best Talent:
Another possible future that is accelerating is the competition for Africa’s best talent. Without a meaningful value proposition and development strategy, organisations in Africa will lose all the best talent to international organisations, and will only have the remaining “scrap” talent to work with, weakening their ability to compete globally.

Demand for better leadership and transparency:
They have been exposed to the stories of great leadership through social media, and as such, have refined their expectations and demands. For this reason, African business and HR leaders must get better ways of meeting the increased demands and expectations of the next generation.

How HR can prepare for Multiple Futures

HR must embrace the future and let go of old assumptions about how HR has been done in the past. HR now has to design unique experiences for various communities of professionals in the workplace. No single on-boarding experience will fit all employees across different levels and industries. HR will need a fully digital version, a hybrid version, and an in-person version of onboarding programs to suit the different kinds of employees that they get. As David Berthy, Director of Research for Salesforce Futures noted, “In an
environment like this, it is a mistake to assume all talent wants the same thing. Employers need to be really intentional about building the kind of workplace that attracts the talent they need,and build in mechanisms to adapt as employee needs evolve.” Most importantly, HR Leaders should create the future that will resonate with the talent the organisation needs rather than waiting or preparing for an unknown future of work.

Every HR decision and action leads to a certain future. Which future are you striving for? HR must develop a view of the future and be radical about how the organisation sets up employees to succeed in line with the talent philosophy, whether it is a transactional or developmental the organisation’s business agenda, whether it is shareholder-oriented or stakeholder oriented. This will require taking the lead with specific investments. For example, An organisation that intends to create a “cooperative campus” must invest more in developing stronger employee connections and collaboration from anywhere in the world.

All these are not new; the challenge is now more complex and HR leaders must approach their role with rigour and empathy. It is possible.

Written by:
Robert M. Bennin, CPTD, CFA, FIoD.
Convenor, CEO Accelerator Program Executive
Coach/ Learning Architect/ Leadership
Development Facilitator/ Strategy Consultant
TEMPLE Advisory