Bold Predictions For The Future Of Work In Australia

Interview with NSW Public Service Commissioner, Emma Hogan

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C-Suite HR Executive (and newly appointed NSW Public Service Commissioner) weighs in on the future of work debate.

Meet Emma Hogan. A seasoned leader of people and culture, Emma hails from some big names like Woolworths, Qantas and, most recently, Foxtel where she has side-stepped from a successful tenure in HR into their Executive Director of Customer Experience role.

Update: In April 2018 Emma has been appointed as the Public Service Commissioner of NSW.

We had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Emma about culture change, robots, communication and the future of work.

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Arielle: Emma, how do you envision technology changing the nature of work in Australia and abroad?

EH: The prevalence of tech buzzwords (AI, Robotics, IoT, Microchipping and Blockchain) is creating a sense that a new ‘revolution’ is about to take place in the world of work.

But if you really look at the facts, AI and robotics have both been around for years now, and have already drastically impacted blue-collar industries.

Take car manufacturing and mining, for example. My point is that we know a bit more about those.

But blockchain, IoT and microchipping are much newer on the scene. And their impact on the future of work is being so closely examined because they’re now reaching the white collar scene.

Arielle: A stat from Australia’s CSIRO’s Data 61 Division 2016 report mentions that 73% of jobs in Australia are likely to be affected by automation and AI by 2035. What’s your take on that?

EH: Statistics and statements such as these are causing the world of business to take a deep breath and re-evaluate the future.

Talent mobility of this scale would either match or exceed the historical shifts out of manufacturing and agriculture.

I also think McKinsey’s Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained Report is relevant, since it states that between 75m and 375m people will switch occupations by 2030 (that is 4%-13% of the total global workforce).

Arielle: Speaking of talent trends, how do you see the interaction of multiple generations influencing tomorrow’s workplace dynamic?

EH: The confluence of generations in the workplace is unprecedented. First, we have an ageing workforce who is going to linger a lot longer before retiring than ever before.

On top of that, the expectations and desires of white-collar Gen X, Y and millennial workers are continuing to evolve.

Platform economics is really gaining momentum and the freelance economy is getting bigger and bigger, as is the peer to peer marketplace.

On a truly positive note though, the Data 61 report also suggests that Australia has one of the world’s top 5 entrepreneurial eco-systems and is ranked 3rd globally for overall entrepreneurial attitude.

Arielle: What other cultural impacts do you see?

EH: The other obvious challenge with this is education, and how it will need to evolve to keep up with the future of work.

Andrew Charlton, Economist and Director of Alphabeta, said in an ABC interview that 60% of current university students are studying for a career that won’t exist by 2030.

As a mum of two girls, that interests me enormously!

Arielle: I know that you’re a big proponent of design thinking in imagining the workplace of the future.

I have also heard that during your time in HR, you were known for having the attention of the C-Suite while other HR leaders were struggling for a ‘seat at the table’. Where, in your opinion, should the C-Suite apply design thinking when it comes to the future of work?

EH: From a purely internal perspective, there are four interdependent factors that I think C-Level Executives should apply design thinking to: Strategy, structure, skills and system.

Arielle: Those are some meaty areas. Let’s cover them one at a time, in any order you prefer.

EH: Sure. Strategy always comes first. The world is changing fast, and it seems 3-5 years is now considered the ‘long-term’ game.

C-Suite leaders need to think differently and take more courageous, strategic risks.

Embracing what technology can do for the business means they have to let go of the past and ‘the way things have always been done’.

But more importantly, the C-Suite needs to fully understand the workforce impact and, in turn, the potential execution impact of their strategy.

Here’s the big a-ha moment: This is not separate from the strategy. It’s an essential requirement of the strategy itself.

Arielle: So the tendency to regard people as a strategic afterthought will need to evolve.

EH: Exactly. Now I’d like to touch on structure, which is really organisational design.

Structure has always followed strategy and whilst that sequencing is still valid, executives will need to think about structures differently in the future.

Arielle: How so?

EH: As workers require/demand more flexibility, and the freelance economy evolves, structures will need to be more fluid.

With the right cloud technology, people can work from anywhere, and it’s completely possible (and some may say inevitable) that over time traditional ‘departments’ will disappear.

We will work more in a ‘gig’ economy – where people do pieces of work for a period before moving to the next one either within the organisation, or outside of it.  That is the likely future of work.

Some organisations (such as the large banks, accounting firms, and some telcos) are doing this already, and are doing it well.

But for others there is a big opportunity to trial different models as they transition to new worlds and explore what works.

Executives will really need to open their minds to new ways of working.

And labour laws will need to evolve to accommodate more modern employment transactions. But that’s a whole other interview!

Arielle: We’ll be sure to tackle that one next time. Now let’s transition to skills. As AI and Robotics are absorbing the more basic business tasks, how can leaders establish what skills might replace them?

EH: Ha, that’s the million dollar question. And the solution is not a one size fits all.

It will vary by industry.

But in general, the C-Suite and HR should work together to map out a future skills matrix, assessing whether current workers can be re-skilled to these areas, or whether new skills need to be hired or developed.

Arielle: I’m thinking an example would be helpful here.

EH: If we use accounting as an example, it seems that AI is already replacing entry-level accounting skills, so this could leave the accounting graduate market in a quandary.

There are two ways to think about this.

The first is that if someone is really interested in, or good at, numerical thinking they can still be part of this world as a career—but perhaps they re-skill for coding AI, or auditing of AI systems.

Or even process and system design for AI technology as it relates to accounting.

The second way to approach this is by asking what ‘value-add’ the accounting graduate can now offer that they couldn’t before—at least until they had progressed up the hierarchy?

And how can they enhance the big picture customer experience, while AI is still doing the actual processing?

Related Article: Transformational Leadership: Essential Examples And Approaches For 2018

Arielle: That’s a really tangible example, thank you.

EH: Absolutely. Now I’d love to briefly touch on systems. But when I say systems, I don’t just mean workplace technology (although that is included).

I mean the whole ‘system’ of the organisation—the culture, the leadership, the communication, the customer focus, the way people are rewarded and recognised for great work, and how information is shared and utilised.

A recent trend we’re seeing is that businesses that choose to focus on purpose and positive social impact as part of their ‘system’ are more successful.

Fast Company published a great article a couple years back which spells this out clearly.

The companies that survive tough times have this in common:  the pursuit of purpose, alongside the pursuit of profit. A purpose mobilises people in a way that pursuing profits alone never will.

I have seen this repeatedly in my career, and with the technological advances we have coming, this will be another way to share the narrative with employees as to what the company is doing and why.

One last point on systems: As organisations move toward remote, freelance, and flexible workforces, executives will need to reinvent ways to drive optimum performance.

Talent will be of a higher calibre than ever before, and in higher demand. So companies will need to be offering a top-notch working ‘system’ (think employee experience) for the right people to join and execute the strategy.

Arielle: Let’s switch gears a little bit. I’d like to tap your HR knowledge for some advice to hands-on people leaders.

Specifically, how can leaders help to alleviate any stress amongst their teams that robots are coming for their jobs? Or, how can they prepare them for that eventuality?

EH: In my experience, employees always know (or at the very least have guessed) what the company might do next.

It’s proven that the more transparent you can be the more trust you will garner from your employees.

Think about it: leaders aren’t the only ones who can do research or follow trends. So leaving people to ‘guess’ their future often serves to only heighten the feelings of awful possibilities.

Having managed communications for years, I know from personal experience of one proven formula for building trust: Share what you are doing in an honest way; explain why you are doing it; share what it will mean for people, and by when.

Even if all the news isn’t good, the chance of moving forward with a team that trusts you and knows where they stand is far more likely to deliver strategic success than the alternative.

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Arielle: What’s the secret to balancing the application of AI / big data with the (seemingly) distinctly human trait of emotional intelligence in the workplace?

EH: Emotional intelligence will be more important than ever going forward, and the ability to lead teams, persuade and influence others, and guide people to outcomes (using the technological advances that are in place) will be a critical skill.

There are roles human beings play that robots cannot, and so people need to invest more in developing their EQ rather than just their technical skills to stay relevant.

I also think we need to be more open to diverse thinking, and work hard to put aside bias around who in our workforce can add value, and in what way.

It’s an extreme case, but take Tanmay Backshi for example, a 13-year-old technology whizz, and IBM Watson user who Google have recently hired for $1.3m a year – now that’s looking outside of traditional ways of hiring!

HR can really play a role in adding value to the C-Suite in this area.

HR tends to have the advantage of sitting across the whole business, and strategically can see where technology is going across the whole organisation and assess the impact it might have on people.

This gives them the opportunity to really focus on organisational design, and development and build a truly aligned People Strategy that takes technology, skills, and EQ into the equation.

Arielle: Many companies give a lot of lip service to the link between employee engagement and customer loyalty. Your success in change and cultural transformation shows you have been able to create that connection.

What insights can you offer to senior leaders on how technology can improve both the employee and the customer experience?

EH: It’s a very interesting time in the customer world right now. And the more advanced technology gets, the more customers are demanding a better experience.

From my work in the CX space, the link between customer engagement and employee engagement was very clear.

Customers want the simple tasks to be handled by technology, and they want the more complex tasks to be handled by people. And employees want the same thing.

My biggest learning as a leader in this area has been that your front-line employees already have the answers. They KNOW how to fix things for the customers; they KNOW what will make a difference.

We all know examples of senior executives sitting around the table with outsourced strategy companies assessing how to improve the customer experience and design the process of the future.

But honestly, if you get the frontline together with a decent technology team, a lot of problems can be solved, and improvements made quickly.

The added benefit is that if you include the employees in solving the problem, they feel more engaged in their future.  It’s pretty simple, but something we often make very complex.

Arielle: Your work on the people side included a focus on employee communications during changing times. What new channels do you see being important in the future? How do you see internal communications changing as corporate cultures become more automated?

EH: I am so passionate about the business of communications. We will see a lot more video technology used between individuals and teams to deliver results.

We have seen the rise of things like Yammer (think internal Facebook) and other communications platforms in recent years, which gives all levels of leadership (including the CEO) a platform to talk directly to the frontline, no matter where they are based.

If used well, this can really break down problems and solve things for customers very quickly.

I think we resist the idea of ‘remote and more flexible’ workforces because we believe people work better together in a building, where they can see each other, and whilst that is proven to work, there are advantages to the alternatives.

Take WordPress for example. I had the great pleasure of spending time with Matt Mullenweg, their CEO and Founder a few years ago.

Arguably, they are one of the most successful internet companies in the world, yet they have a 100% remote workforce.

Matt felt that having his team in an expensive office space in Silicon Valley would not only make his costs ridiculously high but that it wouldn’t give him access to the best talent in America, so he thought about it very differently.

WordPress also de-identify all their CV’s to ensure there is no unconscious bias in the recruitment process. And at some point, Matt interviews everyone himself, to ensure the most suitable workforce possible.

They do get the whole company together a few times a year to strategise and work through problems and connect. But ultimately, they operate a different model and I think we will see more of this around the world as part of the evolution of work.

Related Article: Why Your Job Title Matters, And Doesn’t

Arielle: Our final topic today is technology trends for job search. In the last year, we’ve seen the Microsoft / LinkedIn acquisition as well as the launch of Google for Jobs.

How will technology continue to impact the job search process, in your opinion? And how will companies need to adapt their talent strategies?

EH: AI will affect HR enormously, but nowhere more so than in the Talent and Acquisition process.

Sourcing, candidate matching, resume screening, and to a degree candidate care and scheduling can now all be handled by technology.

And it’s often doing a more accurate and effective job for both the hiring company and the candidate.

Some technology is even using face recognition, gamification and ‘tinder’ like processes, to improve interest, accuracy, and experience for both parties. So sourcing will be truly transformed in the coming years.

I think we will also see a rise in performance transparency as part of technology improvements.

For example, when you use Uber, and you complete your journey, you are asked to rate the driver. The next person who uses Uber can instantly see their average performance rating when they get in the car.

It’s instant, honest, and transparent.

As we move more to a freelance and gig economy, technology will allow for more of this so when searching for a candidate you will be able to have more relevant performance information at your fingertips, and those telephone reference checks might be a thing of the past.

Arielle: What else should we know about you, Emma, or about the future of work?

EH: There is so much to think about when it comes to the future of work, it’s not hard to envisage where technology might go.

But it’s even harder to envision how we will transition to that from an economic, business and education perspective and at what pace we will do so.

I think it’s an exciting opportunity for Australia to be innovative, and create future global relevance for itself by embracing technology.

There is no reason that Australia shouldn’t be leading the way in cultural and skill transformations to have a positive social impact and I hope to continue to play a role in that movement.

On a more personal note, I’m passionate about a lot of things in our world – especially the future of it.

I’m recently married to Jamie, and am a mum to two girls – my step-daughter Ruby who is 10, and my daughter Milla who is five months old.

As well as being passionate about the future of our world, our work and the future of customer experience, I’m also an amateur philanthropist and sit on the boards of AIME, and The Can Too Foundation.

In 2016 I founded the Rainbow Jane foundation (www.rainbowjane.com) where we most recently raised $50,000 through the sale of my book Inspired Kindness (the story of 30 inspiring leaders doing something extraordinary to change our world) to create 5 x $10,000 grants to the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

Arielle: Emma, thank you so much for your insights on the future of work. We wish you the best of luck with all of your ventures and look forward to catching up with you again soon.

Pleasure. Thank you for having me.

 

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I have read a couple of interviews and they were insightful.

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