Why So Complicated? Go Simple!

Simplicity, Child Stares at Art (Stuart)
Photo by author, all rights reserved.

The world is complicated.  Do corporate leaders think this is a good thing? No, they do not.  There is an emerging effort to put a greater priority on keeping things simple, while human resources leaders get their people to adapt to changes in the nature of work.

In June of 2014, Josh Bersin developed a fresh opinion that simplicity is the next big thing.  (You’ll need to click past the Forbes pop-up screen, but then you’re in)  Large global corporations were at the time expanding their business, organizing mergers and restructuring efforts, and putting talent management ahead of cost reduction.  There was also a pre-existing struggle to redesign performance management, reduce workload for overwhelmed employees, and create a stronger and more integrated workplace culture.

Bersin notes “We have inadvertently become far too enamored with our technology, mobile phones, social networks, photos, video sharing tools, and all the various competency models, frameworks, process diagrams, and workflows we design in HR.”  Indeed.

By contrast, some organizations have put a lot of effort into simplifying their approach.  This could include reducing the number of competencies they encourage from seven to four, or reducing the performance management process to three simple steps, or creating apps that attach to their HRIS where the apps accomplish just one thing.  Solutions become smaller items that almost belong on Etsy.

For those of you who have written a one-sentence email to an executive it is obvious that keeping it simple is more work, not less.  Designing simple things for a lay audience also requires a special perspective and a devotion to good design.  Yet concentrating effort and attention to just one thing has obvious payoffs in focus and effectiveness.  I don’t have data.  In this case, you can go on instinct.

Modern Samurai Wield Swords of Data

Samurai, by Johan Sinso
Samurai.  Courtesy of Johan Sinso.

Data analytics will be regarded as an increasingly important skill for professionals in the modern workplace.  These comments come from Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, and Jonathan Rosenberg, adviser to Google’s CEO Larry page.  They identify that jobs using analytic skills are expected to grow by 30% over the next seven years.

The executives name some known areas of higher-level skills such as Excel, SQL and Tableau, as well as a grasp of calculus.  However, they also noted that “an understanding of how to approach big data would still be very helpful in finding a job.”  My experience has been that just within Excel a couple of basic cross-tabular tables allow you to pinpoint key findings.  It’s like the high-and-low when you’re creating an outfit or decorating a room.  You need one or two blockbuster items to make things excellent, but other things can be pulled from Ikea or a thrift store.

Eric Schmidt poses the metaphor that “Data is the sword of the 21st century, those who wield it well, the samurai.”

Let’s Just Pretend This is Normal

cocoa #22, by nao-cha
cocoa #22.  Courtesy of nao-cha

It’s important for employers to watch labor market trends because it gives us a glimpse into the workplace culture of the near-future.  Between the rows of statistics we see an emerging screwball comedy which could play out in selection interviews and corporate back-offices.  Following the plot is important for our own careers, but it’s also important for keeping amused.

There are forecasts that the second quarter of 2017 will see a jump in new hires in the US.  This interesting article by Scott Scanlon of Hunt Scanlon Media notes that employers had been waiting-out the hype of a change of US President, and are now choosing to hire more staff.  It’s partially a result of a few quarters of employers standing pat through the election period.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Trump’s policies you have to admit that he is provoking activity.  Whether it’s the sporadic cancellation of plans to relocate plants outside of the US, or the increased activity at law-enforcement agencies, or the growing likelihood a wall will be constructed on the border with Mexico, lots of people are running around doing more work.  Whether the changes are good or sustainable is not relevant to the fact that increased activity creates jobs.  And job growth has a knock-on effect on consumer confidence and housing starts.

Employers anticipate an emerging talent shortage.  However, the employers themselves are partly to blame.  Hiring managers expect to hire the very best people when they open a posting.  Can you think of any solutions?  I have an idea; how about we get rid of perfectionism amongst hiring managers?  After several decades of employers always having the upper hand, organizations might have developed a management culture that is incompatible with job-seekers calling the shots.

Also, employers have been reluctant to hire candidates to grow into a role, or to invest in developing talent.  What ever shall we do?  Change gears by hiring candidates who can grow into a role, and then invest in their talents?  It seems like such a strange thing to do!

There are “job seekers looking for 20-plus [percentage] increases in salary to make up for the lack of raises and increases over the past few years…”  Employers are responding by shifting to an on-demand workforce, referred to elsewhere as the Gig Economy.  But people taking gigs will often charge double or triple the rate of a salaried employee.

Employers can’t handle the humiliation of acknowledging that union representatives and millennials have had totally reasonable expectations all along.  We’re obliging people to triple their wage, come up with a company name for their services, and then skip HR and just talk to supply management about their vendor contract.  Business leaders aren’t in this for the money anymore; they have to maintain composure.

All that’s missing is an economy where all of these contractors collect receipts to reduce the taxes on their business.  So… who’s going to pay for that wall?

Oh Boy, Here Comes the Future

Dungeness Beach, by Gareth Williams
Dungeness Beach.  Courtesy of Gareth Williams.

This emerging trends review by Josh Bersin from December 2016 provides some forecasts about work in the future. You’ll have to click past a pop-up screen from Forbes.com to get into it (be nice, that’s how they pay for it).

Bersin notes that business models are changing to adapt to new threats like Airbnb and Uber.  Meanwhile software companies are shifting to fee-for-service models, where you don’t buy Microsoft Office, you rent it.  A lot more things are touch-and-go.  Seventy percent of CEOs think that their core business model is under attack.  They are concerned they don’t have the right leaders or technology to adapt.

Bersin goes on to say that the company of the future, the “digital organization,” will need to reverse the pecking order of investor, customer, and employee.  The engaged and fully performing employee creates satisfied and returning customers.  Customers drive cash-flow and set up investors with success.  It is not really the investors who drive the business.  It’s the front-line staff causing business success or not.

To make this work, employees may need to develop hybrid skills.  They will need their current core skill fused to one other skill.  An example could be sales skill plus the ability to interpret the client’s business model, two abilities not always found together.  I have always thought that all of the cool stuff happens at the boundary between categories.  If you’re great at five random and un-related skills, that moment when you bring two strengths together can truly make you special.  If one such skill is your ability to take advantage of a new gadget or app, that’s in the mix also.

There is also a shift from “jobs” to “work.”  With jobs, there would usually be a job slot into which you place a person with a skill-set to conduct duties that are clearly defined.  Those of us who have worked with a lot of formal job descriptions know that they are just frameworks.  Job descriptions have a wooden walk, like intoxicated teenagers trying to sneak past their parents.  Yet real work involves a flurry of micro-skills, attitudes, connections, and organizational knowledge.  “Work,” by which we mean the actual work performed, is shifting more quickly as products and services change.  It is far more important to staff the business with general skills, capabilities, cultural fit, and the potential to get new work done in an environment of change.  And don’t forget those hybrid skills.

These shifts are dawning on CEOs as having a massive impact on how they will conduct business in the future.  And all eyes are on the human resources team.  In order to ensure individuals adapt to changes in skills, technology, and work definition, Human Resources teams have to be able to make it all work on the larger scale.  The way we design jobs, pay for them, ensure performance, develop skills, and adapt to new tools and models, will become critical for organizations that want to get ahead of the pack.

At least that’s what I thought he said.