The new trends from the HR world between agile organization, superjobs and algorithms
Over the last three decades, the unstoppable development of globalisation processes, the acceleration of technological innovation cycles, the increasing complexity of the competitive environment and, more recently, the economic and social crisis due to the covid 19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, have made it imperative to rethink the organisational structure of companies.
In fact, according to forecasts by the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, by 2044 working patterns will be completely revolutionised: working hours will decrease, new types of contracts will emerge and the automation of certain business segments will play a central role in the reorganisation of production processes.
The World Bank
According to the World Bank, which has predicted a shrinking workforce in the near future, an ageing population will also necessitate greater reliance on machines to maintain productivity at required levels.
Also causing concern are the statements of World Bank President David Malpass, who, speaking in New York last June, emphasised that the global economy is entering a period of protracted weak growth and high inflation.
After +5.7 per cent in 2021, global GDP growth estimates would stand at + 2.9 per cent, less than the 4.1 per cent that had been forecast. The direct consequence could be the start of a period of stagflation, similar to that experienced in the 1970s, with worrying consequences for employment levels.
In order to transform complexity into development opportunities, companies need to actively involve all their resources and we wanted to discuss this issue with Emanuele Cacciatore, Professor of the Master in Human Resources Management of Rome Business School who helped us to understand which levers and tools are chosen by organisations to rapidly adapt to changing macro-economic scenarios.
“In order to defend their competitive advantage in the long term, companies often find themselves caught between two priorities: increasing productivity and accelerating innovation, (of product, process, business model) also by resorting to intelligent automation technologies.
In a context such as the current one, of high inflation and weak growth, where the priority of management and shareholders is the projection of margins and cash flows, the Human Resources function finds itself having to manage, on the one hand, the pressure to achieve efficiencies and increases in labour productivity and, on the other, the drive for process innovation: we are talking about phenomena that must be governed carefully and rigorously because they have a direct impact on workers.
Indeed, when automating certain process segments, it is essential to understand, with precise analyses and advanced strategic planning tools, what the overall implications will be on the workforce in order to define, for example, the correct mix between employees and ‘machines’.
From this point of view, a deep knowledge of the market could help to anticipate changes: a marked shift towards more technological positions, requiring more technical skills, implies, for example, the need to develop reskilling and retraining programmes for employees who might otherwise be caught unprepared by the waves of automation.
The hybridisation of the workforce
In this context, there is a need to identify new paradigms for optimising and innovating production systems and models, in order to understand how different ways of deploying resources can impact on company results.
“There are many phenomena to be governed in the transformation processes that are summarised under the label ‘Industry 4.0’: one of them is the hybridisation of the workforce. There are at least three dimensions of hybridisation: the first concerns the grafting of digital or robotic workers into teams composed of a human workforce. The second, which developed most strongly during the covid 19 health emergency, is represented by work hybridisation from the point of view of space and time. Finally, what is defined in the literature as the phenomenon of workforce eco-systems: i.e. extended systems of collaboration that encompass all those. subjects who, not necessarily employees of the company, contribute in various ways to the achievement of the company’s result. We speak for example of contractors, providers, outsoucers, gig workers, crowdsources, who are recruited for non-core tasks or very specific projects.”
The dimensions of change
In the knowledge economy, companies must be able to innovate continuously in order to remain competitive and to beat market competition.
According to research conducted by Innosight, a US-based strategy consultancy, the average lifespan of a company among those in the Standard & Poor’s 500 basket was 33 years in 1964, which has been reduced to 24 years in 2018. The same study predicts that by 2027 the average lifespan will drop to just 12 years.
“One only has to look at the list of the top ten companies by market capitalisation in the S&P500 to understand the scale of the phenomenon. Of the top ten in the 2000s, perhaps two or three are still in business today, the rest are recent phenomena and are all technology companies, in some cases with digital first business models.
Another requirement for maintaining a competitive advantage is to embrace the principles of agile organisation, which aim to overcome the traditional mechanistic conception of organisation, characterised by rigid hierarchies, bureaucratisation, separation of roles and little inclination to innovation. In agile organisations, organisational structures are set up to ensure flexibility and rapid decision-making and to value interactions between individuals as a priority over adherence to processes and procedures.”
It may sound like a paradox, but in order to take full advantage of technology, companies need to enhance the human dimension and related intellectual capital. The sudden change in macroeconomic scenarios, together with the continuous evolution of socio-demographic, environmental and technological trends, will be a constant in the near future and the skills and roles in demand today may no longer be in demand in the very near future.
“Demand for skills changes because content changes. In this regard, there is increasing talk of ‘superjobs’, i.e. roles that combine content and activities pertaining to multiple traditional roles, recombined in a broader scope of responsibilities.
In the past, the object of the job was represented by one or a few very specialised tasks, now, for some positions we refer to the concept of superjobs, roles that require knowledge and skills in the technical-functional, relational and soft skills or human skills domain.
Job content will thus increasingly be based on a reconfigurable combination of activities. The new strand of literature on the topic of ‘work without jobs’, work without jobs, insists precisely on the concept of recombining architectures based on sets of tasks that can be composed and recomposed as required.
For human resources managers, the ability to design new roles and the ability to make accurate forecasts on the evolution of the demand for skills, through the use of forecasting tools powered by machine learning algorithms, becomes crucial.”
“To work in the field of HR you need to have a good understanding of what the traditional key processes of HR management are and know the life cycle of the employee: from recruitment to pcessation. You need to know the macro areas, the macro functional domains, and therefore talent management, and you need to have the ability to coordinate and identify the organisation’s skills, which are embodied in the reading and mapping of the resources available in the company at a given time. In addition, a good balance between analytical skills and interpersonal skills is required, because communication with work groups of different units, with increasingly cross-functional teams, is becoming essential. Finally, the key is curiosity, which allows one to read and interpret all the new trends in the labour market.”
Emanuele Cacciatore is a manager, strategic consultant and industry advisor. He currently works at a multinational company in the tech sector, where he deals with digital transformation and its impact on business, operational, and work organisation models. He has many years of experience in the strategic consulting sector at companies such as Bain & Company, Arthur D. Little and Accenture Strategy, dealing with corporate strategy projects, performance improvement, organisational restructuring, and industrial plans for listed companies and large international groups in the energy, utilities, engineering and construction sectors, in Italy, the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, and Latin America. He is adjunct professor at the Rome Business School where he teaches Digital HR Strategy as part of the International MBA Program and the Master in HR Management. He is a member of the faculty of EIIS – European Institute for Innovation & Sustainability – where he served as Scientific Director of the Executive Program on “Future of Work”. He regularly writes about the future of work, technology and human resources, organisation and management for Econopoly “Il Sole 24Ore” and is the author of articles and scientific contributions.