Human capital in the 4IR

Is your business all about the customer experience but neglecting the employee experience?

Johannesburg, 08 Aug 2019
Read time 9min 40sec
Mamcy Letuka, Human Capital Head, Altron Bytes Managed Solutions.
Mamcy Letuka, Human Capital Head, Altron Bytes Managed Solutions.

Human capital professionals are helping drive organisational change by ensuring the development of an agile workforce that's adaptable to the new, automated workplace, says Mamcy Letuka, Human Capital Head at Altron Bytes Managed Solutions.

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) has redefined the world of work, and it makes sense that human capital business partners need to do things differently by abandoning the old, tried-and-tested, traditional methods of HR, which were more transactional and reactive, if they want to remain relevant to business. The skill set that was relevant in the past is unlikely to  be relevant for the future.

Mamcy Letuka, Human Capital Head at Altron Bytes Managed Solutions, says that human capital is undoubtedly becoming one of the most influential departments of an organisation when it comes to driving change and enabling organisations to be ready for, and adapt to, the demands of this brave new world.

Letuka says: “Human capital professionals have two key areas of focus that will facilitate the execution of business strategy: ensuring the development of an agile workforce that can adapt to the ever-changing world of work; and deploying talent acquisition strategies to develop effective leaders, and attract and develop the right people, with the aim of retaining current and future skills needed by the business.

“The relationship between employee and employer has evolved. In the past, employees were focused on finding and retaining jobs. Despite the challenges of today’s workplace, which include high unemployment figures and a tough economic climate, modern employees, especially millennials, are very particular about which businesses they work for, and their demands aren’t as simple as good benefits and a decent salary. They’re more concerned about the brand of the company itself. Is it a great place to work, and what culture does the organisation have?”

Skills evolution

Employees and employers need to be aware that the jobs they currently hold are going to evolve. So, too, will the skills they require to remain relevant. “In addition to having a skill set unique to the role you occupy, you also need business acumen, industry expertise and strategy skills to ensure that you can operate within a dynamic ICT environment, adding value to customers in a diverse portfolio of industries," says Letuka.

“Human capital needs to advise the business on how it can foster and enable the people within its employ in this highly disruptive environment. We need to ensure that we don’t only recruit people with role-specific skills, because the future of work requires employees who possess strong behavioural skills in order to ensure collaboration and engagement across teams.”

Job descriptions are going to be far more comprehensive than the title that employees hold as they won’t only be performing roles related to their field of study (eg finance, IT, etc). Employees are going to have to perform collaboratively within teams and work on various projects, wearing different hats. “AI, robotics and data analytics will play an increasingly important role and we have to ask ourselves this: How are we going to partner and influence the business in such a way that we’re using these new technological enablers to add further business value, with our people as our competitive edge?” adds Letuka.

Moving from people science to data science

There’s no doubt that using technology to enhance human capital services boosts employee engagement and productivity, and that the world of human capital in the 4IR will be more predictive and AI-driven.

The use of data to retain talent (talent science) is critical, says Letuka: “We need to bring together data gained from AI, using metrics and information collected about our people across various business systems, to provide new insights that allow us to take talent science to new heights.”

This will assist in identifying talented people, placing them in the right roles, identifying the risks of them leaving, mitigating that and helping them to succeed, the aim being to retain them. The use of technology is valuable in measuring complex human behaviour to determine which people can be developed for future leadership roles.

The fear still exists that with the introduction of AI, robotics and automation, the business is going to think that it doesn’t need people. “This isn’t true,” says Letuka. “These technologies are enabling companies to use their people more strategically. Therefore, there’s a need for both people and technology to drive business success.”

The onus is on HR (or human capital, as Letuka refers to it) to come up with interventions that will encourage engagement and shift the organisation’s culture. She says: “One thing that will always be relevant is the need for businesses to engage with people and to have an impact on them.”

Letuka says that behavioural skills will continue to be in demand even for technical specialists. For example, they could work on improving their ability to collaborate with others, manage conflict and make informed decisions. These behavioural skills are key to success, not just for collaboration with people within the business, but also with suppliers, customers and all stakeholders. Siloed businesses will fall away if they don’t learn to collaborate.

Today, we’re seeing a dual career path in companies. Gone are the days when people were promoted because they’d been there for a long period of time and they needed to earn more. We’re moving into a dual career stream where people who aren’t management material aren’t promoted into a role they aren’t suited to. For instance, you can’t promote a technical specialist to be a manager in a situation where it won’t be in the business’s best interests. The dual career stream allows people to move up within the organisation to the same level, even if they aren’t managers.

Learning and development becomes more relevant. The use of technology/hybrid approaches, such as augmented reality, is becoming a norm to support learning interventions and ensure access to knowledge in various ways for employees. This is especially relevant for remote employees, who can still receive training regardless of where they’re located.

Employee engagement is critical to retaining skills

The autocratic management style of old has dropped away and greater engagement between management and employees is to be encouraged. The business needs to consider how it treats employees and needs to create an environment in which employees want to remain. This also allows businesses to stimulate innovative thinking and ideas from all facets of the business.

If you can’t retain your staff, you are losing skills and money. The majority of companies only see a return on their investment into a new staff member after two to three years. If the person leaves prior to that, the business is losing out financially. “We need to come up with various interventions that will help us retain our employees. This is a challenge because human beings are complex. It’s important to keep up to date with developments and trends, so we can remain relevant and engage employees in a way that will encourage them to stay.”

The future of work requires the business to be more agile in embracing how the modern employee wants to be treated and how they want to work. The millennial employee won’t enjoy being managed by managers who don’t project specific values. In today’s world of work, employees will leave the business. “As they always say: ‘Employees leave managers, not the company,’” says Letuka.

She adds that it’s vital that the organisation’s values are deeply embedded within each and every function of the business to create the desired culture. Every employee needs to understand what the company stands for and needs to believe in it. “We also need to improve relationships between managers and employees. If we can provide managers with the tools required to have good relationships with their employees, we can reduce staff turnover.”

The changing workplace: diversity

Another evolving trend is that of increasing diversity within the workforce. In SA, we tend to see diversity as referring to race, but it’s a much wider issue than that. The modern workspace needs to accommodate diversity in age, gender, religion, cultural background and skills. More women are entering the ICT space, and once again, it falls to the human capital division to manage the stereotypes about women managers in ICT.

Letuka believes that women shouldn’t have to change who they are in order to fit into a predominantly male environment.

This raises the topic of transgender people and employees who come from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and how they can be accommodated in the workplace. It must always be remembered that people are employed for their skills and not for their gender/religious orientation. Part and parcel of this includes addressing the mindset of fellow employees around differently oriented colleagues. Ensure that you’re able to create an environment that allows people from all backgrounds to feel that they are part of the business.

In the face of this unprecedented mix of diversity, the established norms and values of the past may not apply anymore. Human capital is critical in driving change within the business, especially when it comes to motivating people to accept and embrace one another in a positive way.

This is particularly true of the younger generation, who want to work remotely and/or adopt flexible working hours. This type of flexibility is essential to attract and retain younger skills, while ensuring that the business has the technologies to stimulate remote collaborations seamlessly.

The people you employ today will lead the organisation tomorrow. It’s also important to remember that a bot can’t engage with a person in a meaningful way, and you can’t automate humans, you can only automate processes. People don’t leave a business because of money; they leave because of managers, the environment and the culture.

It’s been proven that companies that focus more on engaging their people can retain people and are able to grow faster. What many businesses don’t realise is that employee engagement is just as important as customer experience. And it is the human capital department’s responsibility to help the business make this leap into a new, automated world.

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