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Change the World by Changing the Future of Work and HR

Young woman in HR thinking about how she's going to approach the Future of Work while holding a clipboard and pen to take notes from John Boudreau's blog postThe evolving work ecosystem requires “retooling” HR issues using the best thinking from disciplines such as engineering, finance, neuroscience, marketing, operations, and supply chain. Innovative HR leaders already reach out to peers in disciplines like supply-chain engineering, but the most profound impact may occur much earlier in the talent pipeline – attracting young professionals to change the world by reimagining work and HR.  

How to Inspire Silicon Valley Interns: The LinkedIn HR Hackathon

Last year, Pat Wadors, the head of HR at LinkedIn, invited me to judge the non-technical “HR Hackathon” called the LinkedIn Festival 2015.  The event was promoted like this:

“Teams of tech and non-tech interns will come together to brainstorm, strategize, and create a solution to one of the toughest HR problems (via a case prompt) faced by companies in various industries (technology, banking, medical, etc.). Interns are encouraged to creatively and collaboratively attack the prompt by rethinking HR and creating effective and adaptable solutions that will reshape companies’ business strategies.”

[Recommended Read: Innovative HR and Why Technology Innovators Can’t Survive Without It]

The festival attracted nearly 1,000 applicants for about 150 spots in the overnight competition. The next morning, we judged the finalist pitches by these teams of undergraduate interns, mostly from disciplines outside of traditional HR, such as engineering, operations, software development, virtual media, etc. Jeanne Meister described the work of the winning team, Lakshman Somasundaram and Summer Wu, both undergraduate students at Yale University and they tackled the problem of unsatisfactory internship experiences (only 32% of interns receiving a full-time job offer accept it). Their research included a pulse survey that garnered 750 responses between the hours of 10pm and 3am.  

What was so compelling about HR? When I spoke with the interns working through the night, they described their conviction that work – and the relationship that people have with work – was a vital force to improve the quality of society and the world.  Yet, there are challenges. When Mr. Solmasundaram learned he was accepted, “the first thing I did was look up what HR was on Wikipedia.” Inspired young minds should NOT need to look up “HR” to know it offers them a vital role in changing the future of work.  

The Required Future Roles to Meet the Challenges of a New Work Ecosystem

My August blog described future roles identified by the CHREATE consortium of over 100 HR leaders as required for the evolving work ecosystem (boundaryless, democratic, agile and technologically empowered):  

The Organizational Engineer is an expert in facilitating virtual teams, developing leadership wherever it exists, and talent transitions.  She is an expert at talent and task optimization.  She is the knowledge resource on principles such as agility, networks, power and trust.

The Virtual Culture Architect is a culture expert, advocate and brand builder.  He connects current and potential workers’ purpose to the organization’s mission and goals.  He is adept at principles of values, norms, and beliefs, articulated virtually and personally.

The Global Talent Scout, Convener, and Coach masters new talent platforms and optimizes the relationships between workers, work and the organization, using whatever platform is best (e.g., free agent, contractor, regular employee, etc.).  She is a talent contract manager, talent platform manager, and career/life coach.

The Data, Talent & Technology Integrator is an expert at finding meaning in big data and algorithms, and how to design work that optimally combines technology, automation and humans.

The Social Policy & Community Activist creates optimal synergy between goals that include economic returns, social purpose, ethics, sustainability, and worker well-being.  She influences beyond the organization, shaping policies, regulations and laws that support the new world of work, through community engagement.

Where will the talent to fill these roles come from?  The HR Hackathon suggests tapping professionals at the very earliest stage of their careers, by presenting them with the thorniest, and most enticing and challenging questions facing the future of work and HR.

[Recommended Read: Why HR Needs Data-Driven Workforce Planning to Avoid Talent Shortfalls]

Retooling HR Using the Disciplines Familiar to the Best and Brightest

One way to engage professionals from other disciplines is to “retool” HR issues as analogies using precisely those disciplines:

Quote by John Boudreau about how HR has to gain knowledge from other disciplines to be successful in the futureIBM and Kelly Services retooled talent management using supply-chain frameworks. At IBM, HR leaders recruited a top IBM supply-chain expert, Harold Blake, to lead the effort to create a talent supply-chain system to measure, track and support decisions. Kelly Services engaged David J. Closs, Sriram Narayanan, and Hakan Yildiz, professors of supply-chain management at University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University, to study how supply-chain principles suggest new competencies for managing contingent talent.

HR leaders should engage young supply-chain engineers to change the world by having leaders like Harold Blake tell their story, and by encouraging supply-chain professors to integrate talent pipelines into their supply chain textbooks and classes.  

A Recruitment Challenge for the HR Profession

And that’s just the start. Beyond the discipline of supply chain, eager young professionals in disciplines like engineering, marketing, finance, media, social policy and entertainment could make stunning contributions to shaping the future of work and the HR profession.

HR leaders are the experts in recruitment and employment branding. It’s time to apply that expertise to expand the HR talent pipeline into disciplines beyond the HR boundary. The best and brightest in all disciplines, HR and beyond, are waiting.

How to Set Up Your Workforce Analytics Function

John Boudreau is professor and research director at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Center for Effective Organizations, and author of the forthcoming books, “Lead the ...

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