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The cultural, technology and generational shifts taking place in today’s workplace highlight how critically important it is that traditional human resources management continue to move not only toward integrating talent management processes, but also the notion of making these processes – and the technology that facilitates them – more employee-centric. These are not necessarily new developments, as smart human resource operations have been redefining themselves in terms of talent management and talent development quite a bit over the past five years. But the future of work itself makes the identification, management and development of talent ever more primary to the success of companies and organizations.

Helping People Work Smarter

The Japanese writer Taichi Sakaiya was perhaps the first to name the economic era into which we have moved the “knowledge value revolution.” His thesis was simple, and is evident all around us now, every day. He proposed that the traditional elements that gave products and services value – the value of the materials and labor that went into the product or service – were shifting toward a single dominant element. That element is the value of the knowledge contained in a product or service. The best way to understand the idea is to consider the smartphone in your pocket or purse. You chose that phone most likely because you believed that it was made by smarter people using smarter processes, and that the particular smartphone enables you to access knowledge more easily thus making you smarter. You may even believe that just owning that specific phone makes you look smarter when you use it. All of this adds up to “knowledge value.”

What does this mean for human resources? The ability of a company, organization or employee to succeed depends on their ability to acquire new knowledge on a continuous basis and apply that knowledge in an effective way. This insight demands that we think differently about talent management and talent management software. MTV’s “No Collar Worker” survey reveals, for example, that 89 percent of Millennial employees – who will comprise 75 percent of all employees by 2025 – think that it is important to be constantly learning at their job. Some of this learning may look rather traditional, involving classroom training and education. But I expect this style of company education to continue to become a declining percentage of organizational learning as talent management software and tools enable learning to become more social, collaborative and on-demand. Embedding collaboration into corporate learning so that employees seamlessly learn while working and work while learning is as fundamental to the future than ever before, and now possible in ways that were not available until recently.

Beyond a Separate Class of Employees

The concepts of continuous or on-demand learning are critical to the future of work, and obviously the smart application of talent management software can make the difference in meeting this need. We often refer to “knowledge workers” as though they are a separate class of employees, but what I am saying is that all work is becoming knowledge intensive. Thus future tools must provide real-time communication, quick and easy access to information on multiple devices from anywhere anytime, better collaboration through knowledge of who is available and where they are, and access to instant learning in small bites as the need arises.

Let’s play with some possibilities. The Cornerstone’s “The State of Workplace Productivity Report” notes that 58 percent of employees would be willing to use wearable technology if it helps them do their job. Imagine a bartender wearing augmented reality glasses, needing to learn a new drink recipe as an order is placed, and being able to do that simply by repeating the customer’s order out loud. Or imagine a repair technician in an auto shop or on the factory floor needing instant training on a new problem they have not faced personally before. Or imagine a lawyer wanting to brush up on case law or negotiation technique as they walk to a meeting. These kinds of scenarios are applicable to just about any job we can think of. Companies that combine access to learning software tools, cloud databases and access to the wider Internet – and that develop a culture of continuous learning – will gain an advantage in the development of their human talent.

The MTV survey also reveals that 80 percent of Millennials want regular feedback from their supervisors, 89 percent want their workplace to be social and fun, 50 percent would rather have no job than a job they hate, and that 50 percent also believe that “switching jobs helps you climb the corporate ladder faster.” Once again, smart talent management programs and software can contribute to meeting these needs of the future workforce. Providing a way to receive more regular feedback is a no-brainer. Using gamification to make the workplace more social, and also as a means of speeding up learning, should be a priority. As for creating jobs that people do not hate, enabling people to move between jobs (also referred to as talent mobility) is one proven strategy for helping with that. Continuous and on-demand learning systems will enable people to switch jobs more seamlessly without a massive drop off in knowledge and skills.

We live in a time when talent management tools, the nature of work, and the needs and desires of the future workforce are all converging in a way that enable us to reimagine the ways we hire, train, manage and engage employees. Those that take advantage of this convergence will win the future.