3 Ways HR Must Adapt to Key 21st Century Changes

“Millennials just don’t have the values and work ethic of our times.  They want everything the easy way.”  How many times have you heard this? When someone complains to me about “young people these days….,” I counter with questions like: Why don’t you drive a horse carriage instead of a car? Why do you use a calculator or spreadsheet instead of doing manual calculations as we were taught in school?  Why do you Google instead of going to the library to do research? Why do you WhatsApp instead of speaking or calling a person directly?Young workers

If you’re honest, the answer to all the above questions is, because it’s easier.  So, what’s wrong if Millennials want the easy way out? Don’t we all?  The real problem is not that Millennials’ values are flawed.  Instead, the real problem is that since we had to do and learn things the hard way, we cannot stomach the fact that kids these days don’t have to follow the same path.

And who is to say that Millennials don’t work hard? Just look at the workload of college kids today.  As someone in my early fifties, both the complexity and competitiveness of my kids’ college work amaze me.  I simply cannot remember this kind of pressure during my college days, even though conveniences like computers and the internet to look things up were not available then.

Let’s get one thing straight: there is nothing wrong with Millennials—it is us older folks that don’t fully appreciate just how much the rules of the game have changed in recent years. Consider just a few pointers and their implications for HR:

  1. Knowledge has been democratized, so people today don’t need gurus as much as before. Earlier, the way to succeed in one’s career was to find a manager who was also your guru, and was prepared to teach you the tricks of the trade so you could succeed. Now, Google does most of the teaching. The guru is dead; long live Google!Implication for HR and People Processes: We need a whole new way to think about ‘learning and development’ and the ‘manager-employee relationship’.  Instead of one-way teaching from manager to employee based on prior experience, both must now constantly learn together based on the forever changing present, and the fast unfolding future.
  1. The very idea of “employment” is changing. Today, we have far more choices than ever before. I met an Uber driver recently who had three distinct money-making gigs going at the same time. Besides driving for Uber, he was an Airbnb manager and a real estate consultant. He told me that he much preferred this to a 9 to 5 job reporting to a traditional manager.  In this era of freedom and empowerment, it is simply impossible to treat employees the way we treated them through the 20th century. Implication for HR and People Processes: We need to redefine performance management.  Instead of giving everyone stretch goals and closely monitoring performance through the year, managers must now let employees decide how much and when they want to work, and prepare them to face the consequences and/or rewards accordingly.
  1. Technology is creating business models that did not exist before. From taxis, hotel stays, to paying and receiving, and shopping, everything is turning upside down. We’ve clearly left the era of mass-standardization (which made America the biggest economic powerhouse in the 20th century) behind, and have entered a time of mass-customization.  Talent and innovation are not scarce anymore because connectivity is breaking virtually all boundaries.Implications for HR and People Processes: We need to rethink succession planning and innovation.  Instead of identifying and deliberately developing a pool of high-potentials for succession and innovation, we need to crowdsource both.  We need to dismantle complex succession planning processes, and let the cream naturally rise to the top.

The fact is, we have entered the open source era of breakneck speed, total transparency and 24/7 connectivity.  Almost everything we know as normal is changing, or has already changed. If you think Uber and other app based car hailing services are destroying the traditional taxi business, think how long it will be before driverless cars disrupt the Uber model?

In summary, there is no point in complaining about the work habits of Millennials.  Instead, we will be much better off looking at our own skills and mindsets, and asking ourselves: How long will it be before I will be rendered jobless, and what do I need to do now to reinvent myself?  As HR professionals, we need to look hard into the future, understand what’s emerging, and reinvent our profession.

In my book, Open Source Leadership, we lay out in detail what is currently unfolding by way of the fourth industrial revolution, and how HR and management practices need to adapt.  But it will take all of us to jointly think about this.  The complexity is simply too much for any one person to comprehend.  You can join the conversation by clicking on the URL we provide at the end of the book, where we’ve placed all our 28-country research on an interactive portal.  Together, we can build the HR of the future.

Rajeev Peshawaria Author of Open Source Leadership and Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders, Rajeev Peshawaria is the CEO of The Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre. Prior positions include Global Chief Learning Officer of both Coca-Cola and Morgan Stanley, and senior roles at American Express and Goldman Sachs. Rajeev provides speaking and consulting services globally to organizations in both public and private sectors. Full Bio