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March 31, 2015 / Mervyn Dinnen

#HRTechEurope – We’re All Millennials Now!

Last week’s HRTechEurope conference and exhibition spanned 2 full days of interesting content and thought provoking presentations, 1500 delegates and lots of fun. There was a blog squad of 21 leading to a range of views and insights as we digested what we heard, and there is definitely some variety in the follow up blogs.

For me the HR takeaways were about flatter and faster workplaces, with greater personal responsibility and a different kind of leadership, offering seemingly less secure employment. The 20th century definition of employment may not be helpful for addressing the way work is transacted in the 21st Century. And as networks of influence and knowledge shift power from the institution to the individual then reputation will become an important currency. All of this requiring a mindset that we may not be used to finding. And its millennial!

Too much is happening too quickly. Technology is transforming customer and employee expectations and several industries are experiencing challenges to the way they operate. The need for agile and flexible structures was referenced by many speakers, as was the writing of Frederic Laloux on reinventing organisations. And Tom Fishburne’s alternative org chart got an airing in presentation slides…

 


How can workplaces keep up with the pace of technological change? “The new normal isn’t technology, it’s speed” said Peter Hinssen “if things move fast then hierarchies are dangerous“. His “work is the brief period of the day where I have to use old tech” slide (above) was one of the most shared images from the event and the concept of today’s workers as time travellers illustrated this well, but maybe even the most agile organisations might struggle to keep up. The reliance of adult workers on email and the phone (50% of business comms) is at odds with experiences of the future workforce, for whom they make up around 5% of communication.

Peter’s main message was about networks, for information and knowledge – “We’re still building companies with old fashioned structures…we need networks where information is shared. If a brand doesn’t speak the language of its network it will die” Network vs hierarchy was pitched as fluidity vs rigidity, with HRs role as enabler of the network.

Change requires more than technology though. “Social tools can help but can’t change the organisation alone” said Lee Bryant in an afternoon keynote. They do make new structures possible though, relying less on visionary leaders, whilst organisational change is not a technology project and more about continual improvement – “Change shouldn’t be top down, or something that only happens every 3 years, but it should be agile, gradual and on-going

Continuous improvement was also a theme underpinning a new approach to performance management. “Do you have confidence in the performance data within your organisation?” asked Heidi Spirgi. 1 hand was raised out of an audience of over 300. The new approach is based on leaders having frequent strengths-based conversations over the course of the year “what are you working on and how can I help?“. There is a shift from purely delivering feedback to regular coaching whilst performance ratings are becoming a thing of the past, with research indicating that 61% of a performance rating its a reflection of the rater not the ratee.

In another session on the performance appraisal, Armin Trost asked who was the customer – employee, manager or Board? He berated those who tried to set objectives for 12 months when they didn’t know what would be happening in their business the next month, whilst also observing that what usually starts out as an appraisal about performance usually ends up being about the person.

Rachel Botsman closed the event with a look at the Collaborative Economy. Rich in positives – “using technology to allow trust between strangers“, “untapped value of assets through collaborative models that enable empowerment efficiency and greater access” – she said the next phase for this technology would be about ‘unlocking the value inherent in human potential‘. Work was being ‘consumerfied‘ with new app Wonolo being showcased in a video – a collaborative platform for basic low skill, repetitive work.

Rachel had questions for HR. The 20th century laws for classifying workers is no longer relevant for new working models. Is the future of work not just about flexibility and empowerment, but also precarious, with no benefits and no guaranteed income? She called it the murky side of the sharing economy. The personal ratings element within this technology is interesting though with personal reputation and a kind of ‘peer capital’ becoming the new currency of work – from institutions to individuals.

The showcasing of Wonolo interested me. I’ve long thought that this kind of technology will impact staffing agencies and this was the closest yet. There have always been threats to agencies – job boards, in-house teams, social media – but this is different. The business needing a basic skill is directly in touch with the person offering the skill. The fact they connect, and the worker has a rating, covers validation, certification and availability with the pay rate set. Once these scale then things could get interesting.

So what about millennials?

I took part in a panel discussion, chaired by Andy Campbell from Oracle, about them. We heard research on what they want from the workplace – and the list could have been what the over 50s want from the workplace. or what 30/40 somethings want if they didn’t have childcare costs and associated expenditure. We heard about their aspirational employers of choice – Google, Apple etc – yet these are purely based on brand perception. Most look fun but don’t necessarily offer the flexibility, opportunities and rewards that we heard earlier the millennials want.

Employer branding didn’t start with the internet – there have always been aspirational employers of choice. Step back in time and Virgin, Marks & Spencers, John Lewis, BBC, NHS, British Airways and a plethora of banks, consulting firms and advertising agencies would all have topped those lists for older age groups.

Whilst the socio-economic, cultural and family factors that have influenced the values and aspirations of millennials during adolescence may have been different from previous generations (though not those growing up in fluctuating economic times) their mindset towards technology, change, personalisation, consumerfication, instant gratification, speed and opportunity is something we all need to share in the future world of work.

And if its a mindset, and not a date of birth, then we’re all millennials now.

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3 Comments

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  1. perrytimms / Mar 31 2015 9:52 AM

    Super summary Merv of what was, clearly, a thought provoking event. I wonder how many people return back to their “old” technology and put up with it? Or how many now start rubbing sticks to create sparks to start fires of new ways?

    Or are they leaving that to the millennials (of all ages) too?

  2. martincouzins757 / Apr 1 2015 8:20 AM

    Great post Mervyn. Were there any Millennials on the panel talking about Millennials? Seems most workplace conferences make a point of talking about this cohort from afar which just helps cement stereotypes.

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