How can HR prepare for the ‘next big thing’?

by John Hilton21 Feb 2017

Planning for the ‘next big thing’ is something of a thankless task given the speed with which the work environment is changing.

“There are so many ‘next big things’ that it’s hard to keep up,” said James Law, HR director of the Australian web designer market company Envato.

Law will be tackling that topic at the National HR Summit, Sydney. He’s particularly keen on focusing on work being something one does, as opposed to somewhere one goes.

He’ll also be looking at how to use Minimum Viable Products and Processes – terminology he said he has “stolen from the digital product geniuses out there”.

“It’s a way to work your way through the unknown challenges we face as work changes from a job with an employer to a portfolio of jobs that you can do from anywhere,” Law said.

“The key skill, I believe, is to have the ability to try things and then iterate once you’ve learned what works and what doesn’t – and not be afraid to make mistakes along the way!”

Of course, any future forecasting about disruption would not be complete without talk of technology. Envato itself operates a group of digital marketplaces that sell creative assets for web designers, including themes, graphics, video, audio, photography and 3D models.

Among its high-traffic marketplaces is ThemeForest. Needless to say, digital fluency and literacy flows through the blood of most of the company’s workers.

Law said that working in any digital business means that the barrier to entry for a future competitor is non-existent so you have to constantly be looking at ways to provide your community – in Envato’s case the customers and contributors – with the best experience possible.

That means constantly looking for better ways to solve the most important challenges you have. He added that HR at Envato has been positively disrupted by software as a service (SaaS) tools that can automate some of the manual tasks an HR team has to cope with.

“This allows us to stay fairly streamlined and focus on things that add value,” he said.

“These things are more likely to enable than stifle businesses growth. It’s also far more interesting for the HR team to work on so it is in everyone’s best interest to work with technology not against it.”

Although Law said he’s been lucky to work in technology companies, meaning new technology has been “thrust” upon him, he believes that if there’s a away to speed up processes that don’t require human intervention, which then frees HR up to tackle challenges that do require greater human collaboration, “then you are doing yourself, your business and the HR community a disservice by not adopting it”.

While there’s a major push within Australia’s education system for students to take up STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects, Law feels employers could be doing more – with the proviso that knowing what technical skills will be required in 10 years’ time is impossible to predict.

“Employers need to broaden their understanding of STEM beyond the latest coding language – although that’s important – to product management principles, data science, problem solving, global markets, etc,” he said.

“I’m no expert but I think STEM still has an image problem too and we need to ensure the breadth of opportunities studying STEM can provide is understood and gets kids excited.

“If we can connect kids to technology they use every day – Mindcraft, Instagram etc – and what they will need to learn to be part of the creation of this technology then we will get closer to getting them excited about STEM.”

James Law will be presenting a TED talk-style session at the National HR Summit which takes place at Luna Park, Sydney, on 29-30 March.

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