While we are bombarded with all things tech, our chat with one HR leader reminds us that not everything in the future will be about robots taking over the world. And coming from someone with a solid background in IT – she knows what she’s talking about.
Comfortably poised for a promising career as head of IT at AstraZeneca Canada (AZC), Gena Restivo made the switch to HR in 2015, when discussions about digital disruption were only building. She is currently the VP of HR & communications at AZC.
“Since I started my career, I have naturally been drawn to roles that impact the guts of what makes an organization run and succeed,” Restivo told HRD. “I’ve been with Astra Zeneca for 17 years and I came across many business roles. Most recently I had headed up [people planner] which I really enjoyed.
“In my IT role I had the opportunity to hone my skills on how to successfully embed change in an organization at the enterprise level, so I think that is a key [field] for any HR leader.”
Her bold move from IT to HR was motivated by her strong passion surrounding people’s potential and her intrigue of the “magic that happens” when organisations and people are empowered to be their best selves.
“I know this is long [undervalued] but I truly believe that HR leaders have a unique privilege to see across the organization,” she said. “They also have the responsibility to help cultivate the right cultures and practices to ensure the business’ most critical resource, its employees, are set up to thrive.”
Looking forwards: The future of HR
Considering her unique position of having a strong background in IT combined with a genuine passion for HR, we asked Restivo to share three predictions for the future of HR. Expecting a typical answer along the lines of automation and the impact of digital disruption, Restivo’s response reminds us to refocus on what’s most important in our roles.
“I know everybody these days is giving you a lot of responses around technology, but I’d like to focus on three other areas that I feel are equally important,” she said.
Prediction #1: The ability to demonstrate life-long learning will be a key differentiator in HR’s hiring and talent practices
“How quickly we learn versus what we know will be a competitive advantage for employers and employees,” she said.
She explained that as the only constant these days is change, employers will need workforces that can adjust quickly. Employees will thus need to have the desire and ability to adapt to new environments just as fast.
And as people start to have longer careers due to an extended longevity, the ability to continuously learn relevant skills throughout ones’ career will determine whether we remain effective in our roles.
Prediction #2: Meaningful work will be key to attracting best talent
“People will continue to want to be part of something bigger than themselves and work in organizations that respect and support the world around them,” she said.
Rather than just hefty paychecks or how technologically advanced an organisation is, Restivo believes companies that provide people the opportunity to do what matters most to them will attract and retain the best talent.
“Meaningful work will remain meaningful,” she said. “People [will be] seeking more meaning in their work and their life. Everyone will want to learn and grow – and where we do that will continue to matter.”
Prediction #3: ‘Life’ will be even more central in the quest for work-life balance
“This is somewhat already happening but I believe we will continue to see an increasing prominence of how ‘life’ will continue to take centre stage in the work-life balance conversation,” she said.
According to Restivo, to attract and retain the best employees, organisations will have to have a “healthy recognition” of the multiple priorities employees juggle on a 24/7 basis and be creative on ways to support them.
She added that the conversation regarding work-life balance will change in the future, particularly because of how millennials will help veer the topic.
“[Millennials will be] living longer, working longer and looking for quality of life for different reasons because of the different times…they are in,” she said. “I believe [they will teach] our experienced generation a few things about what matters most.
“So I actually believe this ‘life’ conversation is going to happen across all aspects of the organisation and will be important to all workers.”
Reflecting on the past: Career advice
Besides looking forward into her career and how she expects HR to transform, we asked Restivo to look back and share what she would advise her younger self.
“The first thing is I would remind myself that it will all work out,” she said.
She shared with us that although she did make the effort to plan some things through her career, things always had a way of working itself out – especially if you find something you’re passionate about.
“You know when you’re young you’re worrying about how it’s all going to turn out. I would just like to give myself peace of mind and tell myself, ‘don’t worry, it’s all going to work out, just follow your heart and do something you’re passionate about’.”
The second thing she shared was more of a reminder, she said.
“Always operate by being the kind of leader you would want to follow,” Restivo said.
“Take smart risks. Don’t be afraid to follow your heart as well as your mind. Be good to people along the way and give back because many people have helped you along the way.
“And at the end of the day don’t be so hard on yourself because the truth is everybody is just trying to figure it out.”