April 4, 2017

The future of workforce management

BY: Tom Lee
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According to researchers at The University of Oxford,1 existing perceptions of employment roles and more precisely employee management, are increasingly outdated.

The rise of new technologies and new generations of employee has created the perfect storm.

A tsunami of change is approaching the employment landscape and businesses that fail to adapt will be swept aside.

As we write, leaders of the UK’s Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) are threatening strike action in response to British Airways plans for an “out-of-control human resources fantasy project.”

Much like industrialisation and the dawn of factory-based mass production, the scale and speed of changing employment models means everything we do, and everything we do to manage the output must change, if enterprise is to survive and thrive in the coming years.

“If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d’ve said ‘a faster horse!’” Henry Ford

It’s hard to evaluate the outcome of any revolution in advance. Henry Ford recognised this when evolving the future of transport. He knew that few could appreciate the impact of mass production, but that this would not halt its progress.

And yet, the changes in employee management are unstoppable and all encompassing. This is due, in part, to the twin influences of globalisation and computerisation. However, it’s also the consequence of fresh behaviours entering the marketplace. Attitudes that are further spread and strengthened by technology and social interaction. Many of which directly challenge the employment status quo.


Numerous academic, managerial and business organisations see the need for urgent change. In a recent presentation, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development observed:

“Organisations now need to engage and manage the expectations of no fewer than four separate generations.” 2

Much has been written about the different viewpoints, attitudes and behaviours of the infamous ‘millennial’, however the plain truth is that they already make up 40% of the workforce. The expectations of generation ‘Y’ millennials3 will directly influence the culture, processes and management practices of every significant organisation within ten years.


In truth, there have been early change-adopters: Airbnb, Uber, Google, have embraced the opportunities of this shift in management approach. Results show significant benefits for these pioneers in personnel thinking. Others - including Adobe, GE and Eli Lilly - applied a fresh approach to people management, with the disruption of managerial processes very much the focus of change.

Whilst recognising it’s not enough to change processes and production methods in isolation – indeed doing so may be inherently dangerous; these organisations clearly see the need to redesign the ways they engage, support and motivate employees, throughout their employment journey.

As far back as 2012, Adobe abolished its own performance review system, following comments from SVP of People and Places, Donna Morris, who observed “employees hated them and they weren’t useful”.

Having initiated the end of annual performance reviews, today’s informal approach favors more candid, more-timely and more frequent conversations between employees and managers. Something that connects even more directly with the expectations frequently expressed by millenials.4

To date, Adobe’s check-in approach has recovered 80,000 hours of managers’ time from the annual review process. Voluntary employee turnover has reduced 30%, and involuntary departures have risen by 50%5

And what of General Electric, who first moved away from annual performance evaluations 10 years ago, before severing all ties in 2015.

“Over many years it had become more a ritual than [about] moving the company upwards and forwards.” Susan Peters, Head of HR, General Electric

Here, the HR group implemented [email protected] - a dedicated personal development App – and today, interacts with 80,000 users across the company.5 Rather than annual grading, GE’s focused in on constant employee improvement and development. Conversations are now widely seen as more natural and more relevant – especially to younger generations:

In one comprehensive study of employee engagement, 21% of all 20 to 36 years olds quit their jobs, and 60% were actively floating their résumés.6

Perhaps the greatest modern challenge to HR teams is the need to action data findings when shaping career pathways.

Eli Lilly, the world’s ninth largest pharma company, redesigned its performance management in response to just such an insight.5

Requiring managers to demonstrate how their actions promote ‘Trust’, the new process empowers both managers and workers by giving them a voice and allowing them to take the initiative in their work.
One immediate benefit has been the strengthening of partnerships between supervisors and employees despite vast geographical boundaries.


According to the ABP (Association of Business Psychology) just as fresh attitudes are transitioning leadership approaches away from outmoded 19th century models3, the growing influence of next-gen workforces is already inspiring and responding to equally innovative approaches in employee management.7

For enterprise, technology is the great enabler: – providing access to new markets, new audiences and new forms of interaction and management. However, technology is not itself the solution to continued advancement.

“Technologies are getting smarter. Now, more than ever business needs to understand its workforce, and to manage people in more perceptive and receptive ways.” Marcus Lambert, CTO, Omobono

If they are to position themselves and their teams for tomorrow, businesses (including the likes of British Airways) must identify and activate the key values and opportunities in play.

HRD’s that accept we face an employment tipping point, no less fundamental than the industrial age itself, stand to gain the key advantage both in terms of strategy and productivity.

New behaviours and opportunities are coming. Organisations that fail to change, risk flogging a dead horse.

Next month we examine the key ideas and approaches currently ‘at work’ and the generational change facing employee management.

1 The Future of Employment: Carl Benedikt Frey · Michael Osborne. Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford. 2 Frey and Osborne (2013) 3 Strauss & Howe 4 Oxford Economics 5 The Future of Work 6 Gallup 7 Universal Leadership. The Evolution of Leadership Theory: Peter Saville· Tom Hopton. Business Psychology in Action – The ABP 2016

About the author Tom Lee

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Tom Lee is a millennial, actively involved in developing the TalTrack performance management app, which incorporates the type of swipe-based functionality younger workforces are quite at home with.

He’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of talent management, and to know if your company has adapted its approach to performance management?