Human Capital Trends to Prepare for

I had to laugh when I saw a piece in the Money section of U.S. News & World Report: “5 Workplace Changes Your Boss Is Eying for the Future.” With wages stagnant for many (if not most), and managers often coping with stretched-thin resources, what could possibly be reasonable to ask for next?

Of course, in my own situation, I have to chuckle because, as I’ve mentioned often, my manager is basically incompetent—though the most brimming-with-self-love incompetent person I’ve ever met. I suspect many others (even some reading this blog) may feel the same about their boss or department head, so I’m probably not the only one whose immediate thought is: “Well, maybe the change my boss is eying for the future is his departure from the company!”

Aside from those daydreams, though, I thought the synthesis of the 2016 Deloitte study, “Global Human Capital Trends 2016,” which this piece presents, is intriguing—and also funny.

The first is that we should prepare ourselves “to team.” That reminds me of an interview I did for a piece on staff management for the optometric practice management Website I write for. The practice owner I interviewed (and gave the byline to) insisted on referring to staffing as “teaming.” As a writer, I found that an awkward new word. Now it’s funny that others are following suit.

I also have to say that I find this “teaming” business phony. On the one hand, it’s nice to think of a work group as a team. But, in reality, it’s important for the manager to understand and track individual accomplishment. I wouldn’t advise forced ranking, in which managers are forced to rank each member of their “team” in order of indispensability from highest to lowest, but it’s essential that the manager understand who’s carrying the heaviest load, and who has most delivered on their assignments. I like to be idealistic, but I know from repeated experience that it’s never equal. You’re always going to have the unsung hero, or heroine, who does double what they should, and doesn’t get recognized. And there’s always going to be the master schmoozer who is charming and excels at meetings and cocktail parties, and who, in actuality, delivers very little. Your managers can sing the praises of the “team,” but they also need to recognize individual achievement, and call out and discipline (and weed out) those who talk a good game, but contribute little.

The next trend we should all brace ourselves for, according to the study, is the search for new leaders. The senior leaders responding to the Deloitte survey expressed concern that their companies were not producing the next generation of leaders fast enough. I’d agree, based on what I’ve observed at my own company. And, sadly, at my company, at least, nothing is being done about this. I was just sadly laughing with a colleague the other day that my company has two kinds of employees it values—entry level and low paid, and senior and highly pampered. If you’re at the mid-level, have been with the company for, say, five to 10 years, and have performed well, you shouldn’t expect much. Instead of recognizing promising employees at the mid-level as the company’s next generation of senior leaders, my company has given up, leaving most of us no choice but to look for another opportunity elsewhere to advance to a more senior, higher-paying position.

What is your company doing to cultivate mid-level employees? Do you find this is an easily overlooked demographic at your company? How can companies create learning programs for those at the pivotal point in their careers of having 15 to 20 years of experience, and a strong work record, but no pathway yet to the next level?

The third big trend identified was to “get ready to engage.” I think it would be great to engage employees more. The senior leaders who responded to the Deloitte survey rightly see employee engagement as essential to the company’s success. The question is: What are most companies going to do in this regard?

In addition to creating exciting opportunities for those who show promise, companies can think about the passions of their employees when creating development plans. It’s understandable that the needs of the company need to come first, but it’s also a good idea to think about ways the company can tie employees’ particular areas of interest to their growth plan. For example, in my case, I’ve expressed interest to my company in moving on to a position at a sister publication that is focused on eyewear style. My current publication is focused on the finances of optometric practice management. It’s not a stretch to think a savvy manager, or department head, would be receptive to ideas that would allow me to create partnerships with this other publication to offer our readers new takes on how they can improve their businesses. But I haven’t experienced that receptivity to new ideas that draw in my interests, and allow me to create a better product for our readers.

How does your company balance the needs of the company, and individual products or brands, with the needs of each employee? Is there a way to both serve the pragmatic needs of your company, while exciting employees in their jobs? Or is the only answer to create a culture that forces unfulfilled, yet high-performing, responsible employees to look for a job at another company for fulfillment?

Readiness to learn is another trend noted. As trainers and Learning professionals, it must be encouraging to see the eagerness of senior executives for greater learning opportunities at companies. But I would be careful, and think about who needs the “learning,” and how inclusive the push for greater learning will be. I’ve noticed a willingness for learning in the entry-level, and mid-level, employee ranks, with no additional learning expected of those at the senior level. There seems to be a culture at some companies that follows the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s also a kind of arrogance that companies should be wary of in their senior executives. What kind of learning are your senior executives expected to partake in? Just high-level, visionary thinking and strategies, or do you also acknowledge the need for more basic learning, such as how to use social media to promote the company, how to add a hyperlink to a company Website, and how to create and use an Excel spreadsheet? Many senior executives have assistants, and lower-level employees, to do this kind of grunt work, but they also should understand how to do it themselves because it’s not hard, and it’s what your company’s average customer knows how to do. You don’t want a group of highly educated out-of-touch do-nothings making decisions about the future of your company, and how you communicate with your customers.

Getting ready for “your next gig,” is yet another trend we all should prepare for. This reminds me of the “gig economy,” in which we all just float around unattached, and poorly paid with no benefits, from company to company and job to job, as the need arises. It makes sense from a corporate perspective—up to a certain point. It’s good to only pay for exactly what you need. But there’s a flip side to this arrangement from a learning perspective. You lose continuity and understanding of your company culture and customer needs when you decide to hire per project rather than investing in a steady, long-term workforce. It’s a short-term gain, which is penny wise but pound foolish. If your company uses many temporary “pay-per-gig” employees, how do you ensure these employees deliver the same quality service a permanent, long-term employee would? What are the benefits and the drawbacks of making the investment, instead, in a long-term workforce?

What goals is your company setting for your managers? How can your managers work with your company’s workforce to offer better products and service to your customers?

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