Unleash Amsterdam Oct 2018 - Reflections

Unleash Amsterdam 2018 felt like a conference experiencing a paradox. There was speaker after speaker, vendor after vendor and case after case detailing how new technology, in particular, AI and automation tools are impacting our industry, driving productivity and efficiency, and at the end of the day, the need for fewer people in traditional roles.

Whilst, several speakers did argue the case that the impact on jobs may not be so bad given the creation of new roles, and that robots are not ready for mass take-over, it is clear things are changing and traditional jobs in our HR and TA teams are in line for major disruption now and into the future.

However, a major thread of this conference was the importance of ‘humanity’ and the need to keep humans in the loop. Whilst not yet a revolt and backlash against the brave new world of technology, there are signs of an emerging movement to keep our focus on being ‘humane’ and to keep connection, trust and relationships front and centre of HR and business in general.

Perhaps, society is becoming fatigued with data breaches, ‘fake-news’, power and economic imbalances and the rising surveillance culture we currently live in. It was interesting that Unleash chose to include four key note speakers who personified this movement, one a highly regarded psychotherapist speaking about the importance of relationship intelligence, the other, a Buddhist monk speaking on the importance of Altruism in society and the workplace, the other, a futurist espousing the need for personal and societal trust in business and the last, a business leader cum writer who believes we need to ‘fix the already broken future’.

These speakers were in stark contrast to those touting shiny new tools, examples of new ways of working and the successful deployment of technology and AI platforms. My sense is that companies and the HR industry, in particular, are struggling to reconcile the world it now faces and HR practitioners and the businesses they work in must choose where they stand on the issues of Technology Disruption, Automation and the Future of Work and importantly their role and stance relating to Corporate & Social Responsibility as change and transformation affects society and their workforce.

I get the distinct impression that successful businesses in the future will need much stronger employee, and general workforce programs and will need to play a much bigger role in the major social issues affecting the world. Talent will increasingly be attracted to companies that have a strong purpose in society or who are heavily engaged in activities driving greater good in a distinctly turbulent and challenging world.

Perhaps the notion of ‘employee experience’ is too narrow and companies should start seriously considering their strategy and participation in programs focused on ‘social welfare’ and the greater good. A genuine focus on Meaning as well as Money.

Image courtest of Unsplash, Adrien Olichon

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