Future of People Operations


A group of MBA students of University of Ljubljana has asked me to help them with a project for their HRM class how will human resources look 30 years from now. I believe my answer is of wider interest so I'm posting it here. For starters, nobody will talk about human resources 30 years from. This term is a relict of bygone industrial age and modern companies such as Google have already started using term people operations instead. This is not just a change of words but a fundamental change in approach how we already treat employees at high-tech companies and an indication how every company will treat their employees 30 years from now. In the industrial age the main task of every company was to set up a repeatable process, while 30 years more into information age all the companies will be run automatically as are some Internet start-ups already today. Consequently, the only role of employees 30 years from now will be to learn and adapt, and not to work and produce. The companies will shrink in head count, but not in revenue and profit, thus making the few employees left highly valuable. The war for talent will intensify and we can expect all companies chasing exceptional people the same way as Silicon Valley start-ups are already courting software engineers.

The exceptional employees will know their value much better than they do today and they'll become much better at marketing themselves. A polished LinkedIn profile is already a norm today, but we can expect niche professional networks to emerge for every profession not just software engineers (e.g. GitHub) and creative professionals (e.g. Behance). And once exceptional employees realize their value, they'll want to maximize it so we can expect online marketplaces for trading talent as is already the case in sports and is just starting to emerge in software engineering.

Not all talented people are versed at marketing themselves or realizing their potentials. Such people will be quickly spotted by scouts just as talented football or basketball players are found today. Scouts will hand talent to professional coaches and managers who will build a lifelong relationship with the person and coach him or her throughout the career. Successful recruiters, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists spend a lot of effort and time nurturing their talent network already today and we can expect this to become even more important 30 years from now.

Unfortunately majority of people cannot be exceptional (by definition) and there is a big question lingering around what will all these people do. Only few professions requiring human touch such as nursing and table waiting will survive software eating the world, but even they can expect to be hired automatically, evaluated automatically, and let go automatically by software just as mechanical Turks and TaskRabbits already are today. It seems that our society will have to fundamentally change in order to accommodate for times when a small minority of people will be able not just invent but also produce, sell, and distribute everything that we could ever need, wish, or desire.

The future of people operations is therefore intricately connected with the needs and whims of exceptional people. Every people operations specialist would do wisely do track closely what scouts, managers, coaches and other people handling top sport professionals do today, because that's what they'll be doing 30 years from now regardless of the industry or profession they will specialize in.

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