New Study on the Future of HR: Breakthrough Findings

Bill Jensen makes it easier to do great work. He helps companies and teams double their productivity and pursue their passions. Known as Mr. Simplicity, he has spent the past 30 years studying how work gets done, resulting in global best practices for working smarter, not harder. Bill Jensen makes it easier to leap into tomorrow. He is an IBM Futurist, and has conducted high-impact future of work research for multiple technology giants. Bill has written eight best-selling business books, all focused on helping you do and be your best. His latest is Future Strong. He is CEO of The Jensen Group. Among his clients are Bank of America, Merck, Pfizer, GE, L’Oréal Italia, Genentech, NASA, The World Bank, BBC, Philips Lighting, the US Navy SEALS, Guangzhou China Development District, and the Swedish Post Office. Bill’s personal life fantasy is to bicycle around the globe via breweries.


Most research about the future of HR begins within the walls of a company — that HR’s role is to ensure we have the best people doing what’s best for the company. Our study — co-sponsored by Ultimate Software, the number three Best Place to Work — broke new ground in understanding HR’s role in the future.

We began by leaping outside those walls, to the entire ecosystem of educating and developing a free market of talent. Free market, as in: What matters to the workforce is equally important to what matters to companies. We asked: What if HR had responsibilities to the broader ecosystem of talent, to each individual, and to the broader social, technological, and professional dynamics that will impact every company and everyone who works? What if HR had no place to hide — especially given the coming wave of changes driven by AI and augmentation? How would that change the future of HR?

Q. What was the most striking finding from the results of your research, The Future of HR?

That the Augmented Era will force changes on us all, ready or not. These changes will not only make HR professionals more effective business leaders, but will help to ensure the success of every individual who works for that business. It will take a great deal of creativity, empathy, and resilience. But it is doable. Our study found six discreet areas that need the most work, which we will detail at our session.

Yet the biggest challenge will not be technological. It is changing our HR mindset. For decades, HR has been stuck between a rock (meeting company needs) and a hard place (meeting each individual’s needs). We found that the ONLY path forward is to break that decades-long conundrum: We must do far more to meet each individual’s performance, learning, and development needs.

The good news is that the Augmented Era will finally enable that. We can now tailor for each individual’s needs at scale, and at reasonable costs. The only questions that remain are: Will we? Will HR be the advocate that the workforce needs and deserves?

Q. What is critical to creating a people-first company culture, and how can HR contribute to building the foundation?

Far greater people advocacy. Placing each individual’s needs at the center of our HR work. Reimagining the link between individual career priorities, (which are deeply personal, not company-centered), and business priorities, set by leadership. We have reached a point in which we are in urgent need of strong, direct advocacy for our people.

For example, one of the questions we asked was about the importance of each individual’s ability to create and control their own destiny in a highly disruptive, VUCA-driven world. This was hyper-important for certain segments of the workforce. Especially in a Gig Economy — as job-hopping increases, and tenures with each firm gets shorter — many of the top career and development needs are market-driven, not associated with any company. And yet most companies still treat T&D as if each employee will stay at that one company, and is developed to meet that specific company’s needs.

Q. What do companies who are re-imagining, disrupting and leading HR into the future have in common?

There are several traits which we will detail in our session, but this is among the most important: Holistic wellness. Most everyone who works is overloaded, overstressed, and struggling just to keep up. Which means we need to greatly expand how HR currently defines wellness (which is mostly physical, and some mindfulness.) Holistic wellness is defined as maintaining total well-being: physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual. Of all the questions we asked in our study, this received the highest percentage score of being most important.

Q. What role does technology play (such as AI or natural language processing) in building a people first culture and what are some of the latest tools that are disrupting HR?

What role? Huge! Emerging technologies will change EVERYTHING we do! And while my study co-sponsor, Ultimate Software, is pioneering some of these new tools, I know they’d agree with me that technology comes second. First is that each of us within HR must face and embrace our personal role in reshaping HR. It’s up to each of us to reimagine how we will change how HR does things, and not wait for technology to thrust disruptions upon us. For tomorrow’s technologies to work effectively, we must first reimagine how we are each individual’s advocate, and how those systems are built, so everyone can be their best — for their company, their customers, their family, their communities, and for themselves.

Q. What is one way that can HR professionals leverage technology to disrupt HR and increase engagement and satisfaction to build people first cultures?

Think beyond the technology itself. Think data. Become people scientists. For decades, HR has been ‘dinged’ because many of the numbers we tracked were ‘soft.’ Finally, as we enter the Augmented Era, we will begin to use data to better understand how each individual thinks, learns, behaves. Emerging technologies means that we need to better understand what makes us human — understanding the mind and cognitive sciences, how we socialize, the dynamics of social networks, organizational psychology, neurolinguistics. For many, the future of HR within the future of work will be as people scientists.

Q. How can HR technology empower employees promote and maintain people first cultures?

This ties back to far greater people advocacy. Think about your favorite personal technologies — the apps on your phone or tablet. Nobody taught you how to use them. You just started playing with them, experimenting. And soon, you discovered capabilities you never imagined, you were creating in ways and connecting with people in ways you never could have imagined. Well-designed, user-centered technologies do that. On their own. Empowerment, engagement, and mastery happen on their own, without corporate intervention. The biggest thing HR can do is practice design thinking further upstream, as your company embraces new technologies. Work backward from individual’s needs. Make sure those needs are built into implementation designs. Be their proxy, their agent. That’s where the toughest work will be — ensuring that technology is as workforce-centered as it company-centered. Ensuring that every individual can create and control their own destiny at the same time they deliver on what the company needs.

Want to learn more?  Bill Jensen and Jarik Conrad will present at the 2018 HR Technology Conference: The Future of HR: Disrupting and Establishing New HR Norms in Putting People First  |   Wednesday, September 12, 2018: 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM