Fourth Industrial Revolution

On 16 and 17 October, thousands of HR professionals flocked to the Sandton Convention for the annual HR Indaba


On 16 and 17 October, thousands of HR professionals flocked to the Sandton Convention for the annual HR Indaba – a two-day extravaganza of knowledge-sharing, networking and inspiration.

Go, the ancient Chinese strategy game, has a number of possible moves exceeding the number of atoms in the known universe. Before 2016, no computer on the face of Planet Earth could crunch these kinds of numbers. In 2014, the problem had been posed to industry professionals in the field of AI, who said that a computer could ultimately be programmed to compete at Go, but that kind of processing power would take 20 years to be realised.

But Google’s team at DeepMinds decided to take a stab at it, and by 2016, they had come up with AlphaGo. AlphaGo was unleashed on Lee Sedol, the raining global Go champion, and it beat him by four games to one over six days – achieving in two years what had been anticipated to take twenty.

But the lightning pace of progress didn’t stop there. DeepMind went away, and developed a new system to beat AlphaGo, already the most powerful Go player on the planet. At the end of 12 months, AlphaGo Zero played 100 games against the original system, and beat it 100 to 0. That’s how far technology had advanced in 12 months.

This was a story shared by Michael Cook, senior manager for the Center for the Future of Work, EMEA at Cognizant, in his opening address at the 2019 HR Indaba at the Sandton Convention Centre in October.

Cook explained that this pace of change, which far outstrips anticipated progress, is going to have an impact on the way that HR recruits – because it is not so much the skills that people have that will be important in the future world of work, but their adaptability to change that will be crucial.

Cook, who literally wrote the book on, ‘What to do when machines do everything’, says that his team are more optimistic than some about the job losses that will result from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, anticipating 12.5%, favourably compared with Oxford University’s projection of 47%.

“But the jobs will look very different. The work done will be more impactful and more successful than ever before. All of us in this room will start to feel the change. Our rote repetitive tasks like expenses or timesheets will become extinct very soon. We will do the work that actually matters – the creativity and innovation that drives business value.”

He added that we will experience the Budding Effect, named after Edwin Budding, who invented the lawnmower in 1830 and freed up millions of man hours to be focused on other things, will also come into effect.

“We are going to get 13 percent new job creation off the back of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he said.

In his book, ‘What to do when machines do everything’, Michael and his team projected 21 new jobs that will come into being a result of the Budding Effect, and then, last year, he projected another 21 more. He outlined three categories that will define the future of human work over the next ten years. They are:

  • Coaching – people will need to learn how to use new technologies, and the systems will need to be coached themselves.
  • Caring – our population is ageing, and this puts the healthcare system under enormous pressure. The first people to reach 150 years old have already been born. Caring will be a significant part of the future world of work.
  • Connectivity – people will work connecting people to people and people to machines.

To the people in the crowded exhibition hall, Michael said:

“HR are the gatekeepers of the future of work. You have the biggest role to play. You need to be the ones that teach, train and recruit talent effectively and make sure that you have the right people on your board.”

Psychopaths, narcissists and bullies

Whereas day one’s opening address gave startling insights into the broader world of work that will impact on all HR professionals and, in fact, every worker in the business ecosystem in the years to come, day two’s opener was far more personal. Psychiatrist Professor Renata Schoeman, delivered a fascinating insight into the world of corporate bullies, narcissists and psychopaths.

Schoeman, herself a victim of workplace bullying, explained that up to 4% of CEOs display the traits associated with psychopathy. Now with the University of Stellenbosch’s Business School, Schoeman helps corporates and students to become more aware of the impact of this kind of negative personality in the workplace.

Schoeman gave the audience an indication of how widespread and damaging workplace bullying is:

  • 19% of people have been victims of bullying in the workplace,
  • 19% have witnessed bullying,
  • 29% of victims suffer in silence, and
  • 61% of people who are aware of what’s happening don’t speak up.
  • The effect on individuals and on businesses is significant. Stress, burnout, illness, depression and increased suicide risk are linked to workplace bullying.

From an HR perspective, bullying commonly results in increased absenteeism and staff turnover, and the cost of recruiting and hiring. One study shows that 65 percent of employees that had left a company within a year had left as a result of bullying.

Men are more commonly bullies, although women bully too— particularly other women. Bullying tends to be top down, but can also be horizontal within the organisation, and occasionally even comes from subordinates. Some bullies have actual personality disorders as defined by psychiatrists, conditions like narcissism or psychopathy.

Schoeman warned: “Not everyone who is brash or harsh or bullying has a personality disorder. We must be wary of diagnosing or labelling, but we can talk about some of the traits associated with these conditions.”

Narcissism: Narcissists can be charming, charismatic and inspiring. They’re often very hardworking. When things go well, they can be good and productive members of an organisation. On the downside, they tend to take credit for everything that goes well, and deny others input or credit. Common traits include arrogance, sensitivity to criticism, deceitfulness. They lack empathy, and tend to bully. They can fly into a rage when they feel humiliated or slighted.

Psychopaths: The traits can be similar to those of the narcissist – charming, confident, good decision-makers. People with this personality disorder are predators. They use people to achieve their own goals, and then discard them or hurt them without remorse or empathy. They might be involved in fraud and white-collar crime.

Schoeman explained that citizens and employees’ rights are protected against bullying by the Constitution and in terms of the Harassment Act. And she reminded companies that they have a responsibility to protect the organisation and its employees.

No end to learning opportunities

While the keynote addresses may have started each day off with a bang, they certainly weren’t the only knowledge-sharing highlights of the HR Indaba. Neliswa Fente, the co-founder of youth-led innovation consultancy Springage, which was bought by Deloitte in 2017, shared the red flags that are likely to make millennial employees run a mile.

These included:

  • Having a wait-your-turn attitude towards younger employees,
  • Failing to live up to the values that your organisation espouses, and
  • Not viewing and treating your employees as holistic individuals.
  • Another talked-about presentation was the Workday-hosted panel discussion on digital transformation in the workplace.

Facilitating the panel, Zuko Mdwaba, country leader at Workday South Africa, opened with a question on how the HR role is responding to technology.

For Celiwe Ross, CHRO at Old Mutual, the biggest HR shift is that employees now seek a highly personalised workplace experience. They want an individualised approach to flexibility, remuneration, learning and performance.

“We have to modernise the workplace. Executives understand the customer journey, so our role as HR is to explain why the employee experience has to match its customer experience,” said Ross.

Vinolia Singh, chief people officer at Adcorp Group, believes that technology equips HR to address age-old challenges in new ways. She echoed Ross’s sentiments on employees seeking a more personalised approach, noting that the permanent job is no longer the Holy Grail it once was – among all ages.

“Employees may want to work nine months of the year and then take three-month sabbatical. It’s impossible to provide a highly personalised experience manually. You need to automate,” she said.

These valuable takeaways and many more like them were among the multitude of benefits that HR Indaba attendees took back to the office to consider and implement.

The audience left convinced that they’d be back again next year to continue leapfrogging their careers forward with new learnings and insights.

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