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Interview: InBusiness magazine, Turkey - Human Resource Management Congress October 2022

What trends will emerge in the near future and what will their impact be on HR?

This is a very confusing time for business leaders, with chaos in energy markets related to Russia, disruptions in supply chains, huge inflation, ongoing impact of COVID and many other factors.

What will all this mean for the future of people management, talent acquisition, leadership development, workplace motivation, home working, virtual teams and career development?

In my book The Future of Almost Everything, I warned in 2019 about a possible new viral pandemic, about the risk of Russia taking military action in response to fears of NATO expansion, and wrote that oil prices could reach $145.

I always say that the world can change faster than you can hold a board meeting, so HR leaders need more than one strategy.  

We need to have backup plans for all important things in the business. This is fundamental to risk management and agility, especially in Human Resource Management.

You have often spoken about how slowly some things are changing – why do you say that?

Here is a really important fact that I have seen hundreds of times over the last 30 years as a Futurist advisor to many of the world’s largest companies.

The truth is that change in markets, customers and other trends usually takes place slower than most people think.

And this is especially true in human resource management. Events happen, but human nature is the same.

When you watch TV news or read social media it is easy to think that the whole world is spinning out of control, so much that it is going to be impossible to plan ahead in the usual way.

And in HR it's easy to think that the workplace will never be the same again, that all the lessons of HR development over the last decades will no longer apply.

But the truth is that if we focus on really important megatrends, we see that major changes to industries and markets are usually predicted at least 10-20 years in advance, and are more gradual in impact.

And this is also true when it comes to the basic principles of managing people, attracting talent, building effective teams.

I often think about someone who has been unconscious after a car accident for 20 years and wakes up.

What would this person notice about the world? What would really have changed.

Yes of course we all use smartphones a lot these days and so on, but look further.

Yes of course after the shocks of COVID, many workers have felt restless and started looking for new challenges or jobs.

But if you walk into an Istanbul hotel, you will see very similar fashions, similar hotel rooms, similar experience to twenty years ago.

The same at the new Istanbul airport building. Smart, newer, larger, but fundamentally the experience of flying in planes is almost identical to what it was 20 years ago.

Much of life around us is changing slower than many think

We could say the same for many other areas of life – how we furnish our homes, the equipment in our kitchens, how we educate our children and how we deliver health care.

Yes, many cars are now electric powered, but once again, the journey experience for driver and passengers, the layout of seating are fairly similar.

And when we look at the future of the workplace, we need to recognise that human nature itself has not changed.  

Our social needs are the same.  Our need to feel valued, appreciated and useful is the same.

Virtual working has been with us for over 20 years

And there is nothing really new about virtual working.  We've had many of the tools for virtual working for over 20 years.

And Futurists like myself have forecast for many years that virtual working would increase.

What happened during Lockdown was that we were all forced to use all kinds of options that were already built into our smartphones and desktops.

Changes that were expected to take place over half a decade took place in half a year.

Virtual working gives us choices which are often convenient, but as we found in family life during Lockdown, relationships which only exist on screen are very limited.

There is more to human existence than virtual meetings!

When we manage people, we need to understand how they think and how they feel, what their needs are.

How to get the best out of the people we are working with: encouraging, inspiring, supporting, mentoring, coaching, problem solving together, collaborating, partnering.

And many of the most inspired interactions we have with colleagues are unplanned - bumping into someone by the lift, or in the canteen, or chatting to someone in an open plan area.

Such moments may only take a few seconds or minutes, but can turbocharge transformation as well as innovation.

The trouble with loads of virtual meetings is that we often pack interaction time into diary slots, which become formal and agenda driven.

Can you give us examples of your top list of important megatrends?

Megatrends include the year on year rise of Asia, the impact of ageing on nations like Italy, Germany and Russia, the warming of the earth from human activity, increasing concerns about sustainability, decarbonisation of energy, and the increasing search for purpose at work.

There are many others. I have written about them for over 25 years now. They are nothing new.

And on top of that we have events, such as COVID, regional conflicts and so on.

But history shows that the longer term impact of events tends to be less significant than megatrends.

What do you see happening regarding COVID? And what will that mean for Human Resources?

Recovery from COVID will be rapid as we head into 2023.

As I predicted, sectors like travel and tourism bounced back much more rapidly than many others expected – as we see in the packed tourist sites across Turkey at the moment.

And people will also return to offices, even though occupancy will remain lower than before COVID.  When COVID hit, many so-called workplace experts predicted wild things such as the death of office culture, the end of commuting and so on.  

It was obvious to me at the time that this was nonsense and I said so.  Such predictions failed to understand what it is to be human, and the basis of all successful business which is trust.

But trust is harder to build on screen. Empathy and understanding is harder to communicate online.

Passion and purpose is harder to feel via video.

Apple found they managed fine in Lockdown but could not THINK, INNOVATE or CHANGE

Apple is one of the world’s most digitally advanced companies. They announced that they had managed very well virtually during Lockdown, BUT they had been unable to think, innovate and change.

THINK, INNOVATE, CHANGE - those are fundamental to all business success.

Without those things, companies may think they are managing fine in the short term, 100% virtually, but will then risk going into decline.

The fastest way to integrate new staff, change culture, develop new products or win new business is to physically meet other people.

Virtual meetings will continue, and flexible home working will remain popular with many, but most successful companies will call their teams back into the office for at least some of each week.

What should we expect in the energy market?

Energy prices are likely to stabilise and then fall as we head into 2024-2025.

Even if energy prices do not fall, if they remain the same, then inflation rates in energy of course falls to zero.

And when eventually energy prices start to fall, the negative impact on inflation will be huge.

Russia’s actions will hugely accelerate the shift to green energy investment and encourage further investment in nuclear power.

Russia will have major challenges in transporting surplus gas to other regions, as the EU ceases to buy, because of lack of port infrastructure and other pipelines.

At the same time, the United States is likely to ramp up both gas production and shipping capacity.

What do you think will happen regarding Russia and Ukraine?

We need to remember that Russia is not an economic superpower.

The truth is that before sanctions began, Russian GDP was already smaller than Italy or France or South Korea.

Sanctions will hit the Russian economy very significantly in 2023, as well as restricting their access to high-tech imports.

This will limit military budgets and reduce their ability to produce smart weapons.

Russia does have 140 million citizens, but many are old, while the younger generation are less likely to want to risk their lives in Ukraine.

And Ukraine itself is a nation of 40 million, most of whom will remain very passionate about protecting their freedom.

The situation remains very high risk for further miscalculations, with consequencies which could last more than a generation if tactical nuclear devices are fired.

Even if (very unlikely) there was a peace agreement in the next 3 months, it will take a decade or more for Russia as a “brand” to be widely trusted again as a destination for major foreign investment.

During that time, Finland and Sweden will almost certainly join NATO, and Ukraine is likely to join the EU.

How should HR professionals manage risk?

Always stay one step ahead of events, and do HR planning ahead. Be ready for more major shocks which will affect your leaders and their teams

And teach your teams to be flexible in their thinking, flexible in strategy.

When you employ senior people, look for diversity in culture, experience and skills to create teams that can adapt rapidly to change.

Workplace and inclusion are vital to rapid innovation.  Monoculture teams tend to be more rigid in outlook, more limited in understanding of wider changes in the world.

What opportunities and risks are there for HR leaders in Turkey’s situation?

One of the greatest opportunities for Turkey as a nation is demographics: a much younger population than – say – Italy or Germany.

This is absolutely fundamental to human resource planning and gives Turkey a competitive advantage as a business location.

That difference will be a major driver of economic growth and innovation.

It also means a larger pool of talent to recruit from. Another opportunity comes from the unique geographic and cultural position of Turkey as the bridge between regions, which makes it a great trading centre.

The risk comes from factors such as high inflation and rapid changes in government regulations.

A key factor for business growth will be encouraging team members to think for themselves and take initiative, rather than waiting for direction from above in a more paternalistic and passive model of leadership.

Any last words of advice for HR professionals in managing people more effectively?

The greatest opportunity of all is to energise your teams with your mission.

Show people a powerful vision of how you are building a better world, and they will follow you with their commitment, often for a long time.

Make them part of your “family”, make them feel important, and go on your mission together.


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