Future of Talent

Once a year, my friend Kevin Wheeler hosts a retreat focused on the Future of Talent and major trends in human resources. I’m writing this post in a conference room overlooking the Pacific in Santa Cruz, California, sitting with a dozen senior talent managers. I’m going to share Kevin’s top five trends impacting HR leadership and snippets from our discussions about them.

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  1. Rise of social business. Connecting and sharing are how business is done. This requires trust, the sort of relationships you experience in a village where everyone knows one another. A challenge is how to scale. It’s time to revisit Marshal McLuhan’s concept of the global village. Substitute “Internet” for “television” and McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage is 100% on target. “We are not about a product. We are an ecosystem.” Social capital is the killer app.
  2. Social leadership. The idea that the CEO is running the show is fiction. We’re the boss. Leadership is collective and concurrent. There’s no center. Steve Jobs may have been the last solo leader we’ll ever see. “All the world’s a sage.” – McLuhan.
  3. Transparency, analytics, and privacy. There are no secrets. “Outing” is inevitable. Rather than wring our hands about invasions of privacy, we must rewrite the rules for IP, openness, differentiating our personal and professional lives, and contextual ideation. Making sense of oceans of information takes a collaborative effort; we’ve got to get together on this.
  4. Redefining the concept of the employee in the era of co-creation. Corporations rely on many types of workers. Which of them should be employees? Focus on core; outsource the rest. IBM is downsizing radically by spinning out smaller, more manageable units. Expect to see fewer “regular employees” in future corporations.
  5. Working smarter: weaving together knowledge from data, people, and life. Integrate learning into the workscape. Find new measures of accomplishment for selecting job candidates; grades and most credentials are spurious. Re-rise of apprenticeship is upon us. Co-creation rules.

We live in an age of unprecedented abundance. That changes just about everything. Instead of struggling to survive, we’re evolving together. People are driven by purpose, not payments. We face choices, not constraints.

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What motivates us? For boomers, give me the prestige of a new title. For Gen X, give me $10,000. For Gen Y, give me something I want to do.

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I led a session on Unmanagement, a set of next practices for 21st century leaders, managers, and concept workers. Everyone now has to take stock, that is, to identify their own and their teams’ potential. Everyone needs to shoulder responsibility for delighting customers and improving the enterprise. Keeping up with the accelerating pace of change calls for rapid cycle times (think daily) and small, self-organizing teams (think agile development). People’s quest for mastery and autonomy in pursuit of a meaningful purpose motivates people to sign up for this regimen. The bottom line is a return to treating people like people instead of cogs in the machine.

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To get our heads around this new take on the fundamentals of HR, learning and business, we played these thoughts against four scenarios:

  1. Fewer young people willing to work for corporations, combined with the rising complexity of work and high level of change, is pressuring organizations. We foresee different ways for people to join the workforce, no longer the yes-no of employed or jobless. Think flexible workforce.
  2. The growing inability of educational institutions to provide skilled workers for the demands of emerging markets puts immense pressure on traditional institutions for change. If government fails to take responsibility and corporations don’t step up to the plate, students will figure things out for themselves. Folk education and DIY.
  3. Working in teams, sharing and collaborating across silos and organizations challenge normal ways of work, recruiting, and learning. New work communities may replace traditional corporations.
  4. Everything goes on the internet and the net never forgets. Persistent information and algorithmic processing of big data challenge personal privacy, social reporting, and the sanctity of intellectual property. This is inevitable; we can’t stuff the genie back in the bottle. People will develop more sophisticated means of interpreting reviews and information. How this goes down globally is anybody’s guess.

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I love nothing more than exploring the future and learning from events like this.


Eileen Clegg of Visual Insight documented our discussions with murals as we talked. Take a look at http://bit.ly/uvpL0V for the five trends. Slideshow of the entire event is at http://bit.ly/uPoJYX