HR should not fear the digital revolution

6 Jul 2018 By Eugenio Pirri

Yes, some jobs will disappear – but overall, automation is a good news story, argues Eugenio Pirri

You’d struggle to find someone who has not heard the quote: ‘May the Force be with you.’ Made famous in Star Wars in 1977, when General Dodonna wished Luke Skywalker good luck as he prepared to fight the Empire, it has made its way into popular culture, widely used as an expression of luck.

But the original meaning did not always lie in good luck wishes. Instead (and thanks to Star Wars Wiki for this explanation) it implied that the power of the ‘Force’ would work alongside you to help you achieve your goals more effectively. 

It strikes me how relevant this phrase is as we embark upon the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). In my opinion, the stalwarts of the 4IR – technology, artificial intelligence, big data and the internet of things – could be deemed modern-day equivalents of the Force.

Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes the 4IR as “a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

The world, as we know it, is changing – and rapidly. With this comes fear: of the unknown, of change and of uncertainty. And I can appreciate this because, while these advancements in technology are brilliant for our economy, for those it affects it can seem like their worst nightmare. We need to recognise this and address it but, to do so, we have to be positive and honest about what this means.

Herein lies the sticking point. Having sat on several roundtables about the 4IR, it seems I am one of few leaders who doesn’t think this revolution is something to be feared. Perhaps that’s because I work in service – an industry defined by people and personality. An industry that has been modernised by technology but still, at its heart, is about the human touch. When it comes to the impact of the 4IR on our people, I do not fear for them; I am excited by what it means. Like the Force, I can see the opportunities this digital revolution brings, which will help our company and our people achieve goals more effectively.

This era is about man and machine working together in harmony, using a combination of skills to do great things. Although I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that some of the jobs we have now may change or even disappear, there is still much to learn from this revolution and we already have examples where the exact opposite has occurred. Just look at Accenture, which has been able to automate 25,000 jobs without making a single person redundant.

As HR professionals, this is the message we need to be communicating so we can work with our leaders to dispel the myths and bring people on this digital journey. But this starts with the three Ps: positivity, proactivity and planning. Knowing where technology will have the greatest impact on your business and what that means for the people within it. Talking to these individuals, discussing their aspirations and options: the chance to upskill, retrain and redeploy is huge. Stronger connections with colleges and universities are a must; we should work with them to identify the skills we need in a digital era, create learning programmes and help our people gain those skills, long before any technology is introduced. 

Fear can only survive when it’s allowed to run free. If we take a truly proactive and positive stand, imagining and communicating a world where we work side-by-side with the outputs of the 4IR, there’s no reason to be fearful of what’s to come.

Eugenio Pirri is chief people and culture officer at the Dorchester Collection

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