Q&A: Adapting for the Future with Brian Heger

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David Rice

Brian Heger

Brian Heger is faced with the challenge of thinking about the future every day in his work as the Head of Strategic Talent and Workforce planning with pharmaceutical giant Bristol Meyer Squibb.

The company has more “best place to work” plaudits than you can shake a stick at, but Heger has no intentions of letting the reputation rest on its laurels. We sat down with him to discuss the Future of Work recently and take a look at the technology and people considerations that organizations around the world face.

The Future of Work takes center stage this week as we host our third annual HR and Future of Work digital summit. A wide variety of topics, ranging from rewards to diversity and embracing technology will be covered.

REGISTER: HR and the Future of Work

HREN: The way we work has changed so much in the last year, showcasing how quickly our organizations can adapt when pushed. What is the lesson there for the future in terms of the way we look at how ready we need to be to adapt and how technology will support us in doing so?

Brian Heger: While there are many lessons to be learned from the current pandemic, one of them is about the importance of scenario planning (SP). SP is a tactic that enables an organization to depict possible futures (scenarios), consider their impact, and plan for these futures.

And while it would have been difficult for organizations to envision the specific scenario of a coronavirus pandemic and its duration and impact, there are extensions of that scenario that can be envisioned such as: a drop of 30% in sales, 50% of our workforce being required to work from home for an extended period of time, or an increase of product demand of 75%, etc.

Firms can create scenarios based on a set of assumptions related to how certain factors (that impact business conditions) might play out, such as technological advances, new competitors, changing regulations, and successful product launches-to name a few.

If the scenario unfolds, a good SP process will have already outlined how an organization will respond. In essence, this preparation enables an organization to critically determine and evaluate responses (such as how they will adapt or leverage technology) before the scenario occurs, allowing it to implement responses with speed and at scale–all of which provide an advantage and can be what enables a firm’s survival. As a result, organizations are more likely to prioritize SP in a post-pandemic world. 

HREN: I think we’re all a bit more resilient than we were a year or two ago. What are some of the most important things that you think this COVID era has taught us about our organizations and the people within them?

BH: The pandemic has shown us that individuals, teams, and organizations are more resilient, adaptive, and agile than previously given credit. 

During the crisis, organizational leaders have been required to reimagine and reset business and workforce priorities quickly. They had to reinvent how work gets delivered, where, and quickly shift their workforces in that direction. Remote workforces required new approaches to team management, structure, process, and tools and technologies at scale. And workers had to figure out practically overnight how to operate in this new environment while, in many cases, managing increased demands from family and personal life. 

It has been quite remarkable to see this level of adaptability, resilience, and innovation in many companies. That ability was likely always there, but the crisis was the event that forced organizations and their people to flex this muscle. 

While the crisis has not come without its costs, one lesson learned is that a segment of pre-pandemic workforce practices, such as belaboring every detail of multi-year plans or conducting excessive alignment meetings until decisions or made, can be reevaluated and made more agile and less complicated. One simple question to ask moving forward: Where can we eliminate processes or activities that are extraneous and that detract from essential outcomes such as productivity, innovation, and employee well-being to name a few.

HREN: When we look at something like automation, that conversation is intensifying quickly, but there is obviously a need to view automation responsibly. What advice would you have for HR teams as they begin to analyze processes and roles for automation when it comes to automating in a way that complements human beings in the workforce? Further, how do we do it on a timeline that allows many people to learn new skills and adjust their roles and work to be in line with skills the business needs them to have in the future?

BH: Research indicates that almost 30% of every job already has some level of automation potential. And as advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, cognitive tools and robotics continue to emerge rapidly, the way that work is completed and organized will significantly change.

This trend has given rise to the Augmented Workforce -- a concept describing how workers and technology are increasingly working together on tasks. When done effectively, this symbiotic relationship can result in greater efficiency, decision making, and performance, to name a few. 

However, to reap the augmented workforce's benefits, HR can help their organizations reframe how they view work and aspects of workforce planning. Instead of planning for work at the "role or job" level, firms can plan for work at the task level--where they deconstruct various activities that need to be carried out and determine which tasks can be performed by human workers and by AI, robotics, etc. Therefore, human workers aren't removed from the equation; however, the type of tasks they focus on and how they interact with AI/ technology does change. 

Although this concept is not new, many legacy workforce planning approaches still look at work from a pure role level vs. a task level. And given the speed at which AI and technology are changing the nature of work, planning for work at a task level has become increasingly relevant.

A similar approach can be used to evaluate how AI and technology can simplify processes while enabling humans to focus on the areas where they add the most value. Take, for example, the talent review process--where managers often spend considerable time evaluating a worker's potential for assuming greater responsibility, retention risk, and successor potential. AI can be used at the front end of the process to assess these talent review components, and then humans can look at AI assessment--and then modify as needed by applying human judgment. This approach can save considerable time while enabling managers to make better talent decisions.

Ultimately, all of this requires reskilling and upskilling to implement. And given that certain skills are going to be more challenging to develop, timelines will be impacted. However, if organizations are proactive in evaluating these areas, they can accelerate their workforces' readiness and preparedness.

HR and Future of Work - 3rd Annual Online Event

The Future of Work is here. Things like remote work, flexible work hours, learning being integrated into the work experience and upskilling are all happening before our eyes. Now, the Future of Work discussion must shift once again to figure out how to evolve the employee experience further and help humans integrate with technology in ways that will drive efficiency and the growth of new skills. Roles are changing, demands on the workforce are shifting and HR will be at the forefront of what the future of work looks like. Registering and attending this FREE ONLINE event will provide you real strategies for preparing your company and your employees now for the challenges that lay ahead. Challenges such as predicting the skills of the future, strengthening and sustaining the workforce through new digital technologies and fostering a cohesive corporate structure.  Attendees will also be able to put their real questions to the speakers and get valuable, actionable feedback that can be used to plan your organization’s plan for the next 5, 10 and 20 years.

 HR and Future of Work is scheduled to start at 11a EST daily.

100% Online | No travel Required  | Free to Participate | Earn SHRM Credits

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