Focus on megatrends, not just Brexit

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Speaking at the Brexit Human Resources Forum, Siemens' HRD said automation, AI and demographic change are bigger than Brexit

Organisations and HR must put Brexit in perspective by focusing on its importance in relation to wider megatrends, according to Toby Peyton-Jones, HR director, UK and North-West at Siemens.

Speaking at the Brexit Human Resources Forum, Peyton-Jones identified these megatrends as climate change, digitisation and AI, globalisation, automation, demographic change, electrification and urbanisation. He suggested these trends will have a much greater impact on UK companies than Brexit and so should be given just as much, if not more, attention by organisations.

“Brexit is a pain, but in terms of the big megatrends affecting the company it’s a pimple on the horizon,” he said, explaining that it was incumbent on HR to resist media hype around the UK leaving the EU: “There are a lot of people encouraging people running around like headless chickens,” he said.

Peyton-Jones pointed out the incredible pace of change in areas such as digitisation and urbanisation: “We think Brexit is slow but the rest of it is very fast,” he said. “Seventy per cent of the world’s population will live in megacities by 2025. These are going to completely transform our work in HR; it’s already happening and it’s happening at an accelerating pace.”

A world of continual rapid change (particularly as a result of automation and AI) will necessitate a very different approach to business, said Peyton-Jones. “If you’re facing an uncertain world and you come up with a fixed plan that is in a single person’s head [the leader], that’s almost suicidal,” he said, explaining the need for corporate and individual agility instead.

“Knowledge will be important but how fast you can learn will be much more important than the knowledge itself,” he said, adding the need for HR to restructure itself accordingly.

“Today we are sleepwalking where we still talk about structures and competency models, job profiles, competency management… workforce planning, performance appraisals… so we are living in this world but then we have a world of chaos [outside the organisation]. So we need to be on the path to replacing this with something very different.”

In terms of managing Brexit, Peyton-Jones recommended HR professionals get to grips with the sort of threat it presents. He compared the threat to a landscape of “unmarked holes” and “deep shafts".

“This is the kind of territory that we’re in; it’s that unknown,” he said. He pointed to data security and the UK leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice as two significant “deep shafts".

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