Last week took me to Nashville, though sadly not for Taylor Swift. Instead, I was privileged to join the Unleash HR Summit. I have been fortunate to cross paths with Dirk Beveridge over the years and witness his remarkable efforts in transforming legacy distributors into dynamic and innovative market leaders. It’s great to see him extend his expertise to HR executives, because the radical reinvention of people and culture is central to any organization’s transformation. The conference was truly exceptional, and I was delighted to be part of such an incredible community.

My keynote centered on the intersection of HR and technology. Here are a few of the thoughts I shared:

  1. See the lasting impact technology, and the shift from digitization to ‘data’fication, is having on HR

Technology has revolutionized nearly every aspect of modern life, and the field of human resources is no exception. To stay ahead of the curve, HR executives must keep up with the latest advancements. New tools and software can provide valuable insights into workforce analytics, increase employee engagement, and improve talent management. HR executives must understand how these technologies impact the future of work and their teams on a personal level. It’s important to remember that technology often has unforeseen second-order effects, which can be much larger and more impactful. HR executives need to spend time understanding the second-order effects of tomorrow’s technologies.

  1. Embrace the Changing Nature of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The future of work is decidedly human and AI is unlikely to take your job anytime soon. However, a burst of new AI applications does suggest those who can fully leverage its potential will have the most significant impact on their organizations. AI is disrupting the HR role in specific and special ways. Ultimately, it is also elevating the HR role to a more strategic level than it has sometimes played in the past. HR executives should aggressively experiment with new AI tools to find the ones that best support their unique mission and culture. These might be chatbots to answer employee questions and provide support 24/7 or perhaps predictive analytics to identify employees who are at risk of leaving so HR executives can take proactive measures to retain them.

  1. Understand how demographics shifts are changing HR

As Gen Z enters the workforce and becomes a larger consumer base, their tastes preferences are exerting a greater influence on workplaces. This generation values quick access to information and the ability to independently solve problems. They expect services to be available “on demand” and facilitated by technology. HR technology tools need to change with changing demographics. At the same time, most organizations now have employees in their workforce from more generations than ever before and HR executives will need to balance different needs. Technology can be utilized to improve the employee experience. HR executives can use tools such as employee self-service portals to provide convenient access to information. You might also use virtual and augmented reality to provide immersive training and enhance onboarding experiences. These tools can also be used to help scale the expertise of some of your most seasoned employees.

  1. Employees need more from their companies

Current data on employee sentiment is troubling.

  • Workers are broadly dissatisfied with their company when it come to their work.
  • Half of the workers report that they do not understand what is expected of them at work. I am concerned hybrid work environments might exacerbate this problem because they often eliminate the small clarifying conversations that occur serendipitously throughout a workday.
  • Only approximately one-third of workers feel that their company’s mission and purpose make their job feel significant, and similarly, only about a third of workers feel they have the chance to utilize their unique strengths every day to do what they do best.

Employees need more from their employers. They need to feel they are making a difference and be recognized for their contribution in meaningful ways. HR executives will play a central role in delivering these needs in the future, and technology will also play an important role.

  1. Growth requires new processes

James Clear’s assertion is that “you do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” This means that having lofty goals alone is not sufficient; we must also establish effective systems to reach them. It is not enough to apply new technologies to old processes. Modern technology demands new processes and procedures to harness its complete potential. HR executives should prioritize agility by fostering a culture of experimentation and innovation. They should inspire employees to contribute novel ideas and offer opportunities for learning and growth.

  1. Executives need to think differently about the future

HR executives must think differently about the future to remain competitive and relevant. The time to act is now. HR executives, in particular, must anticipate future trends and adapt their strategies to attract and retain top talent.

Some recent research suggests groups working remotely can be just as effective as groups working in-person. So what does influence a group’s ability to work effectively together on a range of tasks? The research finds that how the work is done and who is doing it both appear to be strong predictors of collective intelligence in a group.

For instance, the largest predictor of collective intelligence is a group’s collaboration process. More specifically, two aspects of how groups coordinate their efforts are important: first, that they figure out which member is the best at different tasks and have that person take the lead on it; and, second, that members coordinate their efforts so that they cover all of the different tasks and don’t leave things unfinished. Our analyses show that coordinating members’ skills and covering all of the tasks are just as important for remote teams as they are for face-to-face teams, and collectively intelligent teams are able to coordinate in these ways regardless of where they are working.

In addition, we observed that who is doing the work has a significant influence on a group’s collective intelligence — not only whether they had skills relevant to the tasks, but also their social skills, especially their social perceptiveness. Groups whose members are more socially perceptive pick up on all kinds of subtle nonverbal cues, and we observed that they are also able to coordinate more effectively in the ways we have described — even when working remotely.

Remote teams have better tools at their disposal than ever before. But does your organization have the right processes in place? This is the question you should be exploring.

In March I wrote about the impact COVID was going to have on new product introduction (NPI). Google delayed the release of its new Pixel smartphone by several months. The newest iPhone line-up was a month later this year. And last week Ford announced they would be delaying next year’s Bronco launch. So even some of the biggest, most capable companies couldn’t escape the impact of COVID. As I wrote about in March, one of the biggest issues from COVID was the impact travel bans would have on NPI:

Electronics manufacturers in the OEM supply chain would generally prepare for NPIs by traveling several times to visit input suppliers in the lead-up to full-scale production. Each of these trips would last up to a few weeks and would involve all aspects of the NPI process, including design tweaks, incoming component supply, assembly and test process definition, product qualification, reliability assurance, manufacturing yield assessment, and final product fulfillment models – all in preparation to support ramp to volume production requirements.

Corporate travel bans have canceled many of these trips and left engineering teams rushing to develop alternative approaches. Some are turning to U.S. firms to help. Because build schedules are already extremely tight, delays of any kind could impact planned product release dates. In short, the coronavirus outbreak is causing delays that could affect planned NPIs.

Mark Gurman reports on Apple’s Apple Inc. virtual town hall meeting with employees on Thursday:

Dan Riccio, senior vice president of hardware engineering, called remote work a “huge challenge” for device design that is usually done in lab settings. He said travel restrictions in March were particularly tough because that is when engineers typically travel to China to help kick off manufacturing of products launching in the fall.

Apple worked around this, with engineers controlling robots from home and using iPads with augmented-reality software to guide technicians in overseas factories, Riccio said. Staff also worked different hours to communicate better with staff already stationed in China. The “very best is yet to come,” Riccio added. The company is focused on developing augmented-reality and virtual-reality hardware products for debut in coming years, Bloomberg News has reported.

There’s a lot of talk about companies remaining virtual even in a post-pandemic world, but the manufacturing sector probably isn’t ready for that and the full set of tools needed are probably years away. Companies pivoted, but it exerted a toll on their employees. As Tim Cook noted:

“There’s no replacement for face-to-face collaboration, but we have also learned a great deal about how we can get our work done outside of the office without sacrificing productivity or results,” he told staff, according to people familiar with the comments. “All of these learnings are important. When we’re on the other side of this pandemic, we will preserve everything that is great about Apple while incorporating the best of our transformations this year.”

Earlier this week the Census Bureau released national and state population estimates. Some key take-aways:

  1. U.S. population continues to slow. U.S. Population increased 0.48% between July 1, 2018 and July 1, 2019. This is the slowest growth rates since 1918.
  2. Nature increase (births minus deaths) continue to slow. S. births fell 0.9 percent in 2019, the fourth consecutive year of decline. Deaths increased 0.4 percent in 2019. The natural increase fell below 1 million in 2019 for the first time in decades.
  3. Net international immigration is also declining. Net immigration declined to 595,348 in 2019, the lowest level in a decade. Net international immigration has been declining annually since 2016. China replaced Mexico to become the largest sending country of foreign-born immigrants to the United States as of 2018.


Other interesting details:

  1. 42 states and the District of Columbia had fewer births in 2019 than 2018. Eight states saw increases in births – Washington (612), Utah (293), Nevada (232), Arizona (175), Idaho (166), Montana (66), Vermont (44), and Colorado (30).
  2. Four states had more deaths than births (natural decrease): West Virginia (-4,679), Maine (-2,262), New Hampshire (-121) and Vermont (-53).
  3. The Northeast region saw its population decrease for the first time in decades
  4. The South, the largest of the four regions, saw the largest numeric growth (1,011,015) and percentage growth (0.8%) between 2018 and 2019
  5. Ten states lost population between 2018 and 2019: New York (-76,790; -0.4%), Illinois (-51,250; -0.4%), West Virginia (-12,144; -0.7%), Louisiana (-10,896; -0.2%), Connecticut (-6,233; -0.2%), Mississippi (-4,871; -0.2%), Hawaii (-4,721; -0.3%), New Jersey (-3,835; 0.0%), Alaska (-3,594; -0.5%), and Vermont (-369 ; -0.1%).
  6. Over the last decade, five of the fastest growing states have been in the Mountain states. Utah was the fastest growing state in the country, followed by Colorado (3rd), Nevada (4th), Idaho (6th), and Arizona (7th).

While technological shifts will help shape the future of work, demographic shifts will also define not only what work is, but where to find it. Population growth is slowing at the same time that  domestic migration or internal migration (movement between states) is slowing to record low levels. These are some of the demographic trends playing out as the digital economy rolls forward. These trends will interact in interesting ways in the coming years.