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Exclusive: Google research heralds arrival of the human systems director

Siân Harrington , 10 Jun 2010

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Personnel manager, human resources director and chief people officer - over the years the changing title of those responsible for people policy in organisations has reflected the increasingly strategic nature of the role. But research unveiled yesterday by Google heralds a new player in HR: the human systems director.

By 2020 the workplace will be transformed by the sharing and development of ideas, according to a study of 3,500 employees, 100 HR managers and 100 IT managers across the UK, France, Germany, the US and Japan, conducted by the Future Foundation on behalf of Google.

"It will be an ideas and innovation economy rather than knowledge economy," says Future Foundation account director Judith kleine Holthaus, revealing the study finds an 81% positive correlation between collaboration and innovation across all markets. In the UK employees who are given the opportunity to collaborate at work are nearly twice as likely to have contributed new ideas to their companies.

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As collaboration and innovation accelerate, thanks to new enabling technologies, elements of the HR and IT functions will integrate and HR and IT roles will shift as they adjust to the ideas economy. HR will need to ensure employees are motivated to collaborate and innovate, with the study finding that 34% of HR personnel agree they will need to learn new skills to foster a sense of corporate community and a third of chief information officers believing they will take on more responsibility for innovation in the future. Some 44% of HR managers say HR will need to have a better understanding of technology in the future.

"The HR director and IT director will have to come together," believes Carsten Sørensen, senior lecturer in information systems and innovation at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

"They will have to manage issues such as how to balance IT infrastructure, which produces better functionality and productivity, with collaborative technologies and individualisation. It is inconceivable that the future will not be more forcibly brought about by insight, knowledge and information. Nothing can stop the process of collaboration but mess and contradiction will define the resulting relationships. Organisations are not good at paradoxes."

In the world of HR this will translate through to the culture of the business, how to incentivise and reward ideas and innovation, where and how work is performed and policies and practices around social networking.

However, the research shows that businesses need to move more quickly to create an environment that encourages innovation. While nearly half of those surveyed believe new technologies will encourage innovation in the next five years and 42% think they will change current business models, one in five employees say there is no process in place for them to contribute ideas to their employer and that their employer does not encourage them to come up with new ideas. Only one in 10 think management will be the source of ideas in the business, with nearly a third thinking other employees will bring innovation.

"The need to innovate quickly is becoming more important to business," says Robert Whiteside, Google head of enterprise UK, Ireland and Benelux. "But while people are used to collaborating through technology in their personal life, it is more challenging to enable them to do so in business."

If businesses don't change, though, they will face the consequences. "Any company that does not optimise innovation will be less likely to exist in five years," kleine Holthaus warns.

 

What will job roles and work look like in 2020? Here's what Google thinks:

Sato Keiko: human systems director (previously HR manager)

Keiko was assessed for the role most suited to her skills at the age of 16 by the wealth management consultancy she works for and offered a role before she left school. Her university degree was tailored to meet the requirements of her role, and since her arrival in 2016, she has quickly worked her way up to become a board member and take the HSD title.

She's a powerful figure within the organisation, taking responsibility for a wide range of departments and initiatives: she hires primary and secondary staff; takes ownership of corporate culture, work-life balance and employee empowerment; oversees creative and collaborative ideas generation and human-computer interface; and is responsible for the huge investment required to source and retain the best permanent staff and e-lancers.

 

She begins her day at 7am with a virtual meeting for an outsourcing project she's working on with a freelance team in India, conducted on her mobile phone on her way to the office.  They quickly agree objectives and Keiko arranges for her technology team to arrange all the appropriate virtual resources to begin the project.

 

At 11am Keiko attends a virtual meeting with directors in France, UK and Germany to discuss ideas for a raft of new staff performance metrics they are considering introducing to better measure productivity and creativity. This is a formula they have been adapting and perfecting for months, to ensure staff are rewarded according to the quality of ideas and the level of collaboration the show.

Her last office-based task of the day at 3.30pm is to check the internal IdeasLog to look for the best company initiatives suggested by staff - she sends a couple of messages to managers instructing them to explore the best ideas in more detail then she heads home.

Ben Jones: the employee

Ever since the global management consultancy formed a revolutionary breakaway division in 2013 that abolished the formal office set-up, Ben's schedule has been completely flexible, perfect for a man with three children.  He rarely goes into the office for anything other than formal meetings and major Collaboration Conferences - the majority of his work is done either from home, or from one of the four satellite hubs located near his home.  And he can choose his own working hours, ideal given that his role within an international team of staff based in different time zones is best suited to early morning and late night video conferences.

Today he has a couple of meetings so he's working from SatelliteOne, a purpose-built office pod about 10 minutes from home, with five colleagues. At 1.00pm, he logs into CloudDocs to access his personal network of files, communication tools and documents, then calls his team together in the Cube to begin the work of the day - a meeting to help clients in Germany install some complex trading software. Also remotely joining will be a small team of specialised e-lancers who have been brought in to assist with the more technical side of the project.

As soon as they pull up the video screen and interactive white board, the teams can see and hear each other almost as well as if they were in the room together. CloudDocs allows them to work in real-time, getting the work done in a fraction of the time it used to take in 2010.

At 4.00pm he picks up the kids from school, spends a couple of hours with them and logs back on to the network from home for a meeting with US colleagues to brainstorm ideas for a new service the company is planning. Their editor logs in to watch the flow of ideas, take notes and assess the bonus for the ideas they generate.

At 11.00pm, Ben has an online instant conversation with a secondary career recruiter to explore options for a career he is considering in media, then heads off to bed.

Francois Dufour: innovation president (formerly CIO)

Eight years ago when he reached the age of 45, Francois decided to relook at his CIO job title, which he felt pigeon-holed him as a technologist and not much else.  So he devised the role of innovation president, which he feels captures much more of the spirit of what he does and also sends a clear message to the rest of the staff - innovation is a crucial part of what this company does.

Times have changed since he started at the media agency in 1990.  Back then, he was constantly having to sort out issues with the clunky, restrictive and narrowly-focused technology available.  But the year 2011 proved to be a turning point - new services began to allow for much broader business scope and he was able to turn his focus to a much wider range of responsibilities.  

He begins the day at 9.00am (old habits die hard), attending a meeting for a project he's spearheading to streamline a client's manufacturing processes, quickly followed by a video-conference to assess ideas for a crowd-sourcing competition he developed to design mobile devices for developing countries.

After virtual face-to-face conversations with his two young grandchildren, he meets with the human systems director to agree some measures for evaluating the collaborative innovation he's implemented across the company.  They also have a brief chat about improving the systems used by remote and freelance workers; and finish with some ideas he's had on where his job role is likely to go over the next 10 to15 years.

His final meeting of the day is at 5.00pm with the information and innovation teams, who have been assessing the latest gadgets and devices on the market to explore whether they would be suitable for his company.

 

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