Seize the chance to be the board's tech expert

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HR professionals want to be in the boardroom. Now is their chance to grasp an opportunity

"I have been concerned that few directors understand technology and therefore have no concept of the competition that could be hitting them – think Uber, Airbnb and 3D printers. They have no idea what is happening in their company and its impact or what the effect will be on jobs, profitability, and corporate structure in the next three to five years.

If business leaders were slow to realise what the internet could do to their organisations, the automation that is now happening – at speed – will be even more of a shock.

Earlier this year I carried out my own research to see if my views were right. And actually the situation is worse than I feared. The findings are summed up in a free whitepaper, March of the robots… into the boardroom. Half of those responding were chairmen, CEOs, partners and directors.

The key findings were:

  • 47% of businesses have not looked at the impact of automation on jobs
  • 58% of companies admit that their boards are not good at understanding or managing technology
  • 68% of boards are either not managing intelligent automation decisions, or are doing them piecemeal rather than taking a holistic view of the business and its future
  • Only 19% of respondents think managerial jobs will be hit by automation – and fewer still (just 3%) think leadership positions will be lost

I also interviewed more than 30 directors. A senior partner in a professional firm said they were automating across the firm, particularly junior functions. When I asked how this was affecting the thousand graduates they recruit annually there was silence. They had not connected the automation to jobs and HR issues.

HR needs to help board directors become technology savvy. New directors should be required to have strong competencies in technology and a hunger for learning about the new. Every department should be audited to see what skills they have now and which they will need in the next two years. HR needs to find technology experts who can help and challenge the business – from strategies and understanding competition to new services for clients. And then to find ways to inculcate this thinking and knowledge across the business.

Also, when did you last review your employment contracts? Earlier this year Jeremy Clarkson took his Top Gear format to Amazon. For £160 million. Although reportedly his contract said he could not work for another UK media company for a year, presumably the BBC’s lawyers and HR department never imagined the threat would come from an online bookseller.

And HR needs to review both recruitment and skills development. If junior jobs have been automated will you have a pipeline for future manager and director roles? How will you develop these? You may need to rethink the entire structure of your business in just a few years.

This could be the very opportunity that HR professionals have been looking for to put themselves at the heart of the business’ future. But only if they grab it now and become experts themselves in technology and its implications.”

Pat Chapman-Pincher has built, run and chaired internet and mobile phone companies for more than 30 years in the UK and US. She was senior non-executive director of FTSE firm Pace and mentors FTSE chief executives and directors

March of the robots… into the boardroom can be downloaded for free from www.patchapmanpincher.com

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