· News

Peter Hinssen: HR must rise to challenges of innovation

HR has an important role to play balancing the good and bad of innovation, according to technologist and founder of Nexxworks Peter Hinssen

Speaking during the opening keynote of the UNLEASH World conference in Paris he said: “We are at a crossroads with technology, and we can use retail as an example of a sector that is changing right before our very eyes as a result."

Hinssen explained how Walmart, a traditional retail company, transformed the way it operates by using robotics. “Like Amazon, Walmart is investing heavily in robots. If you want it can unlock your smart door [a door operated by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth] and load your entire refrigerator with Walmart products, and you can follow it on an app to [see] what it's doing,” he said.

"An army of robots can make the entire store ready for customers with zero humans involved," he added. "This isn’t a business that is dying down – this is a company that is buckling up, and it needs to. At Walmart they are combining offline with online to see how they can transform."

While such functionality is impressive HR must question the implications for the workforce, and the growing dominance of certain organisations, Hinssen said. “It’s fascinating to see a company reinvent itself. The scary part is that we’re in a situation where Walmart is the biggest business in the world, only second [in size] to the Chinese army,” he said.

"[Seeing] what it's doing to the labour market and to the workforce... there is no way you can reskill all of those people to become blockchain experts and Web developers. This is not just technology changing the economy, this is technology changing labour, this is technology changing how we socialise. This is your challenge [as HR professionals]."

Hinssen went on to explain how employers can be tempted to copy start-ups, but warned against doing this in a superficial way: “If you look at human history you can see that we are extremely good at change. Start-ups are full of people who do not necessarily know what they’re doing but do it anyway and take risks.

"When people look at these companies they think that they’ve got to start introducing different ways of working, or having more pets in the office, but you don’t. To really innovate you need to look at if you’re static or fluid, if your organisation is hierarchical or more of a network.”

While technology has not necessarily delivered in the way people predicted or hoped it might HR has an opportunity to help transform workplaces for the better, Hinssen urged. “You are not just HR directors or people managers, you are citizens, and you are in a world that has been transformed by technology," he said.

"We used to think that technology would eliminate the middle man, but Amazon is surely the biggest middle man of all. We used to think that technology would transform our media, but we are now flooded with more fake news on our social media feeds than ever before. I love Charles Dickens' opening [to A Tale of Two Cities] ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ because that is exactly where we are.”