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Rethinking HR

Moore's Law states that every 18 month, the sophistication of technology doubles as its price halves. Already, the internet has helped put entire industries out of business, with Blockbuster serving as just on example. The PS3, now a household gaming console, was only years before its market launch a $55M United States governmental supercomputer and national defense project. Other routine jobs, in banking, insurance, medicine and law will gradually move in the same direction. Ernest Hemingway famously asked how a person goes bankrupt. The answer? "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly." This has been the case in many industries, and yet is still hard to imagine the scale of change we will see in the coming years.

It might seem unusual that human resources should consider how technology is transforming fields like medicine and law. And yet, we feel there is danger in failing to grasp advances in machine learning, automation and other forms of technological change taking place in knowledge centres such as Boston, San Francisco, Cambridge, England and Waterloo. In The Second Machine Age, MIT professors Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (B&M), write that innovation as it happens today is characterized by three key traits: it is a) exponential, b) digital and c) combinatorial.

For those unable to read the book in full, Entrepreneur First CEO Matt Clifford's Huffington Post article entitled "Five Things I Learned from the Second Machine Age" serves as a useful summary. He writes, for instance, that "'Combinatorial innovation means there are more ideas than ever, but finding the good ones is challenging," an important point raised by B&M. But other scenarios are much less optimistic. Responding to B&M's point that once-valuable inputs to production such as "whale oil to horse labour" are no longer needed, even at zero price, he writes as follows: "This is the scary stuff: horse labour plummeted in the first two decades of the 20th century; human labour might in the 21st."

It is not clear whether human labour will plummet in the 21st century, as was the case with horse labour in the century prior. But the possibility alone requires that human resources be considered a strategic function in business. On this front, Canada lags behind the United States and United Kingdom, where competition for talent is fiercer in cities with higher concentrations of people and educational institutions.

A fundamental rethink in human resources is required. When engagement is viewed under the microscope, it is clear that it can’t be viewed as a binary topic. Though employees can be ‘engaged’ or ‘disengaged’, we must look at deeper drivers such as abilities for mentorship, cross-generational communication and opportunities for personal growth - that is, ensuring that a company helps bring a person's "best self" to work as discussed in the work of Boston-based Rhodes Scholar and Advisor on Millennial Women issues, Christie Hunter Arscott.

More importantly, however, the human resources function as it is commonly understood needs to be re-imagined. As several examples of what this entails, we encourage that companies consider the following questions:

  • How does a company think through the relationship between humans and machines?
  • What trends at a global scale are shaping the future of a particular industry? For instance, the electric car company Tesla, as well as startups such as Uber, will shape the automotive industry as we know it - a reality that will affect workplace culture in the traditional oil and gas sector.
  • What skills do employees have that either facilitate or hinder interaction with machines?
  • To what extent do human resources teams consider technological competency when hiring for new employees?
  • How will companies attract and retain employees based less on the prestige, brand or compensation, and more on deeper motivators that contribute to "fit" between the company's shared purpose and individual's values?

The "End of Work" has been trumpeted over the past centuries; however, there is a real possibility that we will transition into a world where machines - with their superior algorithms and sophistication in solving technical problems, in fields as diverse as medicine, law and engineering - will either complement or replace people. This means that traditional human resources will no longer suffice; what will be required are people leaders with experience and appreciation for learning across sectors. Combinatorial innovation, as discussed by Clifford and B&M, will lead to counterintuitive and unexpected changes in industries, and therefore, in the ways in which their people are engaged.

It is for this reason that "HR Leadership at All Levels" is imperative. The companies that relentlessly recruit and develop curious and driven people - with strong endorsement and oversight from senior management - will lead the way in a future where the scale and pace of change are historically unprecedented.

Emerson Csorba and Eric Termuende are Directors and Co-Founders of Gen Y Inc., a workplace culture group focused on the future of work and cross-generational engagement. They speak and write for institutions and companies such as the University of Cambridge, Coca Cola, World Economic Forum, Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism and The Economist.


They say an overnight success takes 1,000 days. For those who are students, we know that no matter what, a degree is nearly impossible to obtain in less than four years. Studies show that the average individual doesn’t feel like they are an adult until they’re 28. In the hyper-connected world we are living in, it is a constant race to the top. Those who don’t make it don’t fail, but they don’t make it. But what is missing? Patience.

I think too often we try and race to tomorrow without enjoying today. We spend too much time counting down to the next vacation, until the holidays, or for students, until the next set of exams are over. If you’re anything like me though, you’ll look back alt almost any moment in life, you’ll think ‘man, I wish I didn’t wish that time away’.

Each day has 24 hours. Each week has 7 days. Regardless of how much that time is loved or hated, each day will still pass whether we like it or not. Patience and appreciation for each moment, easy or difficult, is the difference between living for now, and living for tomorrow. If we live for tomorrow though, we’ll never see it.

Enjoy today. We only get to live it once. Take what you learned yesterday, pair that with who you are today, and shape who you will become tomorrow. Don’t forget to enjoy each step along the way.

​Why Mentorship As We Know It Is Failing

‘Hey Ashley (my hypothetical boss), do you have time for a quick chat about my development here? I could really use a mentor.’

‘Absolutely, but our meeting isn’t until next Tuesday at 3:30. Chat then!’


Mentorship hey? The ability to learn from someone and be able to better come to a conclusion or solve a problem that we had.

Who knew that mentorship had to be so structured?

It seems as though mentorship (along with words like leadership, sustainability, social, and so on), has come to mean so many things, that we actually lose the original meaning and purpose.

Recent workplace observations have shown me that mentorship is something that goes hand-in-hand with performance management and feedback on the work we are doing. Only when we have a time blocked off in the calendar can we talk about the big decisions we are faced with, and learn from another individual and hear their perspective.

But what is mentorship, really?

Well, mentorship is when we have the ability to learn from another person’s experience, or hear another opinion to obtain more information about whatever it is we are trying to overcome. I believe the myth about mentorship is that it has to be between a junior and a senior, and somehow (especially in recent years) that it has to be structured.

I’ve had my fair share of advisors, mentors, and experts that have given me more help and advice than I ever could have imagined. Without the ability to bounce ideas off of people and hear what they think, how could I really test my thinking and travel a little less blind down a road I’ve never been before?

Here’s the catch though- many of these advisors aren’t business professionals. Many of these people are friends and family. Many of these conversations happen while on a bike ride, at the dinner table, or while I’m navigating my way through traffic and using Bluetooth (multitasking, right!?). The people that I talk to often know me just as well or better than I know my self and without them, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

And so I say mentorship is failing. Why?

Because we dress it up to be something bigger than it is. We like to tell ourselves that we have a window of time blocked off to share insights and wisdom, and fail to understand that mentorship is nothing more than a conversation where questions are asked and answers aren’t just heard, but really listened to. It is a conversation between you and your three-year-old niece, daughter, cousin, etc. where she gives you a perspective you never considered before. It is a conversation with your best friend over a fizzy drink at your favourite watering hole. It is a conversation with mom when she tells you exactly what you may not want to hear, but need to.

Mentorship is failing not because it isn’t happening, it is failing because we are calling it the wrong thing. Mentorship is a connection, a realization, a sharing of a moment or idea. Mentorship is conversation and learning.

If we call it what it is, mentorship can’t fail.

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