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The world of performance management and talent development is changing so rapidly that it’s all companies can do to keep up. Increasingly, HR specialists are turning to data science in an effort to stay on top of workplace trends.

That’s where Josh Bersin comes in. As founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte, a leading provider of research and tools for professional development, Josh creates databases that give companies the information they need to attract and retain talent. I recently had a chance to chat with Josh on my radio show, iLead: The Leadership Connection. We talked about some of the remarkable findings Josh and his team have uncovered in their research.

Redefining what it means to be in business

In Bersin’s recent study of global trends in human capital, 92 percent of the companies surveyed said their organizational structure was hindering their success in some way.

“We’re seeing a redefinition of what business is,” Josh said. “It isn’t a hierarchical company anymore, it’s a network. And that is having profound implications on how we manage people and their careers. All the traditional HR stuff is being questioned, because it doesn’t serve you well in this new world. I hear this all the time from companies of all sizes.”

In the future, Josh predicts, job titles will be less important. “We’ll work on multiple projects. We’ll be highly connected to other people, so we’ll be working at off hours. I think we’re going to have to reinvent ourselves every two or three years. We’ll all have multiple jobs, careers, professions.”

Not only will workers constantly be learning new skills, Josh said, but “we’ll also have to get comfortable with the fact that we’ll be working in a highly diverse environment, with people of all ages, all nationalities, all locations. Many of the people we’ll be working with are likely to be contractors or contingent workers.

“A lot of companies aren’t there yet — a lot are still very old-fashioned in their structure — but they’re all getting pressure to deal with these issues.”

So, while companies as entities will still exist, there will be a lot more flexibility in the way work gets done.

Will technology steal our jobs?

One of the biggest disruptions on the horizon is robotics, or artificial intelligence. Reports suggest that intelligent machines will eventually be able to do nearly half of all human jobs. How will we stay employed when the robots take over?

“I think the acceleration of technologies just means we all have to be a little more vigilant in taking advantage of it,” Josh said. “I don’t think the job market’s going away. There’s always going to be a need for human beings.”

It’s not as if this is the first time in history this has happened.

“If you were a green-eyeshade financial analyst before Excel, you probably saw Excel as a job killer, right?” Josh said. “And then you realized, ‘Oh, wait a minute, if I learn how to use Excel, I can do my job ten times faster and actually have a better job.’

“We have to look at where we add value — as architects, as providers of empathy, as people who have other skills.”

The key will be how a company melds the new tools with its current workforce. “Say you’re a financial services company and you want to apply robotic process automation,” Josh said. “Who does that? Does HR do it? Does IT do it? Does operations understand the impact on the workforce?”

More work needs to be done, Josh said, to help people adapt to these new experiences. “Most companies are afraid of technology, because it threatens their existing roles.”

Leadership in the new world of work

Just as jobs will be forced to change, so too will the huge industry built up around leadership development. “Companies are looking for leaders who are able to rethink their business, to experiment, to lead teams that aren’t fearful of technology,” Josh said. “We have to find leaders who are less focused on hierarchy and more focused on the empowerment of teams.

“I think most of the bigger organizations are looking through their leadership ranks and saying, Who do we have that can lead the digital initiative?”

Josh also noted that people are being promoted much faster now than in the old days.

“I think the new leadership model is that you don’t wait for people to be ready — you assess people based on certain potential characteristics and you let them learn how to lead in the job,” he said. “You give them the coaching and the support to develop themselves in the role. That provides the opportunity for younger people to move into leadership faster, which is what they want.”

Not only will employers have to offer opportunities for people to learn new skills, but the employees themselves will need to take the initiative to educate themselves, Josh said. “I don’t think you have to go to college to learn things. There’s content and training education online for free. All you need is access to the Internet.”

The reinvention of HR

Just like the rest of the business, HR must use technology to update its role in the 21st-century workplace. “This is an area of HR that is finally taking off,” Josh said. “We’re really beginning to look at all the data we have about people in our organization to figure out what drives performance, what drives engagement, and what are the kinds of experiences that lead to great leadership.”

Josh predicts the HR department in its present form will disappear, and HR will become more of a platform of services and tools. “If you look back at the history of HR, it started as an administrative function,” he said. “Basically, processing paychecks and all that stuff that’s being automated more and more. What the HR professional should be doing now is advising and consulting with team leaders on how to hire better, how to better organize the team. How to coach people and deal with performance problems.

“Most HR departments still spend a significant amount of time struggling with the service delivery part of the function, but more and more of that is being automated,” he said. “The best HR organizations I run into are filled with people who are really like consultants.”

Josh sees an end to the trend of highly automated performance management systems replete with numbers and rankings. “It’s hard to find a company that isn’t rolling out a new process right now, reinventing it, blowing it up, redesigning it,” he said. “We’re making performance management much more of a continuous process. Getting rid of the ratings and making it more developmental and focused on strength. Evaluating people on multiple criteria, not giving them one number at the end of the year. Creating more agile goal systems, so goals can be updated regularly and shared transparently. And including regular feedback on managers as well.”

In other words, companies are moving away from so-called “talent management,” and more toward “people management.”

Organizational culture goes beyond values

So what does Josh consider to be the number-one issue facing CEOs today? Well, performance, obviously — CEOs want people to do their jobs well, that’s never going to change — but close behind that is company culture. “Do we have the right level of engagement in the company to create a strong brand?” Josh said. “People don’t operate in this top-down, doing-what-they’re-told manner anymore. It’s much more of team-centric environment, so if the culture is dysfunctional, the team doesn’t work well together. People don’t march in one direction anymore. So culture is a really critical issue right now.”

And Josh believes culture goes deeper than values. “Values are the things the define your company’s purpose and mission,” he said. “Culture is, do people feel empowered? Do they have a sense of compliance, or a sense of innovation? Do people feel comfortable making decisions on behalf of customers, or do they just do what their bosses say?”

The hallmark of a good leader is being able to communicate a vision and a direction that people get excited about. “You’ll find most high-performing companies have someone like that,” Josh told me. “You don’t have to be a showman and you don’t have to be a big extrovert to do that, but great leaders have sort of a soul.

“They understand what the soul of the business is. They can translate it into value to stake holders, and not just the financial numbers. I think that sense of inspiration is a really important thing, and people who move into leadership have to learn how to do that.”

HR still has a role to play, Josh believes. “The most important thing is to figure out how your company makes money. What is it about your company that makes them uniquely successful?”

Josh’s final piece of advice to HR: get to know the larger business community, become familiar with the competition, talk to your sales people. Learn the real value of the company. “If you do more of that,” Josh said, “you’re going to be more relevant.”