For those of you who've been close to the volatile world of HR Outsourcing, since it leapt into life in 1999 when BP and Exult tied the knot with "E-Enabled HR" (ahem) - there haven't been too many constants.
I can barely recollect all the providers which dipped their toe in the market before either running for the exits kicking and screaming, or selling off dismally-performing business units. I can also barely recall the number of people who came, saw, conquered, and subsequently disappeared from the face of the earth, after dabbling in one of the most contentious areas of outsourcing we've witnessed to-date. I also struggle to remember the number of executives whose careers were either made or broken by doubling-down on that wonderful HRO value-proposition.
However, one face that has been ever-truly consistent - and constantly smiling - during this entire roller-coaster of HR navel-gazing... has been Keith Strodtman, who has been the face of global HRO provider Ceridian through so much of this market volatility.
Yes, HRO's smoothest man has become part of the HfS analyst family to embark upon a brave mission to define, analyze and expound upon the Future of Work, and how HR service delivery needs to rise up the the challenges of a fast-changing global work environment. Of course, that is when he's not predisposed to feeding the elks at his Dad's farm... So without further ado, let's hear from HfS' new Research Fellow for HR Services and the Future of Work, Keith Strodtman himself...
The Future of Work – Who Will Lead?
For the past several years I have been thinking a lot about the future of work. Then, when Phil Fersht and I started talking about me joining the HfS Research team as a Research Fellow, I figured this was a great opportunity to start a bigger conversation on the topic and its impact on HR departments, service providers, and employers more broadly.
While most of us frequently think about the future, for me, I never really sat back and thought, beyond the obvious, about how or why the world of work was changing. That changed in 2004 when we invited Thomas W. Malone, the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management to give a presentation on the Future of Work at a customer forum. Tom had just released his new book, The Future of Work, which examines the how new technologies enable companies to unleash the creativity and innovation of the people in their organization.
The key technology outcome that Malone was talking about is the falling cost of communication. Just as the lower cost of communication, think the printing press, helped enable the development of decentralized, democratic governments and markets over the past few centuries; today’s technology is lowering the cost of communication and collaboration in business. Companies are deploying technology that makes it easier for employees, customers, and partners to share information and ideas.
Just sharing ideas and information will not produce success. Companies must organize effectively to capture the innovations that come from the improved flow of information and ideas. They must enable workers to make important decisions, respond to customers, and quickly develop products that meet customer needs. Malone argues that a more decentralized organization, or at least decentralized decision-making, supported by technology, is better able to do respond to customers needs more quickly. It seems like a logical argument to me and there are good examples of companies who are doing this today.
Again, many companies are well down the path of evolving the future of work. The outsourcing industry would not be what it is today without technologies that allow us to move information around the world quickly and at low costs. Many companies use social media to promote their products and get customer feedback. Some have even implemented internal social tools to make it easier for employees to find and share information and ideas. Frank D’Souza, CEO of Cognizant, in his recent interview with Phil Fersht, gave an example of a mobile solution that Cognizant developed for a global consumer product company to allow their delivery people to collect competitive information as they delivered products to retail outlets.
Okay, so I think we can all see how technology can enable changes in the future of work but there are many other drivers of the future of work. Big macro factors like:
- Globalization of the world economy
- The speed of change
- The aging of the workforce
- Millennials in the workforce
- Flexible work arrangement, free agents, crowdsourcing, etc.
- An increased focus on corporate responsibility
- And so on.
Each of these topics alone could and have been the topic of many blog posts. Maybe I’ll get to that later. None-the-less, I believe that visionary leaders who organize and engage their companies to take advantage of these factors will become the “company of the future”. The most successful companies will organize in ways that enables them to capture the best information about their customer’s desired outcomes and unleash the innovative talents of their employees and partners to meet those desired outcomes. Today’s technology makes it a lot easier to deploy such and organization.
So what’s next? Companies need leaders to start thinking about the future of work as part of their business planning processes. Given my background in the HR services industry, I am hopeful that HR leaders will play a big role in this thinking. They are well positioned to understand the capability and talent of the organization. They also have access to more enabling technology they ever before to help engage the entire workforce in creating the future of work at their companies. Maybe your HR service providers help you? If HR doesn’t step up, then maybe someone from finance or procurement will (smile).
Keith Strodtman is Research Fellow for HfS Research, with specific focus on the HR services industry and the critical factors that are shaping the future of workforce development in today's environment. Before joining HfS Research, Keith spent 8 years as the leader of the HR Outsourcing business at Ceridian, one of the largest HR service providers in the world. Prior that he was director of HRO solutions at PricewaterhouseCoopers and was at Fidelity Investments during the launch of their HRO business. You can access Keith's full bio here and contact him here.