Paula Leech, Microsoft’s IMEA Talent Acquisition Director, hosted a roundtable discussion about “Human Capital Trends and Their Implications for HR” in Dubai this week. Abby Walters, Middle East & Africa Director at ChapmanCG, chaired the meeting and welcomed Regional and Functional HR Leaders from Accenture, AXA, BIC, Boehringer Ingelheim, Coty, GlaxoSmithKline, Ernst & Young, Johnson & Johnson and others. The attendees shared best practice about the challenges presented to us by this digital era. It was great to see so many attendees from previous gatherings in Middle East, in addition to welcoming a number of new participants. Involvement in the discussion was lively, and insights from so many different industries created a valuable forum for learning.

Some take homes from the discussion as follows:

No Escape

From small farming businesses or the tiniest corner newsagents to large enterprises with offices around the globe, the digital era is enveloping us all. Businesses across all industry sectors find themselves in a completely digitised world—a situation that some can easily embrace, but others find alarming.

But really what does this mean for HR Leaders? Are we all just fighting to keep ahead of that tech curve?

Gone are the days where talent competitors are industry-specific. It’s a talent-scarce market, and employers are all looking for the same types of skills: technically savvy, great communications skills, able to work in ambiguous environments, independent and results-oriented… the list goes on, and in the end most organisations only end up hiring from one another, regardless of industry. Everyone agreed that the key to successful talent acquisition and retention efforts lie in creating agile teams, offering personalised benefits that are relevant to the employee population(s) and being an active player in the GIG Economy. Today’s employees needed a reason to be “loyal” because a big name is no longer enough.

GIG Economy?

Not so long ago, the only people who looked for “gigs” were musicians. Today, more and more of us choose to make our living working gigs rather than full time. To the optimists, it promises a future of empowered entrepreneurs and boundless innovation. To traditional organisations and Talent leaders, it’s a nonstop effort to find and retain key talent. To HR leaders, it’s a cessation of policy and a focus on the employee experience, and to business leaders it’s learning to lead by influence.

Certainly, the 2018 workforce is increasingly mobile and selecting the best individuals for specific projects from a larger talent pool can have huge benefits to all involved.

Meet the BOT

Automation is increasingly influencing the role of Business Partner. This can spark both concern and relief in equal measures. We discussed the positive introduction of a “Performance Ratings Bot” at a global consulting house, which, after a 4-month build, answered 7.5 million questions from 250,000 employees in its first quarter of use. Positive feedback was also received from companies using bots as career advisors, but most felt that a quality HRBP remained first-choice for setting strategic and cultural change direction.

Design Thinking

Simply described, design thinking means focusing on the person and the experience, not the process. At its core, working as a designer involves studying people at work, and then developing “personas” and “profiles” to understand employee demographics, work environment, and challenges. It relies on generating ideas quickly and testing prototypes that generate further ideas, digital tools, and solutions. Applying design thinking to the work experience compels HR to ask, “What does a great employee experience look like from end-to-end?” and “How can we facilitate collaboration and learning in everything we do?”

The Power of the Alumni

Best practice organisations recognise that an alumni program will not only improve employer branding but can also serve as a powerful recruiting tool. One leader shared that businesses need to treat their alumni with the same level of attention and support that they show their customers, especially in this time where even money cannot buy the best digital talent.

The workplace of the future has arrived and its implications are affecting how HR services the business. But these changes don’t have to be seen as a negative. They are empowering both employees and HR to create a better and more relevant environment for all.

Abby commented, “This was a conversation which flowed so very well, spurred on by Paula’s sharings from Microsoft, with prominent HR Leaders from the region engaging in what businesses here in UAE and wider Middle East can be doing to secure the very best talent.”