The Next Revolution in People Strategy May Not be so Much about People

The Next Revolution in People Strategy May Not be so Much about People

Originally posted November 2014

The problems of workers finding jobs will be exacerbated by the expansion of cognitive technologies  …thinking robots, if you will. Michael Graham looks at how the cozy synergy between increased automation and worker productivity (resulting in increased wages and job opportunities) seem to have derailed, leaving many workers un- and under-employed and the middle class at risk of obsolescence.

There is no question in anyone’s mind that technology has and will continue to change the way that people work and the way that organizations gain competitive advantage. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution there have been those who have worried that machines and computers will take their jobs away. And in many cases these gloomy predictions have come true, but from the macroeconomic perspective, these job automations have helped individuals, organizations and economies by increasing productivity and creating new and previously unheard of job opportunities. The industrial revolution and the increase in automation of “mundane and low paying” jobs in fact gave rise to the middle class.

This cozy synergy between increased automation worker productivity (resulting in increased wages and job opportunities) …seems though to have derailed.

According to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, professors at MIT, as a result of impressive advances in technology “beginning in the year 2000, productivity continues to rise robustly, but employment suddenly wilts. By 2011, a significant gap appears between the two lines, showing economic growth with no parallel increase in job creation.” Brynjolfsson and McAfee call this the “great decoupling.” (1)

And certainly the economic downturn in the late 2000’s did nothing to improve workers opportunities. Although the economy appears to be recovering , albeit in fits and starts, there are fewer full time positions and more part time positions available now than at the start of the downturn. According to Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, rich economies are breaking into two groups of workers: a small group of workers whose skills complement machine intelligence, and the other group, for whom he has not much hope. (2)

Unfortunately these changes have and will contribute to the growing income gap between the richest and the rest of us folks. The richest may still be the 1% but their share of the economic pie will grow. The problems of workers finding jobs will be exacerbated by the expansion of cognitive technologies… thinking robots, if you will.

In fact, according to Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, of the University of Oxford, nearly 50% of occupations are at high risk of being automated in the next twenty years. But even with this gloomy prediction, Frey and Osborne assure us that jobs will remain. There will still be jobs, especially those currently associated with high levels of education and high wages—will survive. (2)

So where are the jobs going to be for humans and where are they going to be heading for thinking robots?

Google’s self-driving car is an example of cognitive technology; although if it becomes mainstream it might put some chauffeurs out of a job, this is just a small slice (albeit an impressive one) of what cognitive technologies can do and how they might impact workers. Imagine in a few years the potential power of tax preparation software. This might impact thousands and thousands of accountants, putting their job security in grave danger. Law clerks, too are at risk, along with telemarketers, file clerks, and models! (3)

In their academic publication “The Future of Jobs: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization,” Messrs. Frey and Osborne provide this compelling chart look at 702 occupations from telemarketers and tax preparers who have a 99% probability of being computerized (buh bye!) to recreational therapists and choreographers who have less than a .5% chance of their jobs being computerized (here to stay, at least for now). For the Chief Executives out there you can relax as well, at only a 1.5% change of your occupation being computerized. A copy of this publication can be downloaded from the University of Oxford website in case you would like to check on your occupation. (3)

So what does this mean for People Strategy? Well as I said in my book, People Strategy: The Revolution, people strategies (and people strategists) need to predict, prepare for, and promote the advantages identified to impact the way organizations manage themselves and talent. And the blossoming of ever more advanced technologies cannot be ignored.

People strategy redefines the way that individuals and other organizations interact with and contribute to the growth and success of an organization. The primary concept is based on the belief that if an organization has great vision, mission, values, and beliefs (VMVB); organizational strategy; organizational capabilities and an effective and complete people strategy, it can garner substantially greater contributions from both individuals and other organizations who have varying relationships with the organization. In addition the organization can provide greater value to those individuals and organizations which we describe as key stakeholders.

Couple that with the fact that successful people strategies must be organized around four major conceptual frameworks. Those four major conceptual frameworks are the organization structure, processes, talent, and culture. These four concepts will need to be completely rethought in order to generate the types of contributions that can be expected from all stakeholders in their new roles and the work of cognitive machines that will be doing a significant amount of the work of the organization.

But in order to have a successful People Strategy that addresses all these aspects above it is important to know what employees (as one important segment component of stakeholders) are doing and what they will be doing in the future.

Where and when technology replaces human effort, People Strategy must change as well, and it’s best if the change in strategy precedes, predicts, and, promotes the practical change in work.


(1) “How Technology is Destroying Jobs”. Rotman, David. Technology Review. June 12, 2013. Also available online at
(2) “The future of jobs: The onrushing wave”. The Economist. January 18, 2014. Also available on line at
(3) “THE FUTURE OF EMPLOYMENT: HOW SUSCEPTIBLE ARE JOBS TO COMPUTERISATION?” Frey, Carl Benedikt & Michael A. Osborne. Oxford University. September 17, 2013. Also available on line at

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