Why it’s important for HR to get out in front of workplace disruption

By Linda Ronnie, University of Cape Town

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Some experts believe that more than a third of jobs in South Africa are at risk of being lost because humans are going to be replaced by digitisation and computer technology. This equates to the loss of about 5.7 million jobs. A World Economic Forum report meanwhile predicts that by 2020, more than a third of today’s skills will have fallen by the wayside.

This has significant implications for Human Resource (HR) professionals. How do they manage a workforce that is potentially outdated every two years or so?

Along with everyone in the world of work, HR professionals are going to have to adapt to get ahead of these challenges. They must find ways to work with uncertainty to ensure that their tech-savvy organisations harness the best talent to succeed in the long term.

They must see the opportunities. Technology is already making administrative tasks easier; from managing payrolls and employee details to keeping track of contracts. HR practitioners can harness these advances to innovate what they do from recruitment through to assessment and reward, creating a more compelling and fulfilling employee experience.

Some companies are already showing how this can be done.

Making things easier

There is no doubt that future workplaces are going to look different and that they’ll be run differently too. More and more companies are hiring freelancers and remote work among full-time employees are also becoming the new normal.

This trend is likely to increase, bringing with it more consequences for HR departments, like how to measure performance, structure packages and offer incentives.

Monitoring teams and keeping up to date with projects can be done via a number of platforms and more electronic solutions will become available over time. Already, companies are making use of cloud-based solutions, voice technology and machine learning to manage their people. According to the Human Resource Technologist publication, more efficient and streamlined data processes like these will soon make gathering employee data more efficient. Tasks will be speeded up, like identifying suitable job candidates based on key characteristics, educational qualifications and professional work history.

Global consumer goods giant, Unilever, is already taking advantage of this. It’s launched a pioneering digital recruitment process that’s shortened its hiring cycle from four months to just two weeks. This saves 50,000 hours of candidate time while reducing recruiter screening time by a massive 75%. More than that, the process is fun and rewarding for candidates and they get better feedback about their participation regardless of whether they are successful or not.

New ways of rewarding and incentivising

The new approaches are appealing especially to Millennials and the Generation Zs – young people who are tech savvy and used to interacting on multiple platforms, and who will dominate work spaces of the future.

Research shows that Millennials are keen too on experiential rewards as opposed to financial incentives. This means they place a high premium on things like travel opportunities, discounted tickets and vouchers to sports or music events rather than on pension benefits and more traditional incentives.

Millennials are also quicker than previous generations to leave jobs where they are not happy and expect regular affirmation in the workplace.
Companies can respond by putting into place automated feedback systems to provide continuous assessment rather than a lumbering annual performance appraisal. Start-ups like Lattice, TinyPulse, and Zugata have taken this concept to the extreme with short weekly reviews that are fun for employees to complete.

Other organisations have launched collaborative initiatives that help to motivate and engage millennials. Accenture Digital, for example, offers junior staff secondments and opportunities to work on virtual extra mural projects, giving them an opportunity to learn more skills and work with others in a virtual space.

New ways of learning

According to the Accenture Strategy report: Harnessing Revolution: Creating the future workforce, employees are hungry for these kind of opportunities and are positive about the change technology is bringing to their jobs with 87% thinking it will improve matters at work. A telling 85% said they were willing to learn new skills at work.

In line with these shifts, executive education is shifting too. While in the past it was dominated by business acumen and financial expertise there is now a growing focus on leadership, relationship building, self-awareness, empathy and communication skills.

How courses are delivered is also shifting with face-to-face and full-time learning being augmented with online courses, flexible timetables and adjustable structures offering HR departments more avenues than ever before to train and develop their employees.

In addition to new ways of formal learning, HR has access to a range of innovative software and electronic tools to enable informal learning in the workplace. New technology and apps, like for instance MyGrow, can help to develop emotional intelligence in the workplace at scale while also assisting with managing employees, keeping track of their time at work and on projects.

Far from being a threat, the future is bright and filled with opportunity for those HR professionals who are able to shift gears quickly and think afresh about how they add value. In many respects, as the profession that looks after all others in the workplace, they have an obligation to make sure that the changes ahead are, on balance, good for their people.The Conversation

About the Author:

Linda Ronnie, Associate Professor: Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Next Port of Call — Digitization of Automotive Retail

Digital Signage Displays in an Auto Dealership

The automotive retailing process is experiencing sensational changes due to the rise of digital natives. Nowadays, car buyers are armed with mobile devices, accessing previously unavailable information (the latest pricing data and reviews) at their fingertips which, in turn, causing them to be more purposeful shoppers who are no longer browsing the showrooms hoping to find their desired match also, it is providing significant leverage in the sales transaction at the auto dealership’s end. However, despite their online enthusiasm, car buyers still seek a personal touch coupled with personal attention. It has been found most of all digital natives visit the dealership more than twice before making an actual purchase.

At the same time, the rise of big data, analytics, cloud computing, and advances in core digital technologies allow original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and auto dealerships greater insight into customers’ activities and buying behaviors. And, in the midst, a new network of vendors has emerged to support the data needs of both sides of the transaction.

In a recent survey by Cox Automotive, 2,550 consumers who are or were in the market for a vehicle revealed there’s an increasing demand for automotive digital retailing. 83 percent of respondents expressed a desire to complete one or more parts of the car buying process online, while 85 percent said they’re more likely to buy from a dealer that allows them to perform at least one step of the process online.

According to the same survey, the average buyer currently spends three hours at the dealership during a car purchase, with 90 minutes spent on negotiating the financial details[1]. Consumer satisfaction with how long the process takes at the dealership continues to decrease, dropping from 55 percent in 2016[2] to 46 percent in 2018[3].

“The results of our study show that the most successful dealers are the ones who offer a connected in-store and online experience, where consumers start car-buying activities online and seamlessly finish them at the dealership,” said Mike Burgiss, vice president of Digital Retailing at Cox Automotive. “Importantly, a more efficient process is not only better for consumers, it’s better for dealers as well.”

Earlier, there used to be just one: the auto dealer. But the growth of digital platforms, tools, and devices significantly increase the number of customer touchpoints on the car-buying journey and all need to be occupied simultaneously. Each touchpoint is an opportunity to create engaging personalized experiences for the consumer based on insights gained from previous interactions. But, what needs to be decided is which will be developed and handled via the OEM, which via the dealer and which, perhaps, by such intermediates as online portals or platforms?

Reinventing the Wheel i.e., Format

In a typical omnichannel world, consumers expect the store to be an extension of their digital experience. Innovative store formats that provide branded experiences and seamless integration across all touchpoints may be needed to respond to these changing consumer needs. Dealerships can create highly immersive digital experiences for shoppers in their stores. The Audi City store in London format has no inventory and only a couple show models on display. Instead, consumers can interact with large digital screens to explore different models and design their perfect car.

Creating such seamless experiences requires foundational technology integrations and data sharing between the OEM and dealer to develop a common view of a customer that is constantly being enriched through each interaction in the digital and physical channel. When a customer customizes, builds, and prices-out a small SUV on the OEM Tier-1 website and later visits a dealer’s website to search inventory, ensure the experiences are consistent and connected. The prior vehicle configuration from the Tier-1 site should inform what the dealer site shows: the current offer on that SUV, available inventory, and customer reviews. Each part of the digital ecosystem, from OEM web and social channels to dealer channels and third-parties, should be connected, and the content should be orchestrated to work together to move customers through the process and build confidence and consideration for their purchase.

Like in the case of intermediaries, third-party service providers have begun to fill gaps in digital services that the existing ecosystem does not provide. This includes transparent pricing services like TrueCar and streamlined, fully-online used car markets like Carvana [4]. Various automotive retail players are recognizing the need to embrace new practices in a competitive market, particularly when considering the digital ecosystem as an important information source and purchase influencer.[5] But, it all starts with the third-party portal’s utility quotient as a sales pushing tool which, in turn, depends on the “neutrality” factor, surgically influencing the prospective car buyer through advice and reviews.

Leveraging on “Digital” Trend

As per the Cox Automotive’s survey, for every retail sale, customers visit the auto dealer only two to three times (at maximum), including to sign the contract and to take the custody of the vehicle. However, the consumers are also taking the unbeaten path – like – initiating the buying process online by “building a vehicle” to their specifications and then searching inventory in a specific geography. The buyer evaluates their current vehicle’s trade-in value based on its model, option content, age, and condition. The financial institution (either traditional bank or newer online lenders) reviews, selects and approves financing and the consumer’s choice of purchase or lease in real time. Then the purchase process shifts from digital to more traditional retail, when the consumer arrives at the dealership to test drive the vehicle and sign the necessary paperwork to take ownership. Some dealers, taking advantage of their close proximity to the customer, further emulate the new online purchasing model by delivering the vehicle directly to the customer’s home at no charge.

Kindly do note, it should not be just about creating an environment where your customer is going to purchase a car without coming to your dealership. And the way to prepare for the customers increased desire to do more than simply engage your inventory comes back to your people and your process. There is no technology that will fix your dealership if either of those two things is broken.

“Connected Car”: The Concept becoming a Reality

An On-board Diagnostic-II (OBD-II) device, connected to a vehicle over a well-defined mobile network, would enable capturing of data like driving behaviour events (mileage, hard break threshold exceeded), safety events (airbag deployed, part replacement warning), service events (annual service, part replaced), etc., and get sent to a shared-services system that all parties had access to, including the owner/leaseholder/auto dealer/OEM. This, in turn, would enable the stakeholders to provide tailored services than would otherwise be possible.

With the rise in Blockchain technologies, the future is about a dedicated multi-tier interconnected Blockchain platform based on the fundamentals of scalability and interoperability can benefit many stakeholders, like – a shared ledger – between automotive manufacturers, automotive dealerships, regulators, auto finance-cum-insurance companies, vehicle leasing companies, buyers, sellers and even garages, providing a higher degree transparency and trust in all kind of vehicular transactions, preventing disputes and lowering the overall cost of maintenance and services by tracking ownership, sale, and accident history [6]. With an always-on data pipe, it will be now possible to leverage above-mentioned datasets to tailor customer recommendations and improve the vehicle ownership experience.

The Future

For all the stakeholders, a digital approach brings more transparency, which, in turn, makes it possible to more efficiently manage respective markets and sales operations. This transparency with respect to market potential also provides support for retail investment decisions. At the same time, “Going Digital” will directly challenge existing paradigms and will force the OEMs along with the dealerships to adopt new ways of working; attracting and retaining talent, developing new business models and adapting to a more agile, experimental, and disruptive culture.


[1] 2018 Car Buyer Journey Study

[2] 2016 Car Buyer Journey Study

[3] 2018 Car Buyer Journey Study

[4] “Disrupting Auto Finance.” Forbes. October 31, 2014.

[5] Boutellier, R. and Heinzen, M. “Growth through Innovation: Managing Technology-Driven Enterprise”, Cham: Springer Verlag, 2014, pp. 209-10.

[6] Guhathakurta, R. (2018). The Age of Blockchain: A Collection of Articles. 1st ed. New York: IndraStra Global, pp.17-20.

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