Just call me Cassandra

I’m at the HR Directors Business Summit.  There is a whole stream of content on the agenda about the future of work and how HR can lead their businesses into the future and all that it brings.  According to the pre-event research all this future stuff is on the mind of the HR professional. It’s true that  future of work is everywhere at the moment. The topic has gone mainstream. The bandwagon effect will surely follow.

The future of leadership. Future proofing your workforce. Future skills.  Future of recruitment, learning… all of the people stuff.

Spartacus comes to mind. Only instead of everyone standing up and declaring that they are he, everyone is standing up and saying ‘I know the future of work’.  We are all Cassandra now. Cassandra, given the gift of prophecy, but unable to alter future events or persuade anyone to the truth of her predictions.  But like her, when it comes to the future of work and people stuff, will we be believed, or will we stand and watch helplessly as our disbelieved predictions came true?

I’m mixing up my myths and legends.

Here’s the thing about the future of work.  You can write any old bollocks about it.  I know, I wrote a whole book on the subject with that nice Tim Scott.  And chances are that no-one is going to pick up a copy in ten years, read it and then tell us we got it wrong. Of course if they do, we will look very serious and reflective, and say something sounding terribly wise like ‘that was based upon the world as we knew it then, and was subsequently influenced by factors that we could not reasonably have foreseen’. 

The future of work genre generates many unanswered questions.  First and foremost, even if the predictions are true, can we make the changes that we need to make?  Are we ready to change and to open up our perspectives? When many organisations are so focused on the short term, can we take a sufficiently long term view?  Will the hype ever match the reality?

Borrowing shamelessly from an entirely different debate, I will refer to environmentalist Alan Atkinson, who, when talking about environmental change, says that we are stuck in a Cassandra dilemma.  The trends are there, and a likely outcome can be forseen.  The warnings have been given.  But still, the majority can not or will not respond.  Can the same be said of the future of work?  I think that it can.  There are some people too invested in the status quo.  There are some people who don’t want to change.  There is sometimes a lack of the real commitment that is required.  But you can wave Kodak and HMV case studies around the leadership team all you like, but some places are too stuck in their corporate boxes, still too stuck in the ‘it doesn’t apply to us because’.

There’s a quote that goes a little like this: ‘the future belongs to those that prepare for it today’.  The questions that ocurr therefore are these:

Can we? And will we?