HRworks Conference and the future of HR

[Picture: One of Dr Mark Bussin’s slides]

Conferences can be hit-and miss-affairs. Will the speakers deliver? Will the cost and effort have been worthwhile?

The conference in Durban (4 September 2018) hit all the right buttons. Every speaker was well worth listening to, and great fun. They spoke with passion and enjoyment on subjects like generation blending, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Organisational Design (OD), labour law, and conflict in the workplace. We had the excellent Mark Baker, founder and CEO of Mygrow, as MC, with his dry humour keeping us entertained and on our toes.

Various speakers asked the question: ‘What will the role of HR be in an AI world?’ (Of course, AI is also an abbreviation for something more relevant to farmers than HR, but since we were told that robots even take on the role of sexual partner, it seems the two meanings of AI might be merging.)

What jobs can robots, particularly self-learning robots, not do? They can already interview candidates and produce a shortlist in less time than it takes us to read the CVs. Speakers emphasised that the answer lay in what makes us human: empathy, collaboration, cross-cultural interaction. Mark Bussin, chairman of 21 Century, said, ‘Management is a relationship business. That’s something AI can’t touch.’

Artificial intelligence fails on empathy, which is the key to collaboration in the modern age.

While discussing generation blending, Alison Godenir said that if we want to harness the power of the various generations in the workplace (including the scary ones that are on their way), we have to talk to each other. It’s not about putting people into generational boxes, but listening to engage, understand and empower each other.

Melanie Hart, of Fasken, who spoke about conflict management, said that working through conflicts is not about the merits — who is right and who is wrong — it is about working with the parties to find a way forward.

My personal favourite was Sarika Mahadeo-Diercks, Senior Organisational Development (OD) Specialist at Woolworths, who spoke about OD with passion, humility and humour. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her, grab it. OD, too, requires empathy, understanding and a listening ear. We cannot take an organisation to where we know it needs to go without bringing everybody with us. And you do not bring people with you by shouting and cajoling.

Perhaps I could, with only a slight tongue in cheek, sum up the conference in two words: ‘Simply Communicate’.

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Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people, people-management consulting and writing and editing.

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