With so much focus on AI, automation and robotics, less attention can be paid to the critical role that the humanities and social sciences will play in shaping how we work, according to Michelle Gibbings, founder of Change Meridian. This article originally appeared in HR Director Australia.

For the HR professional, this creates exciting opportunities as workplaces will need experts who understand people, create connections and generate behavioural insights.

Gibbings cited research by the McKinsey Global Institute which examined the workforce impacts of automation. They found that based on current available technology about 60% of occupations have at least 30% of activities that could be automated.

“Significantly, the impact was less for people in roles that required human to human interaction,” said Gibbings.

She added that careers, these days, are “fluid, flexible, organic and adaptive” – they take a degree of reinvention.

This means that the HR professional needs to be forward thinking, ready to continuously learn and be prepared to go beyond what’s traditionally expected of HR functions.

Gibbings quoted Salim Ismail, the author of Exponential Organisations, who said: “Today, if you’re not disrupting yourself, someone else is; your fate is to be either the disrupter or the disrupted.  There is no middle ground”.

Even though his comments were referencing organisations, the same can be said for a person’s career and the work they do, according to Gibbings.

“The HR professional’s role has evolved through time, and this will continue,” she said.

“It is no longer enough to just know the traditional HR disciplines.  Instead the future is about embracing the notion of being a polymath.  That is, a person with a broad range of knowledge.”

For the HR professional, this may include disciplines such as:

  • Project management
  • Change management
  • Process improvement including, lean and six sigma
  • Behavioural economics
  • Design thinking

Gibbings added that broad-based learning will be critical as it provides the opportunity for the HR professional to broaden into connected disciplines.

Moreover, in order to prepare for the future, HR professionals need to understand how fit their career is, according to Gibbings.

“Assessing your career periodically helps you determine whether you are in a rut or holding on to an unrealistic, outdated view of your career,” she said.

“It also challenges you to think about what may need to shift and what you may need to do more or less of to ensure a successful, sustainable and rewarding career.”

As part of this process, the HR professional can look at potential future scenarios to investigate and identify potential changes and risks, in light of where the workplace and their industry is heading.

This approach can be likened to the scenario planning that an organisation may undertake as part of its strategic planning, as it helps to map an appropriate course of action.

For example, Gibbings noted that PWC outlined four potential future of work scenarios based on the way people and organisations focus on collective or individual needs and gain, and operate in an integrated or fragmented manner.

“Using such scenarios or others, the HR professional can examine where their industry and occupation is heading, and how far they need to pivot and adapt their current skills base and expertise, and whether it’s time for them to leap into a new direction.”

Ditch the expectations
According to Gibbings, expectations shape the choices that people make.

“There are expectations about the HR professional’s typical career path, the skills they bring and therefore the options they pursue for career progression,” said Gibbings.

“Breaking out of this mould of expectations isn’t easy, because it can be an internal debate between what you ‘could’ do and what you ‘should’ do.

“The ‘could’ being something that is unexpected, challenging, risky or slightly left of centre.  While the ‘should’ being the job that people expect you to do, or the job that your beliefs limit you too.”

Gibbings said that in order to ditch the expectations and any unhelpful internal dialogue, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the rules (both written and unwritten) I’ve been told about my career and career change?
  • Which of those have held me back?
  • Which ones have propelled me forward?
  • Which ones are no longer relevant?
  • Which rules am I prepared to ditch?
  • Are there new rules I need to create to help me leap into a new career and stay professionally relevant?

“Career success is never the result of one decision, one event or one outcome,” said Gibbings.

“It’s the culmination of the steps – some big and some small – that the HR professional takes every single day.”

She quoted the French biologist, microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur, who said: “Chance favours only the prepared mind”.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert, and author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’.