Future Friday: Futurism in HR is not about tomorrow it is about today.

by Michael Haberman on August 16, 2013 · 2 comments


I have a presentation that I have made a couple of time called Seven Step to being a Practical HR Futurist and I write blog posts labeled Future Friday. I do this in reaction to a frequent complaint of HR people about that fact that they are constantly in a reactive mode rather than being able to be proactive. I write and talk about future stuff and people think “that is interesting, but it is in the future, and I have stuff to deal with now.” However, the future and futurism in HR is not about tomorrow it is about today.

Can’t predict the future

Nostradamus and crystal balls aside you cannot predict the future. But you can prepare for it. This is what being proactive is all about. Futurism is about probabilities not prediction. Probabilities are about understanding what is currently occurring, determining the likelihood of that trend having an impact on your organization, what the effect of that impact will be and how to prepare for it. But you can’t wait for something to occur to prepare for it, you have to prepare for it now.

Steps you can take

There are a number of things you can do today to prepare for tomorrow. Here are a few of them.

Step 1- Find trends important to you

Understand what is important for your company in terms of HR. Is the education of your employees important? Is a particular degree important? What about the demographic mix of your employees? Do your employees represent on age wave more than another? We know this trend information is out there, but do you really pay attention to it or is it just an interesting fact? There is a ton of trend information available to you. The acronym STEEP covers social, technological, environmental, economic and political trends. To make any sense of this wealth of information you have to first know what is important to your company. Then track that information.

Step 2- Create your future

Develop a story about the trends you are tracking and how they may have an impact. For example, you have as a simple, but necessary, job requirement that employees have a high school education with the ability to read, write and do math. You have shown that it is a bona fide job requirement. So graduation rates from the high schools in your area are important. You have tracked two different trends. The first is a dropping graduation rate, thus producing fewer graduates who qualify for what you need. Secondly, those that do graduate are not seeking employment in the local area. They are moving to go to college or they are moving to seek jobs in different towns. What is the likely impact of this on your company if the status quo remains the same? Inability to staff positions? Will you have to change job requirements? Will you have to offer remedial education to those hired to bring them up to your standards? Can you get involved with the local educational system to try to make an impact on them?

I hope you can see how understanding what is important to you now drives what you pay attention to and how you can then alter and create the future you want.

Step 3- Determine the probability

There is a tool, the Impact/Probability matrix that you can put your created futures into in order to determine what their importance may be. Without an understanding  of the probabilities and working to create the future you want then the future will just occur and you will be in reactive mode once more.

Unfortunately, there may still be a future that you will totally have to react to regardless of all the hard work you do. The upper left quadrant of the Impact/Probability matrix is the area that contains the “black swan.” This is something that is totally unseen. It can be good or it can be bad. You can try to imagine what it might be but the definition is that basically it is unforeseeable. In our scenario above about graduation rates a black swan might be the total collapse of the school system and no one graduates. Highly unlikely but it would have a major impact. Probability matrix

Step 4- Remember the system

It is key to remember that nothing occurs in a vacuum. The world is an interactive system. HR in your company is an interactive system. An event in one area can alter the outcome in a different area. I am not going to belabor that point that will be another blog post. Just remember the world is complex and non-linear. As a futurist writer said this “requires that we embrace uncertainty and use scenarios to build resilience and agility.”

Hopefully this post will spur you to not sit idly by and watch and wait for you to have something to react to. Your future will occur. It is best to try to have some impact on it, but that effort has to start today.

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